“Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food” (Gen. 3:9). This garden, this original gift of culture, is not just a utilitarian source of nourishment. It is not just a vegetable garden, populated with a healthful array of plants that will provide the Creator’s RDA of nutrients to the dutiful fruit- and vegetable-eating human gardener. It is also a place of beauty. The trees of the garden are not just good for something. They are good simply in the beholding. They are beautiful.
But even more striking than the description of the vegetation is the least remarked-upon part of the whole story in Genesis 2. “The name of the first [river] is Pishon; it is the one that flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; and the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there” (v. 12).
Why does the author indulge in this metallurgical excursion—with its digression within an excursion, “And the gold of that land is good”? Is this a treasure map for future readers? What is the point of this list of precious natural resources? Note that these are not primarily useful minerals or substances. The text does not say that the land of Havilah has good iron, granite, and bauxite. These are substances whose only real value is in their beauty. God has located the garden in a place where the natural explorations of its human cultivators will bring them into contact with substances that will invite the creation of beauty.
I owe to Makoto Fujimura the further observation that these substances are hidden. They are not like the low-hanging fruit of the garden’s trees. They are latent—lying below the surface of the very good world. Only by exploration and excavation will they be discovered. Only by experimentation and craftsmanship will their possibilities be disclosed. God has placed primordial humanity in a world that will only reach its full potential for beauty when it is cultivated, explored—where more goodness waits to be unearthed. The world is even better than it appears. The gold of that land is good.