Consider the following meaning of the Genesis story.
The world of living things appeared, including humankind. We learn that the underlying, unchanging, and fundamental nature of the human being is the image, likeness and being of God. Our first look at the human race is Adam and Eve, and we learn they have a body and mind with which to interact with the world.
So far, so good. Everything is perfect!
But then a problem arises. And every human being after them is born into this problem. Adam and Eve relate to the world as it appears to be. This is symbolized by their eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Before that moment everything was perfect and none of that had changed. But at that moment when they eat that fruit, the world suddenly appeared to them as something that didn’t seem quite as safe and serene. Suddenly, there was an opposite of everything. There was good AND bad; pain AND pleasure; happy AND sad; gain AND loss; full AND empty; connected AND alone; security AND instability; physical AND spiritual; heaven AND hell; abundance AND lack; wholeness AND brokenness; together AND separated, etc.
Before that, if you remember, everything was just basically one thing and perfect just the way it was. But Adam and Eve took the world at face value, relating to it as it appeared to be. Wisdom tells us that things are not always as they appear but Adam and Eve did not consider that. As a result, they now found themselves in an entirely different reality altogether – a reality where they were left to seek and attain everything in the “good” category, and avoid or protect themselves from everything in the “bad” category. Seek pleasure, avoid pain; be happy, not sad; fight evil, be good; achieve gain, avoid loss; etc. Unfortunately, this approach never leads to lasting happiness or peace because everything in that reality is characterized by impermanence. Even if you were on the top of your game 24/7 working this system, it can never lead to lasting peace and happiness.
What Adam and Eve (and us) fail to see is that everything is fine just the way it is. Remember? Before Adam and Eve acted out of spiritual ignorance, their reality was perfect. Nothing needed to be added or subtracted. The spiritual ignorance of Adam and Eve didn’t make the first reality obsolete; it just blinded them to its presence. They became too caught up in the drama of the reality they created to recognize the truth of the way things really were.
The reason why religion has not provided a solution is because it focuses on solving a problem that isn’t real. In other words, it only perpetuates the illusion further by offering solutions to remedy it. The notion of liberation, transformation or enlightenment applies nothing else other than our spiritual ignorance. Nothing needs to change except our coming to see things as they truly are. That opening scene of perfection in the Garden has not changed or gone away. It is never threatened or diminished. How could it? Is God ever diminished or corrupted?
We can learn something useful from a common religious view. Most religions, especially Christianity, hold the view that we must escape our present reality in order to have true peace and well-being. Christians identify this reality as a place called Heaven. This escape mindset acknowledges the truth that we cannot have lasting peace, happiness, and well-being working the system that Adam and Eve created out of their spiritual ignorance. But where religion goes astray is assuming that we must depart the actual world itself in order to have lasting peace.
The primary message of Jesus was, “The kingdom of God is here.” Thinking of the Genesis story, Jesus could have easily said, “The Kingdom of God is STILL here.” So, while it is true that we can never find lasting peace and happiness Adam and Eve’s way because of the world’s impermanence. And while it is true that we must escape or abandon the mindset and system Adam and Eve created out of their spiritual ignorance, it’s not necessary to be raptured or die and go to heaven for this to happen.
Jesus said the kingdom of God is here. HERE! NOW! In other words, there is no Kingdom of God to be found outside of HERE and NOW. Why? Because the Kingdom of God is within you. In other words, the Kingdom of God is the underlying, unchanging and fundamental nature of all things! It’s the reality before Adam and Eve plunged into the world they created out of their spiritual ignorance.
If the Kingdom of God is here and now, you will not find it somewhere else. Rather than waiting around for death or rapture, Jesus wants us to learn to see and walk in the present reality of his Kingdom here and now. After Jesus crucifixion, we are told that he spent some 40 days with his closest followers teaching them further about what? The Kingdom of God!
If you don’t have to depart the world in order to walk in the present reality of God’s kingdom, what are you supposed to do? That’s what Jesus is all about – showing us that exact thing! Jesus spoke of being IN the world but not OF the world. He spoke of a peace “not as this world gives.” He unmasked the underlying lie of the “knowledge of good and evil” – that God and humankind are separated. Jesus said, “I am the truth.” How is Jesus the truth? God and humankind, not as opposites or pairs, but as one.