The garden of Eden is commonly understood to be a mythical place, and many people believe that this logically implies that it was never a real place, that someone created a fictional place for the sake of telling a story which had cultural significance, but did not have any basis in reality.
While I think that reading the creation narratives of Genesis as if they were scientific textbooks is a terrible approach that doesn't match the literary form being employed by the author, and that there is good evidence for the theory of evolution and current scientific estimates of the age of our planet, I also think that Genesis is indeed describing the reality of human experience.
Literature (I know from extensive experience) can be a source of the most profound truths about ourselves and the world even if that literature does not appear in any scientific studies. And literature which is so powerful as to cause our hearts to burn with truth is always rich and multi-layered, a tapestry thick with meanings that convey to us the literal, allegorical, moral, and spiritual.
This literature which offers to us such a fullness of truth is rife with what seem to be glorious paradoxes when we look upon them with the eyes of one who wishes to fit the world in his head which cannot possibly hold such an immense expanse of truth by himself without deforming it beyond recognition. And so he stuffs it into his head, crushing it down into a form which is a small enough truth that he does not have to expand his mind to hold it.
Thus in his vision Jesus is merely a man who came to tell us to love each other, and the glorious paradox of the Jesus who told us that we must eat His flesh and drink His blood to have life within us is flattened out by the force of his all-too-human reason into a mere one-dimensional metaphor empty of the boldness of the truth spoken by Jesus who let his followers leave Him rather than renounce it.
And while Jesus is viewed as a mere man in his eyes, Adam is not even a man in those same eyes, but is rather seen as a fabrication of other men who remain unnamed because his uncertainty about the author of the fabrication is just as strong as his certainty about the non-existence of the primogenitor. For the one who sees only a falsehood where the first man fills his vision, the man who is God must also be demoted, though to the rank of a mere man rather than that of a mere falsehood.
What if the mere man is no mere man at all? What if he is both the Son of Man and the Son of God, a glorious paradox who cannot be crushed and deformed so as to fit neatly into our minds? What if the first man who was created in the image and likeness of God was redeemed by God Himself who took on the image and likeness of God to bring us the eternal life which was meant for us in the Garden of Eden?
If Adam's Sin caused the Fall of humanity into the state of degeneracy which opens us up to death and suffering, then would God restore us to life through His impossible act of becoming man? Did God's plan of salvation include the balancing of the scales previously weighted by Adam's disobedience in order to match his disobedience with a greater example of the obedience of love?
This tilting of the scales is what happened when the sinless Christ died to offer eternal life to the human race, the eternal life intended for us in the Garden of Eden which was lost due to Adam's Sin. The scales of God's justice were tilted in favor of restoring the human race to eternal life through the weight of God's mercy which bore all our sins that begin with a slavery to transient desires and lead inevitably to the final death.
Unlike Adam, whose sufferings as he toiled upon the earth were the result of an easy disobedience in one moment of giving in to temptation in the garden, Christ overcame the temptations of Satan in the desert in order to offer for us the suffering on the cross in obedience to the Father. Where Adam took and ate of the fruit which belonged to God alone, Christ who is the firstfruit of God gave Himself freely to do the Father's will. It was Adam who was formed from the humble clay of the earth and granted life eternal with God, and it was Jesus Christ the uncreated Son of the Father from the beginning who had life eternal and yet humbled Himself to become Man and lose His life for our sake.
Though Adam never knew a mother's love and tenderness even in the Garden, Jesus knew fully the love of Mary from the beginning and will know the love and tenderness of His Mother for all eternity. Adam grieved for his son's sin in murdering his brother, and Jesus grieved for the sins of all God's children who have committed murder even in their hearts when they became angry at their brothers and sisters made in God's image and likeness.
Adam was the first man created in the image and likeness of God and adopted by God the Father so that he could be raised to eternal life; he went on to grasp at equality with God by taking the knowledge of good and evil which belongs only to God. Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, did not grasp at equality with God and instead humbled Himself to be adopted by a man named Joseph who was created in the image and likeness of God.
Adam's son Cain offered to God the crops he grew from the land and murdered his brother Abel the shepherd who had offered unto God the firstfruits of his flock, causing the land to be barren and his livelihood to become unfruitful. Jesus Christ the Lord who was handed over to death by His kinsmen is both the Lamb who was slain as a holy offering to God and the Good Shepherd who leads us back to green pastures of the Garden of Eden, and he who appeared as a gardener after His Resurrection is also the vine from which the branches of our lives of love grow ever more fruitfully to the heights of Heaven.
Through Adam's first sin, death entered into the world for all who were born of a woman and became an inevitable part of our existence, and through the sinless sacrifice of Christ Our God who was born of Mary death was trampled down by His death so that upon those in the tombs life everlasting could be bestowed.
Through the life of Christ, all that was lacking in Adam's humility was filled to overflowing, and in the life of Christ all that was lacking in the love of God and neighbor was restored to the fullness of divine love which is the glory God wishes to share with us.
Jesus is the New Adam, the Son of God who is consubstantial with the Father, and blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord to die once and for all so that we might have the life eternal he desired for us in the beginning.
Note: The above picture is of a silver-plated icon of Christ Our Lord. I recently purchased this icon from the Paracletos monastery at the orthodoxmonasteryicons.com website.