Have you ever tried to picture heaven and worried you’ll be bored? Clouds, robes, harps—these cartoon images abound and fail to rouse longing. The idea of singing an infinite loop of praise choruses can fill us with dread. Some sure promises lift us up, like when God declares he will wipe away all our tears. But what about our tears now? Our lives are often heavy, and our open Bibles can seem mute in the face of our questions. What does ancient Israel have to do with my hurting child, my lost job? How could the promise of future golden streets palliate current global poverty or systemic injustice?
Nancy Guthrie—a Bible teacher, speaker, and host of Help Me Teach the Bible, a podcast of The Gospel Coalition—wants to speak life to God’s people in the midst of confusion. Her latest work, Even Better than Eden: Nine Ways the Bible’s Story Changes Everything About Your Story, puts forth a simple premise: We must read the Bible as one grand story. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end—and the distinctions between these parts matter, even to our everyday lives.
Read the Story Rightly
Why would this knowledge be transformative? As Christians we know that the Scriptures start at the beginning of creation and wrap up when Christ comes again. Yet this is right where Guthrie presses us. What do we imagine when we picture that coming day? What would be the consequences of letting that future soak our present?
Experienced Bible teacher Nancy Guthrie traces nine themes throughout the Bible, revealing how God’s plan for the new creation will be far more glorious than the original. But this new creation glory isn’t just reserved for the future. The hope of God’s plan for his people transforms everything about our lives today.
Written for individuals and small groups alike, this book will help you understand God’s plan for the future of his people—life in a garden even better than Eden—in order to experience the glory of this new creation in your life even now.
Guthrie argues from decades of experience as a Bible teacher that we often stumble right out of the gate on these important questions, because we misunderstand the beginning. She writes, “We tend to think of [Eden] in perfect and even ultimate terms” (12). But Eden was never meant to be the end. It’s not where Christ is preparing a place for us. Instead, Eden was chock-full of potential—potential that was stymied with the fall, but which God through Christ by the Spirit is restoring.
Eden, then, isn’t the goal we run toward. Instead, it’s like a treasure chest containing down payments of what we will one day receive in full. Guthrie invites us into nine mini-stories stretched across Scripture—the wilderness, the tree, God’s image, clothing, the bridegroom, sabbath, offspring, a dwelling place, and the city—to see just how glorious and life-changing these treasures truly are. She also shows us how to read the Bible with wisdom, joy, and hope.
The amount of biblical data Guthrie processes as she traces each of her themes through the whole canon is impressive. She holds up familiar passages, turning them so a given theme can refract through it with added meaning.
Take, for example, the theme of clothing. Guthrie argues effectively that we don’t see a redemptive arc back to the nakedness of Eden. Rather, we press toward a new type of clothing: immortality. But this topic isn’t merely found in Genesis and 1 Corinthians. She argues that the extensive, even exhaustive descriptions of Aaron’s priestly garments in Exodus picture our need for covering that is glorious, beautiful, and holy. The high priest couldn’t enter naked. Just the same with us: unless we’re clothed with the righteousness of Jesus Christ, we can’t enter God’s presence.
Over and over again, Guthrie reveals the redemptive significance of familiar Bible stories. She demonstrates how to translate knowledge (the possession of information) into wisdom (the right use of knowledge). Readers are inspired to consider other well-known stories, and ways they may whisper the gospel freshly. Furthermore, Guthrie demonstrates that even difficult passages must connect somehow to this bigger story. Will we wrestle with God to get their blessing?
A choice fruit of wisdom is joy, which Guthrie tends like a patient gardener. But she isn’t unfamiliar with grief. A main theme of the book is how massively the sin of our first parents interrupted what might’ve been a trajectory of glory. She shares her own and other people’s stories of deep pain, including the loss of children. Yet even in these tender, vulnerable places, she shows how various redemptive themes bring balm.
How can this be? It’s not by simply looking forward, twiddling your thumbs, and waiting for heaven while everything burns down around you. That type of eschatology has been preached before and been found lacking. While it emphasizes the goodness of what is to come, it has no power to meet the challenges of today.
Guthrie instead labors to show that the promises of the future should shape us now. Someday God will permanently dwell with us, but even today he has died to be with us wherever we go. We’re never truly alone. Someday we will perfectly reflect his image back to him, as we were designed to do. Our sin and flaws will be gone. But even now he is changing us from one degree of glory to another. Someday we will embrace perfect rest, released from cursed work into purposeful, joyful action. But even now we’re invited into peace. Even now we can reclaim our work as unto him alone.
To read this book is to remember how God sees and knows us. He will never leave us nor forsake us, and he infuses every day with his presence and purpose. We can look for it, and we can find it.
But sometimes the realities of our broken world only find their suitable conversation partner in the world to come.
The story of the bridegroom is a case in point. Marriage was designed to bring blessing to God’s people. Even more, it was designed to communicate the unique, intimate, and joyful relationship between God and his chosen ones. Embedded into every culture are living pictures of God’s faithfulness, so that humanity might understand.
Embedded into every culture are living pictures of God’s faithfulness, so that humanity might understand.
But everywhere this picture is defaced. Husbands and wives leave, physically or emotionally. They give their bodies to another. Or less perniciously, though not less grievously, they’re taken by illness or accident. Some men and women who long for marriage never attain it, and their hearts and bodies can ache. What way forward can be found in a sign ripped down?
Guthrie asks us to lift our eyes. All earthly marriages point to a coming consummation, the joy of which will overwhelm us. No one who is in Christ will be denied that wedding day. No believer will find his or her future spouse lacking. Even pain can teach what something should be, because we can feel what’s missing. As Guthrie writes, “Our less-than-perfect marriages or our longings to be married can serve to whet our appetite for this perfect marriage to come” (90).
This doesn’t remove the pain of adultery or unwanted singleness now, but it challenges us to answer the most prominent question of the Bible: Can we trust this God? No trite “yes” will do. Instead the broken body of Jesus, and his resurrection to indestructible life, invite us to consider who he is, and who he promises to be for us.
Our Only Hero
Guthrie cherishes the fact that Jesus is the Bible’s hero, the true second Adam, the one who redeems all things. Even Better than Eden is an invitation to experience him as that Hero in your own life, now and forever. It’s also a subtle tutorial in how to read your Bible with purpose, and it gives tools to communicate this many-faceted gospel to the world.
Read Even Better than Eden and lend it to a friend. May it stir us up to love and good works now, even as we say with eagerness, “Come, Lord Jesus!”