“God is a gardener.
We know this from the second chapter of Scripture. “The LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east” (Gen. 2:8), and this garden is complete with trees, fruits, vegetables, flowers, rivers, minerals, onyx, gold, birds, animals, human beings, marriage, sex, life, and the presence of God himself (Gen. 2:9–25).
It is not just lush and idyllic—the Greek word for garden here, paradeisos, gives us our word paradise— but enormous as well, and probably mountainous, given that it serves as the source for four rivers.
It is more like a primeval Yosemite than a vegetable patch or a manicured lawn. By planting a garden, placing humanity in it, and walking alongside them in the cool of the day, God is showing us the connection between his creativity, his love, his abundance (every tree that was pleasant to the eye and good for food, every beast of the field, every living creature, and so on), and above all his presence.
Eden is a place of life, love, and harmony because God lives there. The first garden is a temple, and from now on all temples will be gardens.
That might sound like a stretch, until we study the designs of the tabernacle and the temple in detail (which, since they are lengthy and a bit repetitive, most of us don’t). They are full of garden imagery, pointing us to the verdant, lush, life-giving bounty of the gardener God who lives there.
Consider: the temple is made out of cedar trees, “carved in the form of gourds and open flowers,” and the floor is boarded with cypress (1 Kings 6:15–18).
Like Eden, it is guarded by cherubim, built on a mountain, entered from the east, and adorned with gold and onyx (1 Chron. 29:2). The doors of the sanctuary are made of olivewood, carved with palm trees and flowers in bloom (1 Kings 6:31–32).
The bronze pillars are festooned with hundreds of pomegranates, and “on the tops of the pillars was lily-work” (1 Kings 7:20–22).
The panels are set with livestock (oxen) and wild beasts (lions), and as you walk across the court, you find yourself surrounded by fresh water (1 Kings 7:23–29). There is a tree-shaped lampstand outside the Holy of Holies, and a further ten made of pure gold (1 Kings 7:49).
It would have felt like an orchard, a well-watered garden, a paradeisos. It spoke to Israel: the God of the garden lives here. Welcome.
So gardens are places of abundance and divine presence. But they are also places of romance and love. The first marriage and the first love song took place in a garden (Gen. 2:18–25), and this profound mystery is a picture of the love between Christ and the church (Eph. 5:31–32).
Numerous biblical couples get together in garden-like places, under trees or at wells or both.
The Song of Solomon is full of plants, trees, flowers, orchards, fruits, fountains, and gardens, reinforcing the connection between our intimacy with God and our intimacy with one another.
This connection, interestingly, is still reflected today, every time a couple gets married surrounded by carnations, arbors, garlands, lilies, trellises, and petals of confetti.
We design our wedding venues like a garden of love, not least because we first knew love in a garden. Yet the garden is also a place of tragedy.
We do not just remember paradise; we remember paradise lost. Eden was not just the garden of love but the garden of love spurned.
Life was rejected in favor of the knowledge of good and evil, marriage was spoiled, and verdant abundance became thorns and thistles and pain in childbirth.
As human beings, we were meant to take the garden with us, filling the earth with the life and harmony we found there, but instead we were exiled from it, frog-marched out by the eastern exit, with cherubim on guard to prevent us from coming back.
From that day on, we lost our unrestricted access to the presence of God, both in the temple-like garden and in the garden-like temple. We have been pining for it ever since.
The human story has been a long and often disastrous series of attempts to get back to the garden.
It is fitting, then—as well as glorious beyond words—that our access back into the garden, with all the abundance and presence and love that goes with it, was secured in two gardens.
The first, which we know as the garden of Gethsemane, reversed the decision of Eden, replacing Adam’s “not your will but mine” with Christ’s “not my will but yours.”
The second, as Jesus stepped out of the tomb just a couple of days later, reversed the consequences of Eden.
Where Adam brought death to everyone in a garden and then went to hide, Christ brought life to everyone in a garden and then made himself as visible as possible.
This connection may be what John is hinting at when he says that Mary thought Jesus was the gardener (John 20:15). In more ways than one, he was.
The result, as Jesus had said while being crucified, is that those who trust him can be brought back to God. “Today you will be with me in [paradeisos]” (Luke 23:43).
We are welcomed into the abundance and vitality of a new and better Eden.
The cherubim blocking your way have been stood down.
The serpent has been crushed.
The garden of love is open, and the Gardener has been preparing a place for you.
When we finally see it, in the final two chapters of Scripture, we get the most delightful sense of déjà vu—there is a river and a tree and leaves and fruit and gold and onyx and a wedding.
And in the midst of it all is God himself, so bright that there is no need for the sun, and so present that there is no need for a temple (Rev. 21:22–23).
–Andrew Wilson, God of All Things: Rediscovering the Sacred in an Everyday World (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2021), 81-84.