I vividly remember the first time I read Genesis 3. It was in my small kindergarten Sunday school class at the first church I remember attending in southern New Jersey. I was five years old and eager to learn about how God created the world.
My teacher, who was a nice woman in her 60s, started by explaining the glory of Genesis 1 and 2. God was present before the world was made and He had abundant creativity. He created the Garden of Eden. There were plants, flowers, animals, flamingos, platypuses, snow—every delightful thing you could imagine. I looked at the cartoon images she showed us with wonder. She paused, and explained how God then created humans.
He created them to be special.
“Why are we special?” I remember asking. She looked at me and said, “because we’re like Him.” My five-year-old brain could not grasp the magnitude of this concept.
My teacher then ominously talked about Genesis 3. All the images of flamingos and snow melted away in my head and the idea of humanity being made in the likeness of God melted along with them. I remember her drawing two lines, separated by what seemed to be an infinite and impossible gap. She said it represented the chasm of our sin separating us from God. In traditional Sunday school fashion, she drew a bridge between the gap: Jesus is the bridge between us and God, forever reuniting us to Him.
However, my 5-year-old mind was so focused on the fact that I was imperfect. I only saw the thick letters that spelled S-I-N filling the chasm.
Over the next few years, I became obsessed with my imperfection. Every time I made a mistake, my face would become warm and I started to feel dizzy. The feeling of shame climbed up my neck. There was no remedy for it. I remember praying and communing intimately with the Lord, but quickly fell back into this cycle of shame. The hope of Eden was hidden in the dust of my sin. My relationship with God, though real, was severely hindered by constant guilt.
My family moved to Illinois when I entered sixth grade. I began attending a Christian middle school and every grade had a required Bible class. My teacher had the most vivid faith I had ever witnessed. During the first week of school she introduced the idea of being made in the image of God—but this time in a new way.
She used the term Imago Dei. This dug up the familiar idea that I had in my brain: humans being like Him. The flamingos and the platypuses and the snow were made from God’s creativity. We have the same creativity! God gave us dominion over the animals, which reflects his dominion over the earth. We experience emotions reflective of the wrath God felt when the Israelites disobeyed Him time after time and the love He displayed in giving His only Son.
The similarities are extensive. They are pillars of Imago Dei, each a way God created us to be like Him. When we sinned in the Garden, the pillars didn’t crumble, they cracked. Instead of being a clear image, we instead became broken mirrors trying to reflect a perfect Creator. I knew that we could never accurately reflect the beauty of God due to our sin. Yet I had missed an important part of the story: the pillars had not crumbled, only cracked! Our fatal sin in the Garden did not change the fact that we are still image-bearers of God.
I used to think of the Garden of Eden as this idealistic place that evaporated into thin air when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. But in reality, the Garden is God’s dwelling in us. It is like the pillars. Cracked, but not crumbled. Separated, but not without hope. I may not be able to take walks with God in the cool of the day (though I cannot wait for the day I will!), but I can talk to Him openly. He will whisper back. I may not be able to be in God’s presence face to face, but His spirit lives inside of me. God is with us, making a home in the deepest part of our hearts, planting a fertile and lush Garden.
Imperfect as we are, I still see Him in the kindness of people. I see Him in the intense love of my family. I see Him in the beauty of a marriage centered on Him. I see Him in the loyalty of friendship, in the beauty of the foliage, in the rebirth of spring. I see Him in Michaelangelo’s Pieta, in Van Gogh’s Starry Night. I see Him in the innocence of babies—in acts of selflessness. God is with us. He is in our hearts and in our lives, and with every passing breath, we are becoming more and more like Him. Someday, we will not just see glimpses of Eden; there will be a new Eden, a “Garden City” as John Mark Comer puts it. And we will walk with Him again in the cool of the day, as pillars not crumbling, not cracked, but fully restored.