Postscript to Peter on Genesis: The Expulsion from Eden

Postscript to Peter on Genesis: The Expulsion from Eden August 1, 2008

Part I: A freaky little book

Part II: A Convergent Conversation / Small Gods
Part III: The Human Face of God / And the LORD saw what He had made…
Part IV: A few things missing
Part V: An Evolving Covenant / The Initiatory Challenge
Postscript: The Expulsion from Eden
Afterward: Why does it matter?

Some readers questioned my describing the punishments of Adam and Eve as “relatively light.” Marshall Massey and Tiffany both point out that compared to the easy life in Eden, a subsistence farmer watching his wife die in childbirth has a pretty rough time of it. And yes, I can’t disagree, but I was comparing the punishment in Genesis to more modern conceptions of damnation. Take, for instance, this description by Jonathan Edwards:
We can conceive but little of the matter; we cannot conceive what that sinking of the soul in such a case is. But to help your conception, imagine yourself to be cast into a fiery oven, or of a great furnace, where your pain would be as much greater than that occasioned by accidentally touching a coal of fire, as the heat is greater. Imagine also that your body were to lie there for a quarter of an hour, all the while full of quick sense; what horror would you feel at the entrance of such a furnace! And how long would that quarter of an hour seem to you! And after you had endured it for one minute, how overbearing would it be to you to think that you had it to endure the other fourteen!
But what would be the effect on your soul, if you knew you must lie there enduring that torment to the full for twenty-four hours! And how much greater would be the effect, if you knew you must endure it for a whole year; and how vastly greater still, if you knew you must endure it for a thousand years! O then, how would your heart sink, if you thought, if you knew, that you must bear it forever and ever! That there would be no end! That after millions of millions of ages, your torment would be no nearer to an end, than ever it was; and that you never, never should be delivered!
But your torment in hell will be immensely greater than this illustration represents. How then will the heart of a poor creature sink under it! How utterly inexpressible and inconceivable must the sinking of the soul be in such a case!

–Jonathan Edwards,
“The Future Punishment of the Wicked Unavoidable and Intolerable”

The punishment of Adam and Eve was not damnation to eternal hellfire in the future; it was nothing more than life as we know it now. Yes, life is hard, and sometimes it’s unimaginably hard, and compared to the imagined paradise of Eden it’s pretty rugged indeed. But it’s still life here on Earth. It’s not damnation. (Unless you believe the Aldous Huxley quote: “Maybe this world is another planet’s hell.”)

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