[Jesus] replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:43
We are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon,
And we got to get ourselves back to the garden.[i]
I confess to being envious of artists. In my family, all of the visual arts abilities traveled on the Y chromosome: my father, brother and one nephew. I don’t even do a good job with stick figures. I wish I could draw or paint because, let’s face it; there are some things that defy words; concepts or images so marvelous, words cannot do them justice. Paradise is one of those concepts, I think.
If you could draw “Paradise,” what might it look like for you? My guess is, regardless of artistic ability, we might all paint something different.
In the Greek version of the Old Testament, the word we translate as “garden” in the (Genesis, chapter 2) Creation Story is actually the word “paradise.” It is the same word Jesus speaks to the criminal on the cross. It is his promised destination. The Garden (or more literally, Paradise) of Eden must have been a beautiful place. In the description, it sounds so lush and fertile; a river flowed there continually. There were lots of fruit trees, including one called the Tree of Life.
In the last century or two before the birth of Jesus, many Jews began to believe in life after death and many imagined Paradise as the destination. That means long before the old rock band Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, those ancient Israelites believed that “we got to get ourselves back to the garden,”[ii] i.e. Paradise. Like a powerful homing instinct, we yearn for Paradise.
But here’s something curious… In Revelation, the final book in the bible, at the end of time we find ourselves not in a garden paradise. We find ourselves in a city, the New Jerusalem. A river flows through the middle of the city’s main street and on the river’s bank is the tree of life. It sounds like Eden. So, just as you and I might be apt to paint Paradise from diverse perspectives, apparently our bible writers did the same!
So where will we wind up? In a garden or a city? Well, as mysterious and tantalizing as the concept of “paradise” may be, perhaps the best part of Jesus’ promise to the repentant criminal is that he would wind up with Jesus. In other words, maybe when we read that sentence, we shouldn’t read “today you will be with me in Paradise;” but rather, “today you will be with me in Paradise.” Could there ever be any better place than with Jesus?
[i] Woodstock lyrics by Joni Mitchell
[ii] Written by Joni Mitchell, Woodstock was the lead single on the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young 1970 album Déjà Vu (Atlantic Records).