With so many religious revivals and restoration movements today and throughout history, I decided to investigate the following question:
What exactly is each movement restoring or reviving?
My investigation brought me to a computer science analog that I will use to help conceptualize the aim of restoration movements. In computer science there is a concept called a restore point. When an operating system becomes infected with a harmful virus or spyware, i.e. corrupted, an operator can restore the system to a date prior to the system being infected. This point is the restore point. If the restoration process is successful, the operating system’s functionality would be restored and operate as it had originally, prior to being corrupted.
Throughout the bible and post-biblical religious history, we see revivals and restoration movements aimed to “return to God” by restoring some belief system or worship practice that has for whatever reason been corrupted or significantly deviated from. For instance, in the Book of Nehemiah many Davidic practices and Mosaic statutes are restored and the entire restoration movement that is the basis of the story is represented by the rebuilding of the walls of the city. The restore point here would be the time of King David and the goal is to return the people to God, who have deviated into practices that differ from the Mosaic Law and the worship practices of David.
In post-biblical religious history we see perhaps the most pronounced movement in the form of the Protestant Reformation which aimed to restore the core values and attitudes of the Catholic Church to the time of the early church formation, approximately 100 CE.
We see present day evangelical movements which move the restore point a little further back to the beginning of the apostolic ministry, primarily directed by Jesus’ commission in Matthew 28 to “go forth and make disciples of all the nations”.
These are only a few of the more common restore points. There are many others, just as there have been many restoration movements throughout history. Given all these different restoration movements, each focused on restoring the system, or at least a part of the system, to a particular point in history prior to corruption or deviation of some kind, it leads us to the following question:
What is the optimal restore point?
To phrase this question a different way, has there ever been a point in biblical history where the system was completely uncorrupted?
The answer to this question, interestingly enough, is YES! The first two chapters of Genesis tell a story of God creating a world and seeing that it is good. He creates man and woman and places them in a garden paradise home with instructions to maintain and expand the garden. Furthermore God sees that the whole system is not only good but very good, and then rests after putting man and woman in charge as stewards over everything. Not a single negative thing is said anywhere in the first two chapters of Genesis about the created system other than man’s being alone, which is fixed when God creates woman and the man rejoices over her.
It is not until chapter three that man and woman fail to follow God’s instructions and thus introduce corruption into the system (by eating from the forbidden tree). After this point, maintaining and expanding the garden paradise becomes burdensome, the children kill each other, and ultimately the system gets to a point where God creates a flood to wipe out the whole world, except Noah, his family, and a boat full of animals.
It might seem reasonable to consider the post-flood era a worthwhile restore point except that we do not know for certain that Noah, his family, and the animals are completely free of corruption. Noah is referred to as a faithful and righteous man, but his first act upon exiting the ark is to sacrifice some of the animals to God, a practice that was never mentioned or even alluded to until after the original fall of man in Genesis 3. Noah’s action prompted God to declare “every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood” (Genesis 8:21). Immediately thereafter God tells Noah he will see animals as food and that the animals will consequently be afraid of Noah. No mention of animals being afraid of man was ever made or even suggested in the bible prior to this point. Instead the mention in Genesis 2 was of animals being ‘helpers’ of humans while the vegetation and fruit was to be for food.
Given that the first act upon exiting the ark indicates not only a deviation from the garden paradise ideal but also a divinely warned consequence (i.e. animal fear) that had not hitherto been mentioned or alluded to previously, it leads me to believe that restoring to the post-flood era would be an inferior restore point to that of Genesis 2. And even if my reasoning is flawed on this point, it still seems to make the most sense to restore the system to the point where we know for certain the system is ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31) and without any noted corruption, according to God, instead of restoring the system to a point where ‘every inclination of man’s heart is evil’ (Genesis 8:21).
So if the optimal restore point is just before the fall of man in Genesis 3, how can we restore the system to that point?
The short answer is by putting our faith in God to do it. Jesus prayed “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
We only have a couple pages of text to describe the original state of the system prior to the corruption that occurred in Genesis 3, but there are some clues that give us ways to extrapolate more information about life in the original state. For instance, man and woman are said to be created in “God’s image and likeness”, and God is later revealed in the character of Jesus throughout the gospels. Seeing how Jesus exercises authority over the church provides insight as to how humanity ought to exercise its dominion over all creation. Also the fruits of the spirit are described in Galatians 5:22-23 as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” These descriptions point us toward how we ought to care for all creation.
The longer answer is to radically transform our lives back to the way God told us to be in the beginning, before the world was corrupted. As Jesus put it, “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns” (Mathew 24:45-46). In order to prepare for the return of our master, Genesis 1-2 provides us with a handful of instructions on what we ought to do.
The first is to reflect the image of God in our stewardship over all creation. When creating man and woman, God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, according to our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth” (Genesis 1:26). If our dominion consists of killing animals like Noah did upon exiting the ark, then we fall short of the original state. If instead we care for the animals the way Jesus cares for us, we will not only refrain from harming them but will also give abundantly to them, raising and caring for them just as our heavenly father cares for his children. We ought to therefore glorify God by loving creation the way he does.
The second is to go back to the diet God gave us in the beginning. God said “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food” (Genesis 1:29). By eating fruit and vegetation we keep our bodies – our temples of God’s holy spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19) – healthy and ready to perform all good works. By loving animals instead of seeing them as food, we avoid corrupting the system by introducing animal fear into it.
The third is to grow food in abundance: “Then Yahweh God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). By growing fruit trees and vegetation we are able to feed all the animals and the people of the earth, literally doing exactly what Jesus said to do in the parable: “giving them their food at the proper time.”
The fourth is to maintain a close relationship with the animals. “Out of the ground Yahweh God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field” (Genesis 2:19-20). The relationship God intended for man to have with animals is not simply to let them be but to know them by name. We are instructed to keep them safe, like a good shepherd does for his flock (Hosea 2:18, John 10:11). And as their caretakers, we ought to find out what plants to grow that will nourish their bodies and to keep them from turning against each other the way Adam and Eve’s children turned against each other after the fall. We must lead them in the ways of God just as we must lead our children in the ways of God (Isaiah 11:6).
The fifth is to walk humbly with God. “They were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:15). Shame entered into the system when man and woman disobeyed God, as did blame and guilt (Genesis 3:7-13). To be naked is to be vulnerable, hiding nothing. Through Jesus, God saved humanity from its transgressions and restored the way back to the original state. Our transgressions have been forgiven and we are free in Christ to again live boldly by faith and “to walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).
While the details aren’t all filled in for us, there is enough to set the foundation for a radical restoration back to Eden. Most important is to put our faith in God, knowing all things are possible with God (Matthew 19:26) and that we “can do all things through Christ who gives [us] strength” (Philippians 4:13). We should look to God and trust in his evaluation of what is good, not putting our faith in philosophies contrived by man or letting doubt cripple our faith. We must allow the love God has for all creation to flow through us in all we do. Let us keep these words of Jesus at the forefront of our mind and on our heart, for they encapsulate the essence of Eden and our call to restore it: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last – and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other” (John 15:16-17).
I pray that all creation returns to the original state of loving each other the way God loves all creation. Let us all live by love and by faith in God! Amen.