There is a Hebrew word that most Christians are aware of: Shalom. It is generally understood to mean “peace”, but this word contains a deeper and broader meaning. Shalom more accurately means an absolutely unbroken and whole, as well as peaceful, state of existence and reality. In such a state there is no separation or enmity between anyone and anything in existence. All relationships are whole and unbroken, perfectly interconnected. In such an idyllic state the relationships between God and humans, humans and humans, humans and nature, and nature and God are whole and unbroken. Where and when did such a state of reality exist? It was the blueprint with which God created the earth and everything in it. If Shalom is the foundation for community that we are trying to discover then we must first consider the source of Shalom and in doing so we shall see that it is of immense value, for it is a very part of the nature of God.
Shalom originates in the nature of the Creator, it emerges from his heart and is part of his image. As Christians we believe in the triune God, in the trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The trinity exists in a perfect state of whole and unbroken relationship. They are one and their relationship is absolutely open and interconnected. Thus the essence of community is rooted in who God is. As we seek a model or definition for community we must ultimately look at God’s nature and in him we discover what true community is. The triune communal nature of God is the highest and purest reality of community. From the community of the trinity emanates the communal nature of all creation, including humanity. Thus when God says that he creates man in his image, part of that image is the natural spiritual design for community, that truest form of community which is shown in Adam and Eve’s pre-fall existence in the Garden of Eden.
God created the natural world to fit his communal design and therefore the creation is meant to function communally with humanity for whom it was created. So we see that Shalom comes from the nature of God, it is a part of his image, and humans being created in that image have within their own human nature the capacity and the design to live in relationships that are marked by Shalom.
In Genesis 1-3 we see the establishment of Shalom and also its shattering. When God created the universe, the earth and humanity, it began as a reality that was rooted in and permeated by Shalom. Adam and Eve had a relationship with one another that is difficult for us to imagine for it was one in which there was no separation, no tension or power struggle. Their relationship was whole and unbroken, totally open and connected, as was their relationship with God and with nature. It was a perfect state of communal existence on every level. Can we imagine what it must have been like to live in the Garden of Eden as they did? Adam and Eve truly knew each other, and they knew God as we long to, without any degree of separation. God walked in the garden where they lived! They lived at peace with the world of nature, without fear of natural disasters, poisoned plants, or wild animals. We see in their experience the picture of community, which God intended for humanity and his creation: unbroken and whole relationship with God, one another, and nature. Community was present in a fullness that is difficult for us to comprehend for it was a much different reality from our experience of community today.
There was a moment, an instant in which a single action shattered the state of Shalom like a sledgehammer smashing a pane of glass into a million shards. This shattering was cosmic in scope. Reality rippled as pieces of what had once been the very fabric of reality came unraveled and frayed leaving a new state of reality behind in the aftermath. We are speaking here of the Fall described in Genesis 3 when sin entered the picture and community as it had once existed was totally altered. The relationships that had been previously unbroken, whole, open and connected, had suffered a terrible fate. In the Fall, Shalom was lost and replaced with fragmentation, separation, and broken , disconnected relationships. Genesis 3 describes for us the ramifications of this shattering and we see the loss of the idyll community that had existed. After Adam and Eve eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge we see the effects begin: Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Genesis 3:7. Why did they cover themselves if it was not out of some sense of shame? For the first time these two humans, who had up until this point been in a whole and unbroken relationship, take action to hide something of themselves from one another. The separation has begun. In verse 8 we read that God was out walking in the garden in the cool of the day. Adam and Eve heard him coming and they hid from him. For the first time they hide from their friend and creator, and God calls out to them “Where are you?” The community that had existed between the Divine and humanity is now marked for the first time by separation as Adam and Eve attempt to avoid God because of what they have done in eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge. When they finally emerge from their hiding spot they tell God that they hid from him because they were naked. They were trying to hide themselves from him because they now saw themselves in a different light. Their acceptance of themselves as they are has been damaged, even lost. For the first time their eyes have turned inward to the Self and they have become deeply concerned with themselves as the center of their reality. This self-centered perspective of reality is evidence of the loss of their ability to engage in relationships that are whole and unbroken, open and outwardly focused. Now they have become concerned with themselves first, then others.
So we see the beginnings of the separation that takes place within the human spirit where it experiences an inner fragmentation that will be a stumbling block to community and relationships from this time forward. The evidence of the separation that the Fall has wrought continues in verse 12-13: The man said “The woman you put here with me, she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it. Then the LORD God said to the woman “What is this you have done?” The woman said “The serpent deceived me and I ate. God has asked them if they have eaten from the tree of knowledge, the only tree that he expressly asked them not to eat from in the whole garden, and in their responses we see how the shattering has taken hold. Adam does not own up to what he has done but rather shifts the blame to Eve. He is trying to hide from the Lord what he has done by putting the focus onto another. Eve’s response is the same only she blames the serpent for what she has done. Both try to hide their fault from God and their responsibility by pointing the finger at someone else. Separation has taken its firm hold on them and their world. God’s heart is broken because the incredible relationships that had existed are now marred and community as it was intended to be has collapsed.
In Genesis 3:14-19 the Lord now reveals the consequences of what has taken place. He says to the serpent Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel. The serpent becomes cursed because of its complicity in the shattering of the state of Shalom. The Lord declares that from now on there will be serious separation between Eve and all her offspring and the serpent. To Eve the Lord says I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you. The consequences that Eve suffers are the loss of ease in childbearing and a significant change in the way her relationship with Adam will function. Adam, her husband, will now rule over her. For the first time there is the emergence of a balance of power in the context of their relationship with one another. That Adam will rule over her is not to be seen as a positive change in their relationship, rather it is the negative consequence of the shattering of their original communal relationship. This is evidence of their relationship being broken and no longer marked by the oneness that they enjoyed before eating of the tree of knowledge. There is now a serious degree of separation between them, one above the other. God then says to Adam Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it’, making it clear that his action is the reason for what follows. God continues Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return. Adam and Eve’s action has shattered Shalom, and as a result not only have degrees of separation entered into their relationship with each other and with God, but we see now that their relationship with nature has also become broken. The ground has been cursed because of what Adam has done and now his relationship with nature is marked by hardship. In order to eat he will have to work very hard to produce food from nature. Nature will itself oppose him by producing elements that are negative like the thorn and the thistle. Lastly we see that Adam’s destiny has also changed. He has become mortal and will suffer a physical death upon the earth after which he will return to the dust from which God made him. How do we know that he could have lived an immortal existence? Consider Genesis 3:22: And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever. Adam and Eve’s very nature has been changed. Within them now is the fallen state that has resulted from eating from the tree of knowledge. Where there was no sin nature within the human spirit there now exists that fallen nature. Due to this transformation God now removes the possibility of Adam and Eve eating from the tree of life from which they would gain immortality. The implication is that if they ate from this tree and became immortal then that state of immortality would have been a part of the human condition just as the fall became a part of the human condition (see Romans 5:12-6:14). Had this happened the effects of the Fall might have been permanent. God’s only option is to banish his beloved Adam and Eve from the garden, mercifully sparing them and sparing humanity from being trapped forever in their fallen state. The last sad separation takes place and Adam and Eve must leave the place of Shalom where they had known what it was like to live in a world of perfect community, and the tree of life is hidden away from them and humanity. God does not give up on humanity, he does not end the story at the end of Genesis chapter 3 for he loves Adam and Eve and he loves his creation. He loves his vision of a world of communal relationships that are whole and unbroken. He has a plan and he will set it in motion in Genesis chapter 12 through an old man named Abraham.