The Plain Truth
March/April 2003*
By Alan W. Dowd

We hid in the shadows, far away from the tree that marked the center of the garden.

“He won’t find us here,” I promised, gasping for air as I fell to the cool ground. “I don’t even think he knows about this corner of the garden.” But it was foolish to think he wouldn’t find us. He knew the garden far better than I, and he knew me better than I knew myself.

“Where are you?” he yelled, but the question had nothing to do with our hiding place. He was asking about our hearts.

His voice grew louder as he walked toward us, until finally, he pulled back the branches and vines that hid us. Mingling with the afternoon sun, his light flowed into the grove of trees like white-gold streams of water—at once blinding us and giving us sight, drowning us and giving us life, terrifying us and giving us peace.

Slowly, almost tenderly, he explained what would happen because I broke the rules, what had changed in the instant I ate the fruit. He spoke in hushed, quiet tones  now, but his words were piercing and emphatic: “Enmity…Cursed… Strike…Crush… Pain… Toil…Death.”  They fell from his lips like blows from a fist.

As he spoke, he took us by the hand and pulled us from the shadows, back out into the light. Fighting back tears, he led us to the garden’s edge and closed the gate.

“Don’t abandon us, Father. Don’t leave us—not now,” I begged.

“I have not left you,” he whispered. “You have left me. But someday I’ll re-open these gates. I promise.”

And I wept—not because we were alone, not because the garden was cordoned, not even because I would die. I wept because I hurt him.

And the eyes of both of them were opened

He promised that sin would lead to death, but it didn’t come in a moment. Instead, it came slowly, day by day, hour by hour, breath by breath. I didn’t really understand the long reach of my sin—I didn’t understand death— until my own son strayed into the shadows.

Death was everything the father wasn’t—empty, cold, selfish, hungry. I saw it when I looked down at my baby boy, who lay bleeding in the field; I saw it in his brother’s angry eyes; I saw it when I looked at their mother, who lost two sons that day. 

And I wept. The curse had been passed down. In an awful moment of awareness, I saw generation after generation push the Father away. More selfishness. More pride. More death. More tears. 

Our years stretched out behind us, weighing on us and pulling us back toward the earth. Empty and lonely, I yearned for time with the Father, in the garden, beneath the tree, in his light. Finally, mercifully, I died. For the first time since I fell, I could rest. And from my resting place, I watched the Father fulfill his promise.

I will walk among you

The Father always finds a way. And He found a way in spite of me. He himself would be the way. At just the right time, he would unlock the gates and invite us home.

But how? After what I did, how could his children know him as I knew him? How could they walk with him, hear his voice, feel his embrace, or see his face?

“Don’t worry,” he would say. “Just as the stars and sun are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than yours.”

With sacrifices and tablets and dreams, He revealed the answer. And the answer shook creation. Since we could no longer reach out to the Father, he would reach out to us. In the beginning, the world seemed to be created for him. When he returned, he seemed to be created for the world.

From Abraham’s side, I saw him undo what my sin began. He served and saved his children. He healed and helped them. He reclaimed and renewed them. He forgave and freed them. He walked with them and reasoned with them. He danced and sang with them. He led them out of the shadows.

He became their friend. And his arms became their refuge. What peace, what warmth to be in those arms. How I missed them after the Fall. How his children missed them until now. There was so much they never learned, so much they didn’t understand, so much the Tree didn’t reveal.

He told stories as he held them. Stories of wayward sons, of widows and beggars, of shepherds and flocks, of harvests and sacrifices, of kingdoms past and kingdoms yet to come, of life as he intended it.

Where I was weak, he was strong. Where I strayed, he obeyed. Where I fell, he stood. He followed the rules, no matter where they led him.

And one day they led to a place darkened by shadows, a garden where a son begged his father to change his mind, where a father said goodbye to a son, where tears of despair and death fell like rain. And this time, the Father would lead the Son—not to the edge of a garden, but to a blood-stained rock called Golgotha.

“Father, why have you abandoned me?” whispered the Son. The question shot through time and space, and through me. For I was the answer.

“This is the only way,” the Father winced, “to atone for his mistake, to give his children another chance, to re-open the garden.”

Slowly, almost tenderly, he stretched out the arms that sculpted me, bowed the head that imagined me, stilled the voice that awakened me, and laid down the life that created me.

“It is finished,” cried the Son. “Yes, it is finally finished,” echoed the Father.

As the Son died, the Father unlatched the garden’s gate. And as the Son rose, he threw it open. And I wept, but these weren’t tears of loss or regret; these were tears of joy—the Father had kept his promise.

*This article was honored by the Evangelical Press Association as the most outstanding evangelistic article of 2003. In addition, it was re-published by The Plain Truth magazine in "The Psalms of September," a collection of Dowd's essays on matters of faith.