It’s an odd thing to choose how to designate a person for the rest of her life. It feels narcissistic. I get to choose her designation, but I do not own her; she is her own person. How do you name someone in advance of knowing her personality and convictions? Do we choose a name based on the sound as it leaves your tongue or etymology or family history? The name can be a container to hold your family’s histories or your dreams about who the child might become. In Scripture, names are often awarded after a person has come into contact, obeyed, or sometimes wrestled with God. You don’t get to choose your name and that symbolizes something important in our consumerist society. You are forever tied to a person—or group of people—who have given you a specific designation.
I’ve concluded that our daughter will grow up to be her own person, but she will never be able to escape the stories that have preceded her, whether those stories are familial or Scriptural. No one is self-made. Our daughter will have to wrestle with the same stories with which we have wrestled. In that sense, she will never be her own person just like I have never been my own person. She will be placed inside of a tradition, just as I was, and she will emerge as an individual within that history.
I knew her name would be Eden the second I heard it mentioned, even though I was not initially enthralled by the name. I sat on the couch pondering our little baby’s destiny with a title like “Eden”; soon thereafter, she probably punched her mother’s belly. I would not be surprised. Is it ever too early to rebel? We decided that there were no obvious cruel nicknames and it’s uncommon and not too unusual. Eden, of course, was the first garden in Genesis. It means ‘paradise’ and ‘delight.’ And we love gardens—the outdoors, nature, and hiking. The bonus is that one of my favorite novels is East of Eden by Steinbeck. As I surmised, the name dethroned my previous favorite after a couple of weeks.
More importantly, Eden reminds me that there is a goodness at the core of our world. This is something that a theological guide of mine, Stanley Hauerwas, notes. He writes that most of us cannot come up with a good reason to have a child beyond our biological instinct: “About the best we can muster is: ‘Children help us to be less lonely.’ (Get a dog; children make parents more lonely, not less.) And, ‘Children help give meaning to life.’ (Such children are seen as another possession like a BMW.)” It’s easier to think of reasons not to have them—who want to lose freedom? Or, more prominently, who would choose to bring children into our fallen world? I challenged Danielle that we would have a child when she could convince me that there is a good reason.
‘Eden’ is an answer to the question of why Christians have children. Hauerwas later gives us a hint at what he is after, “Christians have children, in great part, in order to be able to tell our children the story. Fortunately for us, children love stories…It is our privilege to invite our children, and other’s children, to be part of this great adventure called church. Christians ought to ponder what an amazing act of faith it was for Jews in the face of constant and death-dealing Christians and pagan persecution to go on having babies. People of God do not let the world determine how they respond to tomorrow.” (This and the previous quote is from Resident Aliens).
Of course, we remember that the Adam and Eve were placed in Eden, a place full of wonder and delight. Though our world has changed since the beginning, it’s our responsibility as Christians to make sure that the world remains as (and is re-created into) a place of delight, wonder and awe. At some point, our daughter will decide for herself whether it’s worth the effort to participate in God's re-creation of Eden. But for now, this will be the story we teach her and one day it will be the story she will wrestle with. It’s the story of Eden—paradise. We think it’s a beautiful story. And we pray that Eden will take part in re-creating our world into an even more delightful place.