Adam suppressed a shudder as he listened to his wife’s scream. How much more could she take of this? he wondered. How much more could he take?
Eve had suffered for hours, and her prolonged agony threatened to exhaust Adam’s sympathy. One of his arms was bruised where Eve had gripped it in pain. His other arm was weary from waving a palm frond over his wife’s sweat-soaked body. As the day wore on, Adam began to wonder if the child his wife carried would ever come forth from the womb.
When her latest cry subsided, Eve went limp and closed her eyes. But Adam knew her reprieve from the pangs of childbirth would be shortlived.
After a long silence, Eve looked at her husband.
“It wasn’t supposed to be this way, was it?” she asked.
Adam shook his head. “No,” he replied, his voice hoarse from fatigue.
“It wasn’t supposed to be this way.”
He pushed a lock of damp hair off Eve’s forehead, then leaned back against a tree and closed his eyes. It grieved him that the sweet pleasure of intimate union with his wife now led to such travail. Adam had witnessed many animals giving birth, and the process had never seemed this torturous.
His head—as well as his heart—ached for his wife over the pain she was suffering.
Eve squeezed desperately on his arm again, snapping Adam out of his reverie.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. He was sorry for her pain and sorry most of all that her pain was a consequence of their sin. If only they had obeyed the Lord.
Adam’s thoughts wandered back to the day God banished them from the garden. The Lord had pronounced a curse on the pair, telling Adam that he would have to toil against weeds and brambles to produce enough food to feed his family.1 The calluses on his hands offered proof of Adam’s strenuous labor since that day.
To Eve the Lord had said, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing.”
The couple was now witnessing the fulfillment of that prophecy.
The joy and pride Adam had felt as he watched his wife’s belly swell had turned to sorrow at her continued anguish. Eventually the ordeal came to an end when Eve’s cries subsided with a final, wrenching push. There was no silence under the canopy, however. A noisy protest erupted from a small, red-faced being with clenched fists, and the lusty crying seemed to announce his fury at the trauma of being propelled into the world from the safety of his mother’s womb.
In amazement Adam examined the tiny fingers and toes of his squalling son. The new father’s exhaustion evaporated into a sense of wonder at this one-of-a-kind creature. Eve had once been a part of his own being, Adam reflected. Now this new infant, so small and so vulnerable, had come from Eve’s body, and he would forever carry the imprint of both his parents.
As Eve gazed at her son, the haunted look of anguish faded from her face. She stroked his cheek, and the baby’s wailing quieted to a whimper.
“With the help of the LORD,” Eve said, “I have brought forth a man.”3
For a few minutes the mother communicated wordlessly with the tiny child cradled in her arms. Then Eve turned to her husband and asked, “What name will you give him?”
Adam thought for a moment. He had named all the animals God had created; now he had the privilege of naming this unique individual.
“I will call him Cain,” Adam finally said, giving the child a name that echoed Eve’s declaration that she had “brought forth” a son.
Eve nodded her agreement. “We will teach you well, Cain,” she said to the newborn. “We will teach you God’s commandments so you will not make the same mistakes we did.”
It might seem odd that we would study an ancient Bible story to find the explanation for our modern disease of discontent. But there is no other explanation for our restlessness. Our dissatisfaction in life began near the beginning of human history, when Adam and Eve first sinned against God. Their disobedience caused the human sin nature to be inherited by their own children and by every human born after them. Just as sin created distance between Adam and Eve and their Creator, our own sin moves us far from God and creates a lack of contentment. To understand the implications of our sin nature, we must look to the Garden of Eden and see life as our Creator designed it to be.
In the fictionalized account of Cain’s birth that opens this chapter, Eve observed that “it wasn’t supposed to be this way.” It certainly wasn’t.
But everything changed the moment Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, and we are still living with the ramifications of their decision. Their sin erected a barrier between them and God, and it caused them to be cast out of the Garden of Eden. This break in relationship between God and humanity continues to this day, and it explains why contentment continues to elude us.
In my view, this makes the first few chapters of the Bible critically important to comprehend. You see, the Bible is a unified writing that presents a systematic and organized plan—an eternal plan. Not only does Scripture allow us to see what God has done in the past, but it also opens our eyes to what God is doing among us today and what He will be doing in the future. That’s why it’s essential to gain a clear picture of God’s plan from beginning to end.
While God has no beginning and no end, He chooses to appear to us within the confines of time and space, to intervene in human history, and to make Himself understandable to humankind.
The Bible begins with God creating the universe. As He created matter out of nothing, He set aside a special place where He fellowshiped with Adam and then with Eve. It was an indescribably beautiful garden called Eden, and at the beginning Adam and Eve enjoyed unhindered communion with God. Scripture ends with the book of Revelation, which paints a picture of what is to come. Revelation describes the New Jerusalem, a magnificent and exquisite garden city that will come down from heaven.
History begins with a wedding between a man and a woman, and it ends with a symbolic wedding between the Bridegroom, the Lord Jesus Christ, and His bride, the church—the multitude of believers from every tribe, every nation, every tongue, and every age.
At the beginning, Genesis describes Adam and Eve being placed in the garden as God’s deputies, and Revelation depicts Jesus’ followers ruling and reigning with Him. The Bible begins with a man and a woman in a place of peace and tranquility and joy, and it ends with all believers in a place of far greater peace, infinite tranquility, and joy everlasting.
But just as the beginning mirrors the ending, there is much that happens in between. The witness of Scripture reveals not only the cause of our restlessness and loss of contentment, but it also leads us to the perfect solution that God provides. There is a place of peace, rest, and belonging—a place where our search comes to an end.
When God created humanity, there was complete contentment. Adam and Eve lived in paradise, a place of perfect peace and protection.4 As we try to imagine what such a place would be like, we gain three insights that clarify the difference between the lack of contentment and true peace.
1. Exquisite Beauty
To say that the garden of Eden was exquisitely beautiful would be a terrible understatement. We really have no words to describe the beauty and majesty of this garden. Think of the most breathtaking panorama you’ve ever viewed. Perhaps you were standing on a mesa overlooking the immense majesty of the Grand Canyon…or standing below Niagara Falls, listening to the deafening roar of the massive rush of water…or watching the sun melt into the ocean as it set on the western horizon. You were awestruck at the glory of God’s creation. Now multiply that sense of wonder a thousandfold—and you still cannot imagine the pristine beauty of God’s garden.
As God created every part of the universe, He pronounced it “good.” But He unleashed the full extent of His creative power when He designed a garden home for Adam and Eve. For them, He poured out beauty beyond our comprehension. But this boundless beauty was soon spoiled. Just as pollution despoils the physical environment that God created for us, a different kind of pollution devastated the Garden of Eden. When sin entered the garden, it spoiled the beauty of holiness. Through man’s disobedience, sin gained a foothold in God’s garden and turned it from paradise into a spiritual garbage dump.
Sin turns innocence into shame and joy into drudgery. Sin transforms purity and perfection into cynicism and faithlessness. It does everything in its power to destroy the exquisite beauty that God creates. Sin explains our loss of peace.
2. Abundant Provision
The Garden of Eden was not beautiful only in the aesthetic sense. Its beauty was functional. It was amazingly productive. The trees were pleasing to the eye and also good for food. As part of God’s plan of provision, He assigned Adam the job of maintaining the garden. People often have the mistaken notion that paradise implies inactivity. They assume that before the Fall Adam and Eve had nothing to do. But they didn’t just lounge around all day—they had work to do. “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”5 Adam, and later Eve, had important work to do, but they were working inside the garden, in the presence of God, and that made all the difference. Work inside the garden was a delight. God gave them satisfying work so they would find fulfillment in it. Later, after sin stole their purity and innocence, their work moved outside the garden.
They learned what it was to toil and labor with difficulty just to produce their daily food. Before the Fall an atmosphere of sweet harmony pervaded the garden. Adam and Eve were in harmony with each other and in harmony with their environment because they were in harmony with God. That’s what made Eden a paradise, and it helps us comprehend their complete contentment.
3. Complete Protection
Just as the garden’s beauty and provision teach us about contentment, its ability to protect its occupants also demonstrates an essential element of contentment. The enclosed nature of the garden tells us much about the quality of life there. The walls that surrounded the garden are symbolic of God’s protection. He sheltered Adam and Eve within the walls, guarding them from all danger. Although the garden was enclosed, it was open from above, where God’s watchful eyes were constantly upon them.
Within the walls of the garden, Adam and Eve walked and talked with God. They fellowshiped with their Creator and enjoyed His protection. This same relational God longs to fellowship with you, too. Take time to talk with God, and He will talk with you. You can know God’s heart by reading His Word. And when you fellowship with Him, you have His divine protection.
While Adam and Eve had always enjoyed complete protection in the garden, they fell for the serpent’s deception and exposed themselves to danger. In the middle of the garden, God placed a special tree. It wasn’t an apple tree, as the popular misconception goes. It was called the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and God instructed Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit of this tree.
The LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”6
Contrary to the serpent’s assertions when he confronted Eve, eating the fruit of this tree would not bring her the knowledge of good and evil. Rather, the ability to distinguish between good and evil could only come from obeying God’s command and not eating of this tree. Temptation always brings a choice. It is an opportunity either to come under God’s authority and have victory over the temptation or to go our own way and suffer defeat. Temptation reminds us that alone we are helpless victims, but with the Lord we are conquerors. God’s victory over sin is our protection.
God used a second garden to confirm His perfect plan to give us victory over the sin that was born in the Garden of Eden. That second garden was the Garden of Gethsemane.
In the first garden the first man rebelled against God by disobeying His command. But in the second garden, Jesus, the perfect God-man, obeyed the Father fully. Satan got the upper hand in the Garden of Eden. But in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus submitted to His Father’s will, which guaranteed Satan’s defeat. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, their disobedience infected all of humanity with the virus of sin. But Jesus’ perfect obedience led from the Garden of Gethsemane to the Cross, making it possible for His followers to be forgiven of their sins. If you are not walking in the power of the One who defeated sin, then sin is defeating you. Living outside the authority of God will bring nothing but worry, fear, and anxiety.
Just as one tree of temptation held sway over Adam, it was on a tree that Jesus was crucified, taking back the sting of sin and death. On the tree of Calvary, Jesus gave us the hope of heaven.
Because of their sin, Adam and Eve had to leave the sheltering safety of the garden and make a life for themselves in the outside world. While they continued to dwell near the Garden of Eden, their oldest son, Cain, became a wanderer and eventually built a city founded on man’s rebellion. Taking a look at the city of man will give us added insight into our struggle with a lack of contentment.