What is the Garden of Eden? Did it really exist? Paradise on Earth, the Golden Age of humanity, this wonderful garden in which man knows divine happiness is described in the book of Genesis, the first biblical book of the Old Testament. Adam and Eve lived there happily, until - tempted by the serpent - they ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and were driven out of it.
Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. A river watering the garden flowed from Eden; from there it was separated into four headwaters. The name of the first is the Pishon; it winds through the entire land of Havilah, where there is gold. (The gold of that land is good; aromatic resin and onyx are also there.) The name of the second river is the Gihon; it winds through the entire land of Cush. The name of the third river is the Tigris; it runs along the east side of Ashur. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. (Genesis 2:8-14),
Its place in earthly reality is perhaps less meant to be considered in a geographical aspect (where the Garden of Eden is located on earth), but more in a memorial aspect. Man carries in him this memory of a blessed time that allows him to reach toward this lost harmony.
In the Garden of Eden, man speaks with God. His relationship to Him is simple and natural. God provides for all his needs and man lives without worries or pain. It is the disobedience and temptation to be the equal of God - by tasting the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (what st. Augustine calls original sin) - that breaks this harmony and brings out fear, pain, and suffering.
Man remembers this state of peace and seeks harmony. Only the return to God can allow him this peace of the soul, the fact of abandoning himself entirely and with total confidence in his creator, who is also a loving Father who keeps his arms wide open for the return of his children (see as well the parable of the prodigal Son).
What is being described is a garden, that is to say a piece of nature that is tamed and welcoming rather than hostile and wild, a place of harmony between man and his environment.
In the Bible, man is invited by God to be its guardian, to work the earth, … not to exploit it!
“The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it." (Genesis 2:15)
Faced with ecological disasters, Pope Francis - in his Laudato Si - invites us to find this harmony between man and creation, which requires care, attention, respect for our common home.
“It is important to read biblical texts in their context, with adequate hermeneutics, and to remember that they invite us to “work [the garden] it and take care of it.” (GN 2, 15). While “working” means plowing, clearing or laboring, “taking care” means protecting, safeguarding, preserving, caring, monitoring. This implies a relationship of responsible reciprocity between human beings and nature. Each community can take from the goodness of the Earth what is necessary for it to survive, but it also has a duty to safeguard it and to guarantee the continuity of its fertility for future generations.