It seems to me that the key to understanding reality and our relation to it is contained in the wonderful story of Adam, Eve, and the Serpent.
First, God determines to make man in His image and likeness and to give him rule over the fish, birds, animals, and creeping creatures. Then, following the pattern of each day of the first week, God does what He plans. He makes man in His image, male and female, and God blesses them, and tells them to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it, and rule over the living creatures. This we learn in Genesis one.
In Genesis two we learn a little more about how God made this man and woman. There are, as yet, no shrubs or field plants because there is not yet a man to tend them and it doesn’t rain. Then God forms a man of the dust of the ground, plants a garden toward the east, over in Eden, where He causes eye-pleasing and food-good plants to grow (including the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil), and where four rivers run out of the garden to the four corners of the earth, and God places the man in the garden so he can keep it and cultivate it.
After meditating on this story repeatedly for some 45 years, increasingly in light of the rest of the scriptures, and after listening to many teachers describe it, I have come to the conclusion that Adam is created to be a priest, the garden in Eden is a temple, and Adam’s commission is to bless the whole world by caring for the temple.
Consider: Adam and Eve are to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.” The first part would create a moderate problem/opportunity for them. The garden in Eden is perhaps very large, but it is clearly not the whole earth. In fact, I don’t know how it could be other than a rather small portion of it. So if they are fruitful and they multiply, the garden won’t be large enough for very long.
Solution: extend the garden. “Fill the earth and subdue it.” It sounds to me an awful lot like that means they should make the whole earth like the garden.
Now if, as I believe, the garden is a temple, then what they are being told to do is to spread the temple of God through the whole earth.
Subduing the earth is not an act of violence. Ruling it is not an act of aggression. Not when they are done in a godly way, as the image of the creator.
On the contrary: God seems clearly to want Adam and Eve to be like Him by working the way He worked. Or maybe a better way to say it would be: God has set the pattern for Adam and Eve for how they can work wisely, restfully, and productively.
God spent six days making the world, then set aside a day for rest. He blessed that day because it delighted Him so much. You might say, it meant so much to Him. He planted a garden and put the man in it so that the man could see what the world could become like. He gave the man all the tools and resources he would need to perform the task.
And don’t miss this: He gave the man everything.
Trees that were good for food and pleasing to the eye were his to eat. The image of God was his inner being. The most unimaginably beautiful companionship was provided so they could work together, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit had worked together to make this temple; as Bezalel and Aholiab and the Holy Spirit will work together to make the tabernacle in Exodus; as Christ and the church and the Holy Spirit will work together to make the earth a Holy Temple in the fulness of all things.
He gave him everything.
But in order to ensure that the man possessed everything in the right way, He gave him an opportunity to offer it to God and to deny it to Himself. He told the man that he could eat every fruit of the garden, but one. He did not permit him to eat of a very special tree, one that provided the knowledge of good and evil.
It’s an astounding story, one that possesses the deepest secrets of ethics, morality, and the deep inner life of man and his relationship to God. We all know and live in the outcome.
Adam eats the fruit. He dies. He loses everything. Having become unclean, He is evicted from the temple. Worse, the Holy Spirit is evicted from the inner sanctum of his soul. He is alone in a world he was meant to fill. What he should have taken possession of has taken possession of him.
Ever since then, the things God made pleasing to the eyes and good for food have been dangerous to us. We seem unable to deny them to ourselves. They possess us when we ought to possess them.
And that, it seems to me, is the key to understanding reality and our relationship to it:
God gave us everything and told us to take possession of it, but we have let everything take possession of us. The proof is in our fear of losing things and in the anger we show when our things or security or honor are placed at risk.
Adam and Eve had been given a relatively simple test, though nowhere near as simple as it might seem. They had to fast from one particular fruit tree. They failed and lost everything.
We have a similar test. We need to take possession back of what has taken possession of us. Christ achieved this when He rejected Satan’s temptations, told Peter to get behind Him, and became obedient to death on the cross. Renouncing the world, He saved it.
Even so. As God the creator set the pattern for man in Genesis one, so God the redeemer set the pattern for us in Christ. First, we need to unite ourselves to Christ through repentance and baptism. Then we need to learn to deny ourselves the fruit that enslaves us. Like Israel on the brink of the promised land, we must take possession of what is already ours. We must begin by taking possession of our own souls (As Christ told His disciples, when telling them of the coming persecution: by your patience you will possess your souls). We must systematically take possession by removing the unclean creatures that occupy it.
In Christ, we are the temple of the living God.
In Christ, all things are ours.
It is our task to take possession of the things that are ours, not by grasping desperately, the way the world and the flesh do. Not by getting ours before somebody else does. But by realizing that it is already ours, so there is nothing to cling to.
By faith we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and we abandon the quest for respect, pay, and honor from this world. We relax. We let go. We find the one thing needful. We take possession of what is ours by casting it out of our souls and asking the one to come in who stands at the door and knocks.