I like this description of city and garden and Fall and Redemption in Making the Best of It.1
We must be careful, however, to see the Fall also in its context as just one part of the story. Some Christians instead have interpreted our current existence as if we are in a world utterly fallen, corrupted beyond repair, a valley of the shadow of death through which we must travel as expeditiously as possible in order to reach the sunlit lands of the next life. In particular, culture itself is seen as a bad thing in the form of the city – the antipode to Eden (which is, to make this contrast work best, depicted as a “natural” place, not the garden it was, which of course implies culture). The first city was founded by Cain. Aha! That means cities are bad, and thus all human culture downstream of the Fall is bad.
Yet long before the Bible set up its ongoing dialectic between the evil city (Babel/Babylon) and the good city (Jerusalem/Zion), even a little study of the immediate Biblical context suggests an interweaving of the good and the bad after the Fall. Genesis 4 proceeds from the story of Cain and Abel to show us at least two forms of cultural decline in the person of Lamech, who marries two wives and then boasts to them of his disproportionate violence, killing a man who had (merely) hurt him. Yet this Lamech fathers three sons, one of whom is the ancestor of nomads, those who dwell in tents and heard livestock; another of whom is the first musician; and the third of whom is the archetypal metalsmith. However one might be suspicious of cities, and however much one might disdain loutish Lamech, in the gracious providence of God even this family produces cultural advancement through three creative and productive sons.
I have always marvelled at a creator God who could use so many flawed people for His purposes. There are many in the Bible whom I would not want to meet, let alone befriend, who are used to fulfill the cultural or spiritual purposes of God. He seems infinitely capable of meeting us at our level and redeeming some part of our lives. He has worked through history with those who have pledged their faith in Him and those who have not and still brings about growth and progress in this family of humanity. I marvel at a God who allows good rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous; who works with the faithful and the depraved; and allows atheists to create art and science and literature which benefits humans and other creatures on this planet. I may not like this “loutish Lamech” but I am thankful for his farming, musical, and black smithy sons. It is a good thing that He can use any one. That tells me that, despite my flaws and sin and sloth, He can still use me.
1. Stackhouse, John G., Jr. Making the Best of It: Following Christ In The Real World. New York: Oxford University Press , Inc., 2008.