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The First Home: The Garden


 In Marilynne Robinson’s novel Home, the Boughton family home has a “flat face . . . and peaked brows over the windows.” The house is not just another address in Gilead, Iowa. Like a character in the novel, it is nearly human. When brownies bake in the oven, when the fragrance of chicken and dumplings fills the house, the house comforts and consoles. “This house has a soul that loves us all, no matter what.”

Many of us understand how the idea of home has the capacity to make us feel loved or lonely, welcomed or exiled. How does home exercise such power over our lives? We find the answer in our first home—the Garden. Though God’s image bearers had been commanded to “be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28), humanity was never meant for a nomadic existence. God did not set the first man and the first woman on a wide, open road and demand, Enjoy! Explore! Find the end of the rainbow! Rather, in Genesis 2, He “implaces” them—to use a word from theologian Craig Bartholomew. He puts them in a garden, which He Himself has carefully cultivated. He gives them an address: Eden, which means “delight.”

As a gift of love, God gave Adam and Eve one cultivable plot of land to tend and to till. Twice, the text mentions that God “put” Adam and Eve in the garden. The first time the word is used (in verse 8), the word means “placed.” God “put” humanity in the garden, much like we “put” our shoes in the closet. But the second time the word, “put” is used (in verse 15), it is a different Hebrew word, implying “rest” or “safety” or “dedicated to God.”

Home doesn’t just describe where we’ve landed; it is shelter given by God.

Apply the Word

Place in the Bible is not a neutral concept. As Craig Bartholomew writes in his book Where Mortals Dwell, place has theological meaning. The Garden, as our first home, was a divine gift where we were meant to enjoy God’s presence. “One of the glories of being human and creaturely,” writes Bartholomew, “is to be implaced.” We are people who long to be home—with God.

BY Jennifer Michel

Jen Pollock Michel is a regular contributor to Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog. Her first book, Teach us to Want: Longing, Ambition and the Life of Faith, is published by InterVarsity Press. Jen earned her BA in French from Wheaton College and her MA in Literature from Northwestern University. She lives in Toronto, Canada, with her husband and five children, and serves on staff at Grace Toronto Church.

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