New Exodus: Memories of Eden

We begin a new series which will journey through the Exodus narrative as it relates to spiritual formation, soul care, and human maturity.

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“In the end is my beginning” (T.S. Eliot, East Coker, Four Quartets).

One of my favorite poets, David Whyte, never tires of reminding his readers that innocence always precedes (and ought to always pervade) experience.  For Dorothy, before the tornado it was a quiet day in Kansas.  For Frodo and Sam, the Shire preceded Mordor.  For Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, the safety of Professor Kirk’s house preceded the battle for Narnia.

And before the Fall, there was Eden.

light 3Eden represents a place of security, satisfaction, and innocence.  It is a kind of womb, providing just the right environment to thrive.  And despite our best attempts to theologize away innocence, we cannot seem to rid our minds of Eden’s blessed memory.  Before original sin, Henri Nouwen reminds us, was original blessing. C.S. Lewis anchors human desire in Eden’s relentless heart-pang.  Hope emerges from a heart that believes that it was made for something more.  Irrevocably stamped on our humanity is God’s image, anchoring us in our original vocation to rule and relate on the King’s behalf.  Hidden beneath the depravity of experience is a relentless reminder of human dignity and original innocence.

And not even the Exodus story, with its narrative of slavery and salvation, can begin without Eden’s memory.  One of my favorite commentators on Exodus, Pete Enns, reminds us that Israel was brought into Egypt, of all places, to thrive.  Exodus 1:7 could very well have been lifted from the first two chapters of Genesis:  But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them” (ESV).  Wow.  Egypt itself offered tastes of Eden’s happy memory.

In fact, Jewish scholars have pointed to a tradition which viewed Egypt as a kind of womb which grew too small for the growing child Israel.  Though safe and secure for a time, she would not ultimately thrive in Egypt’s cloistered confines.  Though a reach, this Jewish tradition of thought, at the very least, recalls the important fact that Moses told his story in such a way as to emphasize original blessing before tragedy.  In this sense, Old Testament commentators have noted that Exodus 1 is a story of new creation.

This New Exodus paradigm for soul care and spiritual formation that I propose, then, is anchored first and foremost in creation. This Edenic anchor reminds us, time and again, how the world was meant to be.  As theologian Cornelius Plantinga notes, all brokenness that precedes after the Fall is thus a “vandalism” of the original blessing and “shalom” of Eden.

Without this anchor, sin and struggle make the headlines of the New Exodus story.  With this anchor, longing and hope characterize the human journey from its Egyptian enslavement to its Edenic union.

What reality anchors your story?  Has the difficulty of your experience dimmed your memory of Eden?  Or can you sense, beneath the pain, an inkling of holy desire which reminds you of the way life is supposed to be?

Perhaps you’ve experienced an “Egypt” – a place of slavery – which originally seemed to be a blessing.  Many good things can become enslaving – relationships, food, sex, ministry, work.  Can you see what you originally longed for in the thing that now enslaves you?  What good thing did you first desire?

4 comments

  1. wow. i am challenged by these questions. i truly just want to be free. for me, freedom entails a memory of what it was like to feel free. i guess the echo of this memory is my edenic anchor; a spiritual deja vu.

    ironically i seek to find this in the slavery of my own egyptian slavery as you mentioned.

    your post reminds me of the importance of understanding paradox; it seems to play role in understanding of what i truly “…long and hope for.” thanks for the reflective moment!

  2. Very useful questions to ask of ourselves. Only this evening I discovered your blog and have found it to be refreshingly engaging for folks like me who care about spiritual growth and direction.
    The function of questions like the ones you pose is vital. Can we learn to be more honest with ourselves? Lie less to ourselves? Help others evolve into a life of more disciplined self honesty? It’s here – in valuing self-honesty — where we can find some real truth. Even truth that will set us free.
    I saw in a previous post that you referenced Karen Horney. Reading “A Life of One’s Own” by Joanna Field — one of Horney’s contemporaries — a couple decades ago helped propel me toward some real break-throughs in my own personal spiritual and social development.
    Paradoxically in my case, I discovered that one of the main things I’ve always “longed for” and the “good thing I first desired” was actually one of the main things that now liberates me. The real bummer was that many of my Christian friends, family and colleagues would like to admonish me for taking my path. Indeed, they would actually be so much more comfortable if I returned to my previous enslaverly.
    The “good thing” I first desired, I now have. Sadly, the Christian community is also very capable of working tirelessly to re-enslave its members.

  3. Hi Kraig,
    I would like to respond to your post, if I may. Rigorous honesty is one of the most difficult challenges for anyone that seeks the power of truth that Christ holds absolutely. For me it is painful, unbelievably painful.

    If we learn to lie less to ourselves, we would be in fact tearing down many defence mechanisms developed over time for our survival, sometimes survival of the ego or just survival of self. We can also encounter times where we encountered wounding. And yes wounding from those who call themsevles Christian and often play judge and jury in situations they know little or nothing about. To bring this to the table with Christ Jesus is of paramount importance to the survival of our personal faith. Above all we must understand that God is light and all love and truth and that in him there is no darkness at all. To have this experiential knowledge that we can view over time is a testimony of his enduring hand in our own lives. What is wonderful is to find how He fights the good fight with us!!! Keep on preaching the gospel to yourself and holding on to Him who is able to do much more than we think. Wishing you God’s true ‘shalom’.

  4. Hi Chuck – I’ve thought about your New Exodus model quite a bit since our class in December. This post captures something that has lingered prominently in my mind since then.

    I like your LOTR reference to Sam & Frodo and the Shire. It’s those memories of home and the promise of returning there one day that provide comfort and motivation for the hobbits in some of the hardest moments of the quest. It seems a little more complicated for us humans on some level, since we have never actually experienced Eden. And so I find that I get confused about what I was really created for. I think I’m quicker to see evidence of depravity & brokenness rather than the signs, symbols and foretastes that point us to what we were truly created for and what one day will be true for us for eternity. I guess Scripture helps us fine tune our vision so that we can be more alert to the deeper Truth that undergirds the visible realities of day to day life.

    Lately I have been amazed to begin to see that God wants to tell a story about Beauty through my life. I think Evil has tried to mar that… both my desire for Beauty and my ability to reflect God’s Beauty. My experiences have made me think that Beauty is something illusive and immaterial. After all, in this life all of my experiences with Beauty have really been just tastes of “little b” beauty (as opposed to “capital B” beauty) that are only shadows of the deeper, truer Beauty that is part of a taste of Eden. And even then, I feel like life has taught me much more about what it is to be ugly, worn-out, and forgotten, than about the Beautiful.

    The reminder to look back to Eden, to consider creation, is a helpful one. It’s only as I have recently begun to understand that part of God’s design for his image bearers is that they would reflect something significant about both his Strength and Beauty that I have started to see my story become anchored in the larger story.

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