Contentment in Paradise: Wanting More, We Get Less

The Early Discovery of Hawaii by Captain James Cook.
Image courtesy of the Hawaiian State Historical Society, found on

I’m on vacation right now in Maui, Hawaii, a beautiful collision of green and blue, mist and breeze. This morning, I’ve been reading about Hawaii’s history and back-ground. In this paradise of the Pacific on a bright sunny morning with sailboats dancing in the distance, I find I am wistful and heartsick.

When I feel this way, I write. Today I write about the Fall of mankind in Hawaii, remembering a Bible passage about wanting more, but getting less:

The serpent told the Woman, “You won’t die. God knows that the moment you eat from that tree, you’ll see what’s really going on. You’ll be just like God, knowing everything, ranging all the way from good to evil.”

When the Woman saw that the tree looked like good eating and realized what she would get out of it — she’d know everything! — she took and ate the fruit and then gave some to her husband, and he ate. Immediately the two of them did “see what’s really going on” — they saw themselves naked! Ashamed, they sewed fig leaves together as makeshift clothes for themselves.

When they heard the sound of God strolling in the garden in the evening breeze, the Man and his Wife hid in the trees of the garden, hid from God.  (Book of Genesis 3:4-8)

In 1777, Hawai’i’s people lived in the most sophisticated society in Polynesia. They were seafarers, and had explored the entire Pacific Ocean to Alaska with simply their knowledge of the sea and stars. On land, they were excellent farmers, developing 200 varieties of sweet potatoes and taro in well watered, engineered-irrigation fields. Hunger was unknown. They were well dressed, and known for the fine woven bark cloth they produced. They excelled in music, art, and dance. There was virtually no sickness or disease, and had been none for almost 600 years. Imagine–no one ever getting sick or dying of an illness! Hawaiians were a strong, healthy people, about 500,000 to 800,000 in number, living in a Garden-of-Eden-like land.

One year later, in 1778, Captain James Cook arrived with his British sailors. He brought with him western ideas, western lifestyles, and many new things. Reports say that the Hawaiians welcomed the tall ships, with their gold, exotic foods, and fancy cloth. A party began, full of love and hope. The British were respectful of the Hawaiians at first, desiring to find new trade partners and a way-station to other ports. And for the natives, how easy it must have been to be swayed: Look at this unknown wealth! We have so much to gain, a larger world, a broader way of life! Now we shall really live! Everything lies ahead!

Sadly, Cook’s party and the whaling ships which followed brought more than western treasures. They also brought western diseases. In less than 50 years, most of the Hawaiian population would die of disease, and those remaining would become impoverished. In one generation, the skills of Polynesian culture were gone, the understanding of farming lost, and the simple ways extinct. No one could make Hawaiian cloth, so most natives could be found clothed in tattered, cast off clothes from sailors. Eventually, the Hawaiians revolted and killed Captain Cook, but without removing the flotsam and jetsam of “more.” The damage of the Fall cannot be rewound.

In this real life parable, honestly, I’m not sure who the villains are, exactly. Most of the players were simply well-meaning “explorers.” Both the English and the Hawaiians were looking for new places, new options, new ideas, new opportunities, new power, and new thinking. New becomes heroin sometimes. It precludes sound thinking, wisdom and foresight. Boredom has become the enemy. Progress beckons. While change can be great, our hunger presses us too much. A Joni Mitchell song echoes: “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til its gone. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”   I was born in Hawaii, and love these islands, but the lesson seems deeper for me. There seems to be a heart-tug about contentment here. About thankfulness. NEW, BETTER, MORE–all can cost a lot more than we know.

Hawaii has more endangered species of plant and animal life than any other place on earth. Workers had to be imported from Japan and South America to work the land. Many Hawaiians gained a deep Christian faith, but without any sense of real history or daily hope. By 1840, there were less than 80,000 Hawaiian left on the islands. By 1920, less than 24,000 native Hawaiian could be found. Foreign companies own over 90 percent of the land.  Today Hawaiians have the shortest life expectancy of any group, the highest rates of cancer, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, the lowest median family income, the highest incarceration rate, highest infant mortality rate, the highest high school drop-out rate in the United States. Progress has come. Wanting more, they have gained, and lost. [1]

“So God expelled them from the Garden of Eden and sent them to work the ground, the same dirt out of which they’d been made. He threw them out of the garden and stationed angel-cherubim and a revolving sword of fire east of it, guarding the path to the Tree-of-Life.” (Book of Genesis 3:23-24)

Finding the Garden of Eden on the road to Hana, Maui.
Photo from by Dave Morgan.


[1] From M.J. Harden, Voices of Wisdom: Hawaiian Elders Speak (Aka Press, 1999).


    • I found this post while reading your Aurora post. While, like you, I am unsure the villianous “serpent” in the Hawaii point aspect, I found the post as a whole very interesting and insightful. Things I did not know. I doubt I will ever get to see the Hawaiian paradise but hope to someday dwell in Paradise.

  1. I see your point in “wanting more, we get less” and the modern day parable with the Bible. However, I struggle with it because I want to know how do we move forward in life? What do we do instead of boredom? Are we not supposed to “be fruitful and multiply?” I guess it boils down to where our treasure is. If it is solely in “things” like the cloth and gold the British brought, then it is no wonder they get less. But if the treasure is in genuine contentment with where God has put us (such as the story of Joseph), then we should not “want” more, but trust in the life before us. I don’t know how to deal with this, because honestly I have bills to pay, undergrad and graduate loans, and we cannot afford to buy a house in this expensive market and American culture. I think another modern day parable would be the businessperson taking the more lucrative job with long work hours and not giving time to spend with his/her family. What do you think?

    • Alex, I have come to believe that we all trade in three commodities: things, people, and time. To gain more of one, we pay with the others. For the Hawaiians, good things cost them more than they recognized. It feels true to me in our lives, as well. We “pay to play” in life. From the Garden of Eden rippling outward, gathering anything requires work, which is at its most basic, the inputting of energy and time. So, our desires, the games or arenas we want to enter, and the people we want to love, all cost us something. Grad school means either more work and time or more loan debt (which equates to more work and time, just extended). Seems as if even learning–a good thing–costs us something. Yet it is still a thing. A house is a thing. For Jesus, it seems like he was unwilling to gather things at the cost of people. He always had time for people. So, what are your priorities? What are mine?

      • In the words of Blackaby, I’d say “Leadership work is people work.” So, you make a valid point. Jesus is for people. If we are to be more Christ-like, then I better focus on people work. Eternal souls are more important than a house which will dilapidate. Who are those people? I would say my wife and kids first, and then outward into other relationships. Thank you for your input!

  2. What an awesome article! My family and I were discussing what the history of Hawaii is. Question though.. You state that Hawaii has the highest rates of cancer, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, What do you think causes that? It’s not pollution by manufacturing like you’ll find in other areas. I’m assuming it’s due to obesity.. What other reasons are there?

    • Not sure. Research is scattered. Some of the factors are genetic. Some factors are culture and diet. Some has to do with weight, alcohol abuse, and the spread of a–quoting a Hawaiian elder–“disconnected hopelessness.”

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