am an immigrant.
Born and raised in Italy, five years ago my wife and I made a conscious decision to move to the United States. Moving to a different country is a very unsettling, at times even radical, experience: something akin to transplanting a little tree from one site to another. There are moments of excitement, refreshing ways of looking at things, and the joy of new connections. But there are also moments of sadness, solitude, and a sense of loss and nostalgia.
Migration signifies much more than the physical action of movement, because it involves two competing yet coexisting forces in the life of every human being: the need for stability and the desire for change. We often have to migrate emotionally or spiritually from an unhealthy relationship or life condition, and find a new place or balance to adjust to unforeseen circumstances.
In the midst of our transition I have often asked myself what God’s part is in all this process. What is His role in the trajectories of our lives? Do we choose to move, does He move us, or are we moved by events? What is the reason behind every step of our journey on earth—choice, necessity, design, chance? The book of Genesis is the right place to look for answers to these fundamental questions. It is the book of origins where we find an exposition of God’s initial plan for us, and an explanation of why things didn’t go as planned.
God’s Initial Plan—Balance
Soon after creating the first couple, God expressed His desire for humanity: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28).* These words delineate a horizon of expansion and growth. Fulfilling this vision requires a centrifugal movement, a progressive journey of learning and discovery.
However, God’s very next action seems to contradict His mandate: “The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed” “to tend it and keep it” (Gen. 2:8, 15). God prepares a place for Adam and Eve, a physical space, to manage. In a world awaiting exploration He decides to tie them to a limited geographical area. He situates them in a designated spot to carry out a specific mission.
This wonderful combination of movement and stability is the balance we all strive for in our lives. God’s vision for humanity is to fill the earth with an amazing palette of color combinations, but He elects to give a special place to each of us, so that we do not feel disoriented and without a home. Together we fulfill His plan, but our individuality is precious to Him and is not lost in the togetherness.
Sin and the First Migration
Unfortunately for all of us, Adam and Eve did not reside in the Garden of Eden for long. One of the most traumatic consequences of their sin was that they had to leave their home. The first documented migration in the Bible is a direct result of the entrance of evil into the world.
Genesis clearly shows that the painful experiences associated with change are a by-product of sin. Sin brings an element of unpredictability in life. Now that the perfect mechanism is broken, we find ourselves in the middle of a storm, tossed back and forth. We cannot count on reliability and consistency. We live always in suspense, waiting for the next unexpected event to materialize.
As sin enters the scene, Genesis becomes the story of a lot of movement, with its main characters journeying to and fro like a Ping-Pong ball (see sidebar). Tracing back the origin of most of these migrations we can discover a wide spectrum of human tragedy: family conflict, murder, jealousy, famine, deception, political turmoil, genocide, greed. Interestingly, God often seems to endorse these migrations—or escapes—as the lesser evil, shielding His creatures from the extreme consequences of sin.
When we read the Genesis account of human migrations, we note that discouragement is often superseded by hope. Even though sin brings disruption, we are not left alone. God chooses to remain near His creatures. He accompanies them in their wanderings. He places His mark on Cain to protect him, He stays with Hagar and Ishmael in the wilderness of Beersheba, He does not abandon Joseph in his forced exile to Egypt. He already is Emmanuel—God with us.
Migration—A Divine Call
Some of the migrations in Genesis are not the consequence of sin but are the expression of God’s will. There is a divine force in action that calls people like Abram to leave, get out, and occupy new territory. This force is antagonistic to the destructive work of sin. It is the expression in history of God’s original plan of multiplying, being fruitful, and filling the earth. The talents and gifts given to certain individuals are not meant to be kept. They must be shared to become a greater blessing. God sees the need for other people to be touched by what has been planted in one place.
Genesis illustrates that the vision of expansion revealed at Creation is not abandoned after sin entered this world. The original concepts of blessing
are in fact reiterated to the three patriarchs of the chosen people of Israel: “I will make you exceedingly fruitful
” (Gen. 17:6); “I will make your descendants multiply
as the stars of heaven; . . . in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed
” (Gen. 26:4). “May God Almighty bless
you, and make you fruitful
you” (Gen. 28:3). “In your seed all
the families of the earth
shall be blessed
” (verse 14). “Be fruitful
” (Gen. 35:11).
A Promised Land
When God calls Abram to migrate, He maintains a balance between movement and stability. In His very first summons to move, God promises Abram a land (Gen. 12:7). Every promise in Genesis of multiplying and expanding through descendants is accompanied by a reassurance of possessing the land. Paradoxically, as the patriarchs live like nomads in continual motion their eyes and their hearts are fixed on the horizon of stability. It is because of the Promised Land that Abraham is worried about marrying Isaac to a foreigner. It is for the same reason that Jacob is hesitant about leaving Canaan to reconnect with his son Joseph.
Even when God calls us to move He does not want us to wander without a horizon. He offers us a Garden of Eden, a land to call home. Today, in an unstable and unpredictable world, where is our “garden”? I believe that rather than a physical place, our Garden of Eden is a spiritual state of mind. It is the awareness of accomplishing God’s will for our lives, fulfilling the vision for which we were entrusted with certain talents. In this intangible place we can take care of the trees of the garden and see them bring forth fruit, in spite of the adversities of life.
Only in the new heavens and new earth, when sin will be no more, will the Promised Land become also a material reality. When randomness and destruction will be defeated, growth in stability will be restored. I like the ring of Isaiah’s description of this messianic place: “No more shall an infant from there live but a few days, nor an old man who has not fulfilled his days. . . . They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit” (Isa. 65:20, 21).
* Unless otherwise noted all Scripture quotations have been taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Ronald Nalin is a research scientist at the Geoscience Research Institute of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. He lives with his wife, Elisa, and daughter, Gioia, in Mentone, California. This article was published June 14, 2012.