Eve opened her eyes, surrounded by the lush green landscape that made up the garden where she and Adam had lived since being created. Everything was good. Life was spectacular. However, it wasn’t just the abundance of plant life and animals that made their life so good. They were in the fullness of God’s presence. God walked with them. He talked with them. Even though it was the only thing she’d ever known, Eve loved having that kind of closeness with her Creator.
Then, it happened. She was deceived and Adam sinned alongside his bride. Something they’d never felt came washing over them. Shame. They hid from God and were eventually kicked out of their home. They were separated from God’s presence for the first time.
What must it have been like to be in the fullness of God’s perfect presence? I think about this often. I catch glimpses of his presence in my daily life, I experience the leading of His Spirit, I communicate with Him - but I find myself longing to have the fellowship that is pictured in Genesis, before the fall.
As I read through the Bible this year I am increasingly amazed by God’s holiness and how it is His very nature to be so. Because of how holy He is and how sinful His people are - His presence must be separated and contained. The Old Testament Israelites had to follow the Lord’s instructions in order to worship and enter into His presence. These were not simple instructions either. Leviticus outlines detailed directives for sacrifices and how to remain clean - and it was a big deal when things were done incorrectly. Imagine for a moment the weight of this: waking each day to again sanctify yourself through the law.
The term sanctification generally means to be set apart as holy. It was used to describe different things in the Old Testament. There were certain times that were to be sanctified, certain objects in the temple, and priests that served there. The people soon discovered that it was impossible to keep the law perfectly. They consistently had to offer sacrifices to show repentance for their disobedience. The law was a weight that they couldn’t bear.
Even though accounts like Leviticus or Deuteronomy may leave us asking questions, have you ever considered the enormous grace that is displayed through the law? God could have remained separated from His people. He could have told Adam and Eve to get lost for good - or worse - and they would have deserved it. Yet, He chooses to make a way for His people to enter His presence.
When I think of this subject, I sometimes think of astronauts. They have to get all suited up in order to withstand the atmosphere of space. The suit has to be made of a particular material and be worn a certain way before they can venture outside the safety of their ship. In a similar way, the Israelites had to be made clean through the processes of sanctification before they could withstand the presence of God.
You see, in my astronaut example, man wanted to be in space so badly that they created a way to experience it. In our Biblical story, God wanted to be in communion with his people so deeply that He created a way for them. And He did so in a way that foreshadowed the ultimate sacrifice that would fulfill all of the laws to which they were bound.
On the cross, God showed His love for us. He created a way for us to be close to Him without following the laws of the old covenant. This might be a simple statement - but God really does love us that much.
Through my life, I have struggled with feeling wanted. The idea that God would love me enough to create a pathway to Himself paved with the blood of His own Son - hasn’t always been easy for me to process. Because it only makes sense if He deeply loves me. It only makes sense if He cares for me and desires to be near to me. I am deeply sinful. I am undeserving. But the truth of God’s love is weaved through the Scriptures and culminated at the cross and it is unignorable.
In the New Testament, we are given a picture of sanctification through Jesus. No longer do we slaughter lambs because the Lamb of God was given on our behalf. When we talk about sanctification in our current church setting we often focus on a conversation about our behaviors. God is making us holy - He is freeing us from the power of sin - He is changing our hearts and desires and actions. This is all true, and praise God it is so! However, the purpose of the process isn’t to merely to one day be a perfectly behaved individual. It is to be brought near to the throne. To be brought into intimacy with God that wouldn’t be possible any other way. And as we are brought near - we are changed by His presence.
Remaining consistent with our space analogies, I recently read about astronaut Scott Kelly. He spent a year aboard the International Space Station and when he returned they discovered that the gene expression in his DNA was different. He had a twin brother, and now their DNA was no longer the same. Being in space, for whatever reason, fundamentally changed his biology. In a much larger and more significant way, being in the presence of God changes our spiritual DNA, if you will. We are transformed as we are brought near, and we are brought near as we are transformed.
One day we will open our eyes, surrounded by the new creation. Everything will be good. Life will be spectacular. We will be fully sanctified in the presence of God. He will walk with us and talk with us. We will be wrapped in the closeness of our Creator for eternity and we will wonder no longer what it was like to experience the communion of the garden.