To quote the famous book title of John Steinbeck, East of Eden, that is precisely where they were condemned to live. And all of us know we live “East of Eden.” In that place---our place really---is the place of toil, pain, and often, unhappiness. I could ask for a better deal, but it won’t matter. We are no longer in Eden. We are in Cleveland or New York or London or Moscow. It does not matter where we are in the globe, because the whole globe is East of Eden.
I am not sure Eden was ever a real, literal place. Even if it were, it does not change my interpretation. More specifically, I am convinced Eden was metaphorically a place. That means I feel like Eden was more a particular kind of relationship than a literal place. Adam and Even lived metaphorically in Eden when God created them in the beginning. They were created good. And the relationship with God and with each other was good.
Good relationships don’t cause toil. When the relationship is good, it does not seem to take any work at all. Just ask any pair of lovers. Their relationship is great. They can’t imagine being without the other. Life is always fantastic. There is no pain. Happiness seems like a sure thing. Many of us have known these kinds of relationships. But all adults know it is not realistic for this to go on forever.
The fracturing of the great relationship with God and with each other came when Adam and Eve “disobeyed.” Every relationship has some limitations. God had simply told them not to do one thing. It is too easy to complain that God should have put no limits on them. That way they could have remained perfect. But that is unrealistic. Human beings are free creatures. And we have to learn how to live into that freedom and exercise it. In that sense they had to “prove” their ability to maintain the relationship. They could not do it.
Likely no one else could do it. I know I have not and probably cannot in the future. Certainly all of us now living East of Eden are vulnerable to our own “fall.” Inevitably we too will blow it. Surely all of us will have to deal with those times when life gets tough. It is difficult; it causes pain; it produces unhappiness. Just writing these words makes me feel some sadness. I could wish it were otherwise, but wishing usually does not produce results.
Yesterday I spent an entire day with a number of people who were dealing with a situation in which life got tough. I am sure all involved wished that we did not have to be there. Everyone could desperately wish to walk right back into Eden and forget all the nonsense that had transpired. Nobody was having any fun. There was enough pain to satisfy any cynic. There was not going to be a party at the end regardless of how things turned out.
And that is precisely what some of life East of Eden looks like. Invariably there will be occasions when life gets tough. People hurt and get hurt. One could be pessimistic and say it is only a matter of when, not if, one will get hurt when life gets tough. So what’s one to do?
There is no recipe for successfully dealing with those times when life gets tough. But I do think there are some very general guidelines. In the first place, when life gets tough, try not to make it worse than it already is. Put positively, when life gets tough, at least we can exercise the most care we can muster. It is time to be careful instead of careless.
Secondly, when life gets tough, it is not unusual for things to be said or done that mess up the relationships. This is even true if getting cancer precipitates my life getting tough. That surely messes up my relationship with my body. In any of these instances, forgiveness quite often will be necessary to prevent things from getting worse. It might even help the healing process---of cancer and of relationships.
Finally, when life gets tough, I think there is always a role for love. I know that is an easy word. Clearly, love is easy to manage when life is great. But love is decidedly needed East of Eden when life gets tough. When God banished Adam and Even from Paradise, God did not cease loving them. I would argue that is when God was challenged really to start loving them. Why should it be different for us?
When life gets tough, be careful, be ready to forgive, and be loving.