BIBLE STUDIES ON SUFFERING

© Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2002

3: THE BEGINNING OF SUFFERING

When we read Genesis 3 we are reading of the beginning of sin and suffering. From this point onwards our world is an abnormal world. It is neither what God made it to be nor what he wants it to be nor what it will be. Here an alien, unwanted intruder has entered in. One question frequently asked of Christians is 'Why? ... why does God allow this suffering? Why is this happening to me? What have I done to deserve this? If God is so loving how can he allow ...? How can a good God ...' And so on.

The fact that people ask these questions is evidence of a deep, unshakeable awareness that something is wrong, that something is not what it ought to be. It is also evidence that, deep inside, human beings are moral beings, geared to a moral universe, over which a moral being is ultimately responsible. All the time that people (scoffers, mockers, unbelievers) are asking these questions, and by these questions supposing that they are casting doubt on the existence of the good, loving, powerful God of the Bible, they are actually unconsciously affirming his existence.These questions are only valid questions if the Biblical God exists. If no personal, loving, Sovereign God exists the questions are meaningless.

We are then, stuck in the middle between the perfect world of Genesis 1 & 2 and the perfect world that is yet to come. How did this in between time of suffering come about?

A. The possibility implied in the prohibition

God created Adam and Eve:

  1. not like the inanimate creation, to act in a mechanical manner,
  2. not like the animate creation, to act by programmed instinct,
  3. but in his own image, with the freedom to act by choice, within the realms of what is possible. This freedom included the freedom to obey and the freedom to disobey.

When we ask the question 'why did God create Adam with the ability to disobey, that is, to sin', we are in effect stating that we wish God had made us without the ability to choose, without the freedom to choose. We are wishing that he had made us either like the animals or like the inanimate creation. We would then have been less than human, less than the image of God.

God did not create us sinners. But in creating us free creatures he created us with the ability, the possibility, to sin.

Nor did God create sin. But in giving the word of prohibition 'but you must not eat ...' implied by this prohibition and exclusion that sin was possible.

Let us note that sin had no existence or reality of its own: it existed only as a possibility dependent on man choosing to disobey the word of prohibition.

A further possibility implied in the prohibition is the possibility of suffering: 'you will surely die'. Note that this possibility also is dependent on our choosing to disobey the word of prohibition. It is, like sin, something that God said 'No' to, but to which we chose to say 'Yes'.

B. The significance of the prohibition

Let us note: the tree involved in the prohibition was not itself bad or evil. It was part of God's good creation. It was just another tree. The significant thing was the choice which was contained in the prohibition. It was a choice between

  • obedience to God- and - disobedience
  • dependence on God - and - independence
  • submission to God's word - and - rebellion against God's word
  • a God-centred life - and - a man-centred life
  • belief - and - unbelief
  • trusting God - and - trusting oneself
  • the truth - and - a lie
  • life - and - death.

The prohibition was no arbitrary command, although it could have been given in any form. It put before Adam the possibility and the choice of rejecting God. Here in this prohibition Adam is invited

  1. to obey God by choice,
  2. to choose to love God more than he loves himself,
  3. to choose to be content with his creature role of dependence on and submission to his Creator,
  4. to choose to trust God.

C. How man chose sin and suffering.

[1] God's word is questioned: 'Did God really say...?'

[2] God's word is exaggerated: 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden.' 'You must not touch it'.

[3] God's word is denied: 'You will not surely die.'

[4] God's goodness and integrity are placed under suspicion: 'For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.'

In all of these Eve is being enticed to stop trusting God.

In all of these Satan is acting to deceive. He also by his deceptive suggestions:

[5] Leads Eve to think that she can somehow protect God, and

[6] Uses a seeming half-truth (you will not surely die) to promote his lies, and

[7] Makes out that to 'be like God' and 'knowing good and evil' are good and desirable, and

[8] In holding out this 'be like God' deceives Eve into grasping for something she actually already possessed.

D. The immediate consequences of sin - the first experiences of suffering.

  1. Self-consciousness and shame = internal separation (3:7,11).
  2. Fear in the presence of God = [guilt = separation from God] (3:8-10).
  3. Blame-shifting, accusation = separation from others (3:12).
  4. Blame-shifting = separation from our environment (3:13).

Each of these four aspects of separation or alienation persists right into the present and are the cause/focus of a great part of our suffering. In addition there is also suffering which is directly related to the changes that God ordained by way of judgement:

E. The changes brought about by the judgement (curse) of God

  1. Nature becomes abnormal (3:14,17,18; 5:29).
  2. Childbearing becomes abnormal (3:16).
  3. The marriage relationship becomes abnormal (3:16).
  4. Work/survival becomes abnormal (3:17-19).
  5. Physical death (3:19).
  6. Separation from the possibility of eternal life (3:22-24).

Notice that each of the aspects of life previously stated as blessing (see Genesis 1:28) have now become a curse.

F. God's promise that suffering/curse is not the final nor the permanent state:

Three facts from this chapter promise us that the present existence, characterized by suffering and death, is not final:

  1. The curse on the serpent and its 'seed' (3:14,15).
  2. God's provision of a covering (3:21).
  3. The continued existence of the tree of life (3:22-24).