Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden
Hooray for the California Library Link+ system! We arrived home from 3 weeks in Minnesota last Monday, and waiting for me on our library’s hold shelf was a wonderful stack of books from within the San Francisco public library system and around the state. Schools like Azusa Pacific and Biola are part of the system, which means great access to theological books for me – kidlit and grownup alike.
Traveling to me up the peninsula from Mountain View was a lovely, lovely picture book: Adam and Eve and the Garden of Eden. Maybe I’m alone in this, but I find telling the story of the Fall rather tricky. There’s so much I want to emphasize: humanity’s created goodness; our sole responsibility for the Fall; God’s foreknowledge and eternal provision for sin; God’s simultaneous anger at sin and protective love for his creatures; and most importantly, the way this story already points towards God’s triune character and personal involvement in undoing the effects of sin in the world. Way, way too much for a picture book, right?
Well, yes. But Jane Ray’s account manages to both tell the story simply and faithfully, without piling on too much theological interpretation for little ones, while at the same time hinting at the richness that lies beneath. And she does this primarily through the remarkable illustrations.
The narrative itself is a pretty straightforward account of Genesis 2 and 3. But each moment in the story is beautifully, meditatively illustrated – and the illustrations tell deeper parts of the story, evoking rather than spelling out some of its beauty and mystery. For instance, Adam is simply naked and unadorned – until the creation of Eve. In the pages that follow her creation, the two of them wear garlands in their hair and have decorative patterns painted on their bodies. The created relationship between men and women adorns, beautifies, and complements each. Likewise, when Adam and Eve are sent out of the garden to till the ground, they are shown working together on an orderly, beautiful plot of land. Angels hover overhead, suggesting God’s ongoing provision and common grace – the possibility of some flourishing outside of Eden. Look closer, though, and you notice that under the ground are a buried corpse and scattered bones. Outside of Eden, death is built into earth’s productivity. As buried things decompose, the soil is enriched. It’s a point worth meditating on.
Of course, these illustrations are merely hints and suggestions. And that’s what I appreciate. Rather than delivering children a heavy exegesis of Genesis 2 and 3, Ms. Ray has drawn the story in a way that lets it tell itself. It’s a wonderful example of a beautiful children’s book that tells the truth in and through its beauty.