Even I, as the son of a rural farmer, recognized a unique reflection of God’s kingdom as I walked through Central Park in New York City this past fall.
Having grown up on a farm off a dead-end road outside of a small Southern town, my country bona fides are solid. But I think heaven will be a lot more like Central Park than an idealized rustic scene.
In Revelation 21, when the apostle John sees a vision of the new heaven and new earth, he doesn’t see empty rolling green meadows descending. He sees a gigantic city, a metropolis that would dwarf any global city today—as long, wide and tall as the distance from Boston, Massachusetts to Miami, Florida.
Yet in this teeming, jewel-encrusted city, a garden is the crown jewel. There, in the center of the city, is a river surrounded by trees.
Biblical gardens should obviously take us back to the beginning, to Genesis. In those all-too-fleeting moments of pre-Fall creation, there’s a beautiful scene without buildings or streets. A picturesque, rural life with few people.
This is true, but God didn’t want it to stay that way.
In placing Adam and Eve in the garden, God gave them two separate commands that demonstrate His desire for Eden to become more than an isolated green space.
He told them to “work it and watch over it” and “be fruitful and multiply.” Both of those bring to mind something like Central Park.
Work It And Watch Over It
When you look out from the park and see the panorama of skyscrapers stretching out over the trees, grass and ponds, it brings to mind that first tranquil garden growing into something more.
From the beginning, Adam and Eve had jobs to do in the garden. God wanted them to develop the natural gifts he had given them into something even more.
We see that in God’s description of the creation as “very good.” He didn’t say it was perfect or completed. That was left to our ancient ancestors.
God wanted to intermingle His creation with our development of it. The construction of streets and cities, businesses and houses, computers and cars are part of God’s design for humanity.
It is also an aspect our worship of Him. The Hebrew word for “work” used in the creation story can also be translated “worship.” As a couple, they were to worship God in cultivating the garden He had given them.
In Central Park, you can see the beauty of this collaboration between God’s work and our worship.
While I, with my rural background, was more captivated by the closeness of the city to the more familiar surroundings of trees and grass, the city dwellers seemed more interested in escaping to the quiet spots of wooded serenity. Yet, we both were drawn to the awe-inspiring juxtaposition of them both.
But Central Park reflects God’s design beyond the connection between serene nature and urban development. It’s not just the landscape. It’s the people filling it.
Be Fruitful And Multiply
God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply. That means more people, literally having more babies. They were to fill the earth with descendants.
This command also extends eternally. God has given us a command to take the gospel to the whole earth, to every people group. His throne is to be surrounded by an innumerable amount of people.
As I walked through Central Park, I couldn’t help but notice the numerous shades of skin. I lost count of the number of languages I heard. That’s in addition to the various accents speaking English, including my own distinct rapid-fire Southern drawl, which stood out in that very Northern environment.
People were making and participating in unique expressions of culture. Artists were sketching the beautiful leaves beginning to explode into reds, yellows and oranges. Others found a perch on a giant rock to read.
In various parts of the park the delicious smells from the food of street vendors intertwined with rhythmic drumbeats, smooth notes from a saxophone or a guitar’s joyous strains.
Taking all this in, I couldn’t help but think about my new hometown, which was at that very moment bracing for an invasion of white supremacists preaching a false gospel of exclusion. The world they were calling for will never exist here and it certainly won’t exist in heaven.
Heaven will look a lot more like Central Park. People from every group, speaking every language, enjoying God’s good creation, and a glorious city packed with culture.
The word “heavenly” has become simply an adjective to describe something we enjoy. Yet, in its truest and deepest meaning, heavenly is an appropriate description of Central Park.
Not because it’s perfect. The gigantic rat I saw strolling across the path and the proliferation of curse words with Yankee accents proved that.
However, the cultivated park in the midst of that great city is a reflection of the heights from which humanity has fallen, but also a foretaste of the future that awaits those whose eternity is set heavenward.
It also reminds us of what we are to be about today. We are to use our God-given talents and abilities to make something out of this world we have been given. Our work is meant to be worship.
We are also to be committed to the fulfillment of the Great Commission—bringing new workers and worshippers into God’s Kingdom who will one day reign with us in that great city with a garden in the center.