And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east. Genesis 2:8a
While the Bible has many references to heaven, both as an afterlife and as a present state of being, two of its most well-known stories can also be read as allegorical stories of heaven. The first is found in the creation story in the second chapter of Genesis. The Garden of Eden is portrayed as paradise. All the needs of every created being, including Adam and Eve, were provided for in the Garden, as well as there being direct communion with God. Heaven is often envisioned as a place where whatever we believe we lack is present. The Garden of Eden is described as a place in which there is no lack. One can say our search for heaven, God, enlightenment, salvation, or liberation is fueled by our desire to get back to the Garden of Eden, the place of satisfaction and contentment.
Adam and Eve are kicked out of the Garden when they eat the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This is called the original sin. I often wondered why God would plant a tree with forbidden fruit in a place like Eden where everything except that fruit was available to its inhabitants. As an allegorical story, there is certainly a lesson in that puzzling tree. When our soul decides to take on physical form and live for a time on earth, it does so in order to experience the realm of good and evil, which is the earth. During that time we are separated from God, not because of anything bad we have done, but because our temporary, physical nature is incompatible with a direct experience of God, who is Spirit. A part of us, our soul, remembers our oneness with God in the Garden and longs to return.
A second heavenly allegory is the story of the Israelites passage from Egypt to the Promised Land. This is a story that is told and retold throughout the Bible because it is the signature story of the people of God (which includes us). The Israelites were slaves in Egypt for many generations under a long line of oppressive Pharaohs. God chose Moses to lead the people out of Egypt into the Promised Land. It was a long, hard journey. Getting Pharaoh to let them out of Egypt was no easy task. Once out, the people spent forty years wandering in the wilderness, a place so desolate and hopeless that many desired to return to Egypt and slavery. Finally, they were granted passage into their long-promised homeland.
The early descriptions of the Promised Land are allegories for heaven. In Exodus 3:8, this land is described as “a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” The implication was of a land of satisfaction and contentment. It was a land of freedom where the people of God could live and worship as they desired. The fact that this land did not end up being the heaven they originally envisioned does not diminish the importance of the story as an archetype of our journey back to unity with God.
The point is that our passage to heaven is a journey of growth and personal discovery. Yes, heaven is very near, as Jesus assured us, but to experience it we must mature into it, both individually and collectively. We grow into the realization that everything we need for our satisfaction and contentment in this moment is right here, right now. Our attachments to things of the earth, which is the experience of eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, keep us bound to earthly matters until our physical death tears them away from us. The problem is not eating the fruit but in becoming attached to it, desiring it above all else, and believing it can provide lasting satisfaction and contentment. We believe our possessions will liberate us; instead, they imprison us.
The journey to heaven is difficult not because it is far away, but because we tend to look back and long for what we think we’ve lost, as the Israelites did in the wilderness. We grow in unity by remembering our eternal spiritual nature and the limitations of physical bodies, even as we enjoy and care for everything on the earth for the amazingly beautiful creations they are and the momentary pains and pleasures we experience here. We grow in the knowledge of good and evil by living through those pains and pleasures and realizing they are not separate, but one. To do so requires right focus and right action on our part.
This is the 19th in the series of Life Notes titled, If I Should Die Before I Wake. I invite your thoughts, insights, and feedback via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through my website, www.ContemplatingGrace.com. At the website, you can also sign up to have these reflections delivered to your Inbox every Thursday morning, if you are not receiving them in another manner.
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