Why Suffering?

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” …

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’”

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths…

Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—“ therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.

(ESV: Genesis 2:15-17;3:1-7, 22-24).

For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners…

(ESV: Romans 5:19)

For the wages of sin is death…

(ESV: Romans 6:23)

Why is there suffering in the world? Why does God allow it to happen? The book of Genesis records that after God had formed the first man, Adam, from the dust of the ground, He placed him in a garden. He allowed Adam to eat from any tree he desired, except for the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” God’s command was a gracious act that provided Adam the opportunity to worship Him. By obeying His instructions, Adam could show the proper honor and deference due to God as his Creator and Heavenly Father, living with Him in sinless communion.

However, Satan, jealous of God’s love for mankind, soon arrived on the scene in the guise of a serpent. He approached Adam and Eve, the woman whom God had created for Adam as his companion, and asked her:

“Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?’”

Through this question, Satan invites Eve to doubt God’s word and command. Satan purposely exaggerates what God had said. In turn, Eve falls into Satan’s trap by overstating God’s word in her answer. It is significant that she says:

“We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.”

Note that her response does not accurately represent God’s command. God did not, in fact, say that touching the tree of the knowledge of good and evil would cause them to die, only eating the fruit of it. Eve, however, is not confident enough in the revealed word of God to allow it to stand by itself. She feels that she must “help” God’s word by expanding on it and embellishing it. So, she adds “neither shall you touch it” to God’s command.

Satan now knows that Eve is doubting God. By trying to add something to God’s word, she shows that she does not fully trust Him or his revealed will. Satan then goes in for the kill, saying:

“You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

This clinches it. Satan has convinced Eve that God is not trustworthy, that He is hiding something from her and Adam. By looking beyond, behind, or around what God has clearly revealed to her and Adam, she thinks that they can discover hidden truths that will enable them to live without dependence upon God. This is the false promise of Satan. He promises them that they “will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

So, Eve eats the fruit from the tree and gives some to her husband Adam. Throughout the entire exchange between Satan and Eve, Adam is standing with them, silent. He fails to challenge Satan in his incorrect paraphrase of God’s word, or to prevent Eve from eating from the tree. He sins through his inaction and failure to defend God’s word, allowing Eve to sin and then partaking of the fruit himself, compounding his sin.

Through this act of disobedience, Adam and Eve’s eyes are opened and they know good and evil. Rather than relying on God’s revelation of the Truth, they attempted to subject His revelation to their own senses and reason. Their eyes have been diverted from gazing upon God and His holy will and shifted to gazing upon themselves through their own sinful desires “to be like God”. In their narcissism, they now know that they are naked, feeling shame at their nakedness and seeking to cover their bodies. They also hide themselves from God. Far from “being like God,” they now realize that they are incomplete without Him. Their sin, however, has introduced estrangement between them and God, as well as among them. They no longer live with God or with each other in perfect communion.

God, however, out of his gracious love and compassion clothes them and then drives them from the garden so that they can not live forever in sinful alienation from Him. He promises them a future redeemer that will reconcile sinful mankind with God and His holiness. Referring to the Christ who was to come, God tells the serpent:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
(ESV: Genesis 3:15)

All suffering derives from the sin of Adam. Through mankind’s disobedience of God’s will, sin, suffering, and death entered the world. Today we still struggle with the afflictions introduced by this original sin. God, however, promises to be with us in this suffering. Like a shepherd leading his sheep to green pastures and still waters, He promises to always guide and comfort us (cf. Psalm 23). He also pledges to redeem us from the death that results from sin. The first Gospel in Genesis 3:15 foretells the victory that Christ, born of a woman, would achieve over sin, death, and the devil. Though Satan would “bruise his heel” on the cross, Christ would win the ultimate victory on behalf of humanity.

Jesus Christ, only begotten Son of God, became incarnate to live with us and to suffer as we do. He was born of a virgin, suffering the humility of a human birth and allowing himself to be as powerless as an infant. He suffered through the trials of infancy, childhood, and manhood. Finally, he suffered through the time of his ministry which culminated in his agony and death on the cross. He lived a complete human life, partaking in the challenges and temptations that confront us every day.

Knowing the torment that awaited him, shortly before he was arrested while in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was greatly troubled and he said to his disciples, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” Then he prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:38-39). Knowing the trials and pain that lay before him, he nevertheless allowed them to happen out of obedience to the will of God the Father.

Jesus shares in all our earthly afflictions. He, however, shares in them as one without sin, undeserving of the agonies brought about by the sin of the first man. Though we suffer in our daily lives, we can take comfort in the fact that not only does he share in our sufferings, he defeated the death introduced by sin. Through his death on the cross, he died for us; taking upon himself the wages that we deserve for our sins. Most amazingly, however, he rose for our justification; through his resurrection we have eternal life (cf. Romans 4:25). We all will die some day, ending our earthly sorrows. However, just as Christ rose from the dead, we too will rise on the last day to live forever with him in the full presence of God’s love and grace (cf. 1 Peter 2:24).

So when we ask why there is suffering in the world, we recognize that it is due to humanity’s sinful nature. Rather than asking why God allows it to happen (the answer to which, ultimately, we can not know, as this is not something God has clearly revealed), we can take comfort in the cross of Christ. For, through the cross, Christ shares in our sufferings and vanquished them and death decisively. Christ reaches down from the cross to console us in our sorrows and to raise us up to eternal life with him. When we face trials, temptations, and the consequences of our sins, we can throw off the taunts of the devil by gazing upon the cross of Christ and resting secure in God’s grace. For, as Jesus told his disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (ESV: John 16:33).

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

(ESV: Romans 5:1-5)

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

(ESV: Romans 5:18-21)

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

(ESV: Romans 6:23)

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