One of the more striking takeaways from the new apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia is that the Bible begins and ends with marriage.
Consider: We have the creation of Adam in Genesis 2 followed by the formation of Eve from his side and her presentation to Adam. He recognizes her as his—“bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” The chapter ends with the explicit language of marriage: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body” (Genesis 2:24). Then at the other end of the arc of Scripture we have another marriage feast: the wedding feast of of the lamb and His bride described in Revelation 21.
This is no narrative coincidence. In Amoris Laetitia, Pope Francis reaffirms the teaching of the Church that the family is an icon of Trinitarian communion. (See, for example, section 70, which cites Pope Benedict XVI on the same point in his encyclical Deus Cartias Est.) In the family we first learn of the intimate sharing and giving of oneself for another to which we are called as images of God.
But of course, this original communion within the family and with God soon breaks down in Genesis. We have Adam first failing in his role as the tiller and keeper of the Garden of Eden, made manifest by the appearance of the nefarious serpent. The magnitude of this error soon becomes apparent when Eve tastes of the forbidden fruit and then invites Adam to do the same. Adam, called to be the great guardian, had profoundly failed, in the end even becoming complicit in the crime.
Marriage is a unity. The first sin introduces division into this union: Adam and Eve who had presumably shared a life of perfect physical intimacy with each other suddenly feel the need to clothe themselves (Gen. 3:7). In a sense, Adam and Eve are hiding a part of themselves: the total gift of self has become something less than complete. They then go from hiding from each other to hiding from God (Gen. 3:8).
Man had been the culmination and the center of creation. The six days had built up to him. It was reserved for him to bear the image and likeness of God. So, in a sense, man was also the point of contact between the rest of the created order and the Creator. This truth is borne out in the fact that Adam was called to establish dominion over the whole earth (Gen. 1:26, 28). In a sense, we can see him already exercising this role in the naming of the animals (Gen. 2:19-20).
But after the eating of the forbidden fruit the original communion between man and God is ruptured. To paraphrase the words of a famous poet, once the center fails to hold, things fall apart.
It begins with the family: where the relationship between husband and wife is now strained (Gen. 3:16-17). Likewise, the blessings of creation now become a burden for the man, as he is condemned to toil for his bread (Gen. 3:17, 19). Creation itself becomes cursed (Gen. 3:17). The relationship between mankind and creation is further undermined by his expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the vantage point from which he once was to extend his dominion (Gen. 3:23).
The disuniting of the original harmony of things reaches its final horror in the next chapter, in the murder of one brother by another. The world’s first death has occurred and it is an unnatural one in every sense of that word. The ‘blood rimmed tide’ has been loosed—and humanity will never be the same again.
Genesis and Revelation stand far apart as sort of bookends to the story of the whole Bible. But the meaning of what happens in each comes into clearer focus when we set these early chapters of Genesis next to the climax of the Book of Revelation.
When we arrive at the end of Revelation, we witness a sort of new creation in which unity is radically re-established. The author invites us to set the extraordinary events in comparison with Genesis. As Revelation 21:1 announces, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth.” In the first creation, there had been a division in the day, between morning and evening. But now there will be no more night (Rev. 21:25). In the first creation, the earth, sea, and sky had been separated from each other (Gen. 1:9-10). Now the “sea was no more” (Rev. 21:1).
In the first, the sun was to light the day and the moon (Gen. 1:16), but now there would be a new light source: “The city had no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb” (Rev. 21:23).
This is not to say that there was something wrong from the beginning in the original creation. Instead what we have is something new (see Rev. 21:5). As this new heaven and earth is unveiled before us, we sense in the first place the newness of a radical unity that is being established. In Genesis, we witness the breakdown in the unity of things—in marriage, the family, and creation. In Revelation, then, unity is being radically restored in a new way.
But God is not one to ‘throw’ things away. We see here also the old renewed. Of course, it enters the picture in a most unexpected way: a city descends from the heavens. But this is a most strange city. Its wall is made of jasper, the city itself is ‘pure gold,’ while its foundations are adorned with ‘every precious stone’ (Rev. 21:18-19). Such luxury seems a world away from the lushness of the Garden of Eden. But recall these lines of Genesis 2:
A river rises in Eden to water the garden; beyond there it divides and becomes four branches. The name of the first is the Pishon; it is the one that winds through the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. The gold of that land is good; bdellium and lapis lazuli are also there (verses 10-12).
And, in this new city, we have rivers too: the angel leads John to the “river of life-giving water, sparkling like crystal” (Rev. 22:1). And then, at last, we come to the ‘tree of life,’ which somehow encompasses the river from its sides (Rev. 22:2). “Nothing accursed will be found there anymore” (Rev. 22:3).
In the end, man is not led back to the terrestrial garden. The cherubim do not part ways. The fiery sword is not set aside. This is not paradise regained. It’s paradise re-imagined. This is how the Creator restores all things. He does not stop at binding the divisive wounds of the old, but goes on to build anew.
All this newness of a radical unity is leading somewhere. In Revelation 21, we have a new marriage, between the bride and the Lamb. And then in Revelation 22 we have a vision of a vision. Here is the scene as its set for us:
On either side of the river grew the tree of life that produces fruit twelve times a year, once each month; the leaves of the trees serve as medicine for the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there anymore. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will look upon his face, and his name will be on their foreheads (verses 2-4; emphasis added).
Communion between mankind and God has at least been restored in a new way, what we call the ‘beatific vision.’
We live between Genesis and Revelation. We look back to Genesis as our point of origin and forward to Revelation as the destination. For we pilgrims, Scripture is, then, a sort of cosmic road map as we progress from a paradise ruined to a paradise renewed.
A note on sources: I owe a special debt of gratitude to my father G. K. Beale’s own biblical scholarship in helping to illuminate the connections between the Garden of Eden in Genesis and the holy city in Revelation 21-22. See God Dwells Among Us: Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth, IVP Books 2014). I also found these two outlines of the Genesis-Revelation parallels very helpful, available here and here.