The First Exiles

I just LOVE this Tolkien quote:

“We all long for [Eden], and we are constantly glimpsing it; our whole nature at it’s best and least corrupted, it’s gentlest and most humane, is still soaked with the sense of ‘exile’... As far as we can go back the nobler part of the human mind is filled with the thoughts of sibb (peace, kinship), peace and goodwill. And with the thought of it’s loss.”

I have so much drama surrounding being exiled to the suburbs. I’ve been reading the Old Testament books dealing with the Exile of the people of Israel and Judah – there was a lot of drama there too.  But this weekend I realised that Adam and Eve were the first exiles. They were exiled from the Garden of Eden.

So the Lord God banished Adam and his wife from the Garden of Eden, and he sent Adam out to cultivate the ground from which he had been made. After banishing them from the garden, the Lord stationed mighty angelic beings to the east of Eden. And a flaming sword flashed back and forth guarding the way to the tree of life.                                                                                                                                              Genesis 3 v 23-24

After Adam and Eve ate fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil their relationship with God was broken. Their relationship with each other was fractured. And their relationship with the garden was corrupted. The consequence was that they were exiled.

God exiled Adam and Eve from the place where they were in a perfect relationship with God, a perfect relationship with each other and a perfect relationship with the garden. God exiled them from the place where they had known peace and unity with God, peace and unity with each other and peace and unity with the garden. The peace and sweet living of former days was gone and there was nothing they could do to bring it back.

Instead they had to work the earth for food. They had to navigate the parameters of their new relationship. God no longer walked with them in the garden – their relationship with him was broken beyond their ability to repair it; they were separated.

Unlike me who ends up in East London nearly every week, Adam and Eve could no longer return to the place they had called home. Banished. Exiled. Never to return.

The Old Testament chronicles life for God’s people from that moment of exile. It points toward the one who could and would bring us back to the peace and unity of the garden. It points to the one who would establish a kingdom of justice and righteousness, removing evil from the world. It points to the one who would bring us back from exile into a relationship with God. It points to Jesus.

And so it follows that the New Testament is how God enables us to return from exile and how we can live our lives neither exiled from our relationship with God, but not quite home yet. Not quite returned to the peace and unity of the garden.

I think this is what Tolkien meant – no matter how perfect a particular moment in time we always know that it will end. So we long for the time in the garden when all was well. We are soaked with a sense of exile.

I know in Advent we’re supposed to be looking forward to celebrating the arrival of Christ on earth. But my heart always skips from being thankful for the birth of Christ as a man on earth, to being even more thankful that his death and resurrection can bring us back from exile – if we would choose it.

Choose life y'all.

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