STUDY FOUR: THE BEGINNING OF SUFFERING

© Rosemary Bardsley 2020

If we believe the Genesis record we know that suffering had a beginning. It was not always here. Contrary to the evolutionary theories of origins, human life did not originate after long ages of suffering and death. Rather, suffering and death entered after God created human life.

Read these verses. What do they say about the origin of suffering and death?
Romans 5:12, 15, 17

 

Romans 8:18 - 23

 

1Corinthians 15:21

 

The details of this beginning of suffering and death are recorded in Genesis 3. 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.

One question Christians are frequently asked 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.

Your comments/discussion: Think of questions about suffering that you have heard, you have been asked, or have asked yourself. What are those questions? What answers have you given?

 

 

 

 

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. When people (scoffers, mockers, unbelievers) ask these questions, they think that they are casting doubt on the existence of the good, loving, powerful God of the Bible. But 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. Because, if there is no God, there is no meaning. And there are no answers. If there are no answers, there is no point in asking these questions.

We are then, stuck in the middle, between the perfect world of Genesis 1 & 2 and the perfect world that is yet to come (Revelation 21 & 22). How did this era, this in between time, of suffering come about?

The key verse in this question is Genesis 2:17: ‘… you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.’

Your comments/discussion: Suggest what this verse means.

 

 

 

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 inferring 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. But we would then have been less than human, less than the image of God.

[Note that there is a deep irony here: on the one hand we express this wish that God had created us without the freedom of choice – without the ability to choose to sin. On the other hand we humans vehemently affirm that we have free will and feel affronted by the concepts of election and predestination that are mentioned in the Bible!]

God did not create us sinners. But in creating us free creatures he created us with the ability to sin. Becoming a sinner is a possibility consistent with free will. We were not created sinners; but we were created with the possibility of becoming sinners.

Nor did God create sin. But in giving the word of prohibition ‘but you must not eat ...’ God 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.

God did not create suffering. But 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’.

This is something that we all need to remember: that sin, suffering, death – these are the things that God said ‘No’ to in Genesis 2:17.

Your comments/discussion: What things in your life exist only because we, in our first ancestors, said ‘yes’ to suffering/death – to all that God had said ‘No’ to.

 

 

 

 

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 not an arbitrary command, although it could have been given in any form. It set a boundary, God’s boundary, for human existence. And in setting a boundary, it put before Adam the possibility, and the choice, of rejecting God. Here in this prohibition Adam is invited, indeed commanded,

[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.

In this one prohibition God is calling us, in our original ancestors, to believe him.

The challenge, the call, is the same today: Do we believe God? It is an easy thing to believe God’s promises – they are obviously beneficial to us. But do we also believe the boundary? (It also is beneficial, greatly beneficial, to us.)

Your comments/discussion:

 

 

 

C. DISOBEYING THE PROHIBITION

Genesis 3:1-6 reports how we, in our first ancestors, chose to disobey God’s prohibition of sin, suffering and death. Here we see how we chose distrust and disobedience above trust and obedience. Here we see how we chose death above life.

Read Genesis 3:1 – 6. Notice the following:

[1] God’s word is questioned (Satan): ‘Did God really say...?

[2] God’s word is exaggerated (Satan & Eve): ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden.’ ‘You must not touch it’.

[3] God’s word is denied (Satan): ‘You will not surely die.’

[4] God’s goodness and integrity are placed under suspicion (Satan): ‘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, to stop believing God. In all of these Satan is acting to deceive.

Also, by his deceptive suggestions:

[5] Satan leads Eve to think that she can somehow protect or defend God, subtly altering her perception of who God is and who she is.

[6] He uses a seeming half-truth (you will not surely die) to promote his lies.

[7] He deceptively infers that ‘knowing good and evil’ is good and desirable.

[8] In saying ‘you will be like God’ he deceives Eve into grasping for something she already possessed. (Adam and Eve were created in God’s image and likeness – Genesis 1:26, 27.) Satan makes her discontent with her real, amazing, God-given identity, blinding her to the greatness of who she is and what she has, luring her to reach out for something more. [Note that whenever anything more suggested by Satan it is inevitably actually less.]

Suggest why Adam and Eve so easily succumbed to Satan’s deception.

 

 

 

 

D. THE IMMEDIATE CONSEQUENCES OF SIN - THE FIRST EXPERIENCES OF SUFFERING

Note: For further discussion of the immediate consequences of sin read the three studies on The Sin Factor here - https://www.godswordforyou.com/bible-studies/marriage.html

In Genesis 3:7 – 13 we read of the immediate consequences that this original sin brought into every relationship of our lives – our relationship with ourselves, our relationship with God, our relationships with one another, and our relationship with our environment:

[1] Self-consciousness and shame (separation from self, inner separation, inner death - 3:7, 11).

[2] Fear in the presence of God (guilt, separation from God, spiritual death - 3:8-10).

[3] Blame-shifting, accusation (separation from others, relational death - 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.

How are these four areas of death/separation evident in the world (and in your life) today?
Separation from self

 

 

Separation from God

 

Separation from others

 

Separation from our environment

 

 

E. THE CHANGES BROUGHT ABOUT BY THE JUDGMENT (CURSE) OF GOD

In addition to the suffering that is the automatic consequence of our human choice to disbelieve and disobey God, there is also suffering which is directly related to the changes that God ordained. Some of these confirm and intensify the various levels of separation that began as a natural consequence of our rejection of God.

[1] Nature became abnormal (3:14,17,18; see also 5:29).

[2] Childbearing became abnormal (3:16).

[3] The marriage relationship became abnormal (3:16).

[4] Work/survival became abnormal (3:17-19).

[5] Physical death entered (3:19).

[6] Separation from the possibility of eternal life (3:22-24).

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

Note: There is obviously a distinction between what happened as an automatic consequence of human sin (verses 7 – 12) and what happened by God’s decree (verses 13 – 19). To what extent the latter are also inevitable consequences is not clear. It seems appropriate to classify them as God’s ‘judgement’, because God has clearly passed his verdict and defined the results.

What evidence do you see in the world today that these changes brought about by God’s judgement are still in place?
Suffering caused by nature

 

Suffering related to having and raising children

 

Suffering in the marriage relationship

 

The struggle for physical survival

 

Physical death

 

Separation from eternal life

 

F. GOD’S PROMISE THAT SUFFERING/CURSE IS NEITHER THE FINAL NOR THE PERMANENT STATE

Three facts from Genesis 3 promise us that the present state of the world, characterized by suffering and death, is not final.

Read these verses. In what way do they look ahead to the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
Genesis 3:14, 15

Genesis 3:21

Genesis 3:22-24

 

Three times in this chapter reporting the entrance of sin and suffering God in his grace gives us something to hold on to. God, anticipating that we would choose to disbelieve and disobey, already had a plan in place to undo what we, in our unbelief, had done.

These verses tell us:

[1] God’s plan involved the defeat of the enemy (3:14, 15). That defeat would be accomplished through a seed of the woman.

[2] God’s plan involved a ‘covering’, provided by God, and obtained by a death (3:21).

[3] God’s plan involved a restoration of ‘life’. The ‘tree of life’ was not removed from the Garden; access to it was prohibited, but it continued to exist (3:22-24). Eternal life was still a possibility, pending the implementation of God’s plan.

From these verses, explain how God’s plan is accomplished in and through Jesus Christ:
Luke 1:26-35

John 12:31

Romans 4:5-8

John 3:16, 36

How do these verses explain that God’s plan of salvation was in place even before Genesis 3?
Revelation 13:8

Revelation 17:8

Ephesians 1:4

1Peter 1:20

1Corinthians 2:7

Matthew 25:34

2Timothy 1:9

Titus 1:2

 

God planned our salvation, even before we sinned, even before he created us. God knew we would sin, he knew he would send his Son to die for us, yet he still created us.

How does this amazing grace of God, in place before God created us, impact you?

 

 

 

 

 

G. FURTHER RESULTS OF SIN

As we read further into Genesis we find two further crises in the history of the world in which sin is punished in a general, all embracing way, and from which dramatic changes/consequences resulted which are still with us today.

G.1 The Flood: Genesis 6 - 9

Read these verses. What do they tell us about God and sin?
Genesis 6:3

Genesis 6:5, 11 – 13

Genesis 6:6, 7

Genesis 6:7, 13, 17; 7:4

 

These chapters teach us:

[1] There is a limit to God’s forbearance (6:3).
[2] Wickedness had become total (6:5,11-13).
[3] The Lord is grieved and pained by this pervasive evil (6:6,7).
[4] God announced the immanent destruction of the inhabitants of the earth (6:7,13,17; 7:4).

This worldwide judgment was catastrophic and had long term effects on the physical earth. Not only are we living in a world suffering both the consequences and the curse of the original sin in Genesis 3, we are also living in a world changed forever by the flood catastrophe. These changes are involved in some of the suffering which the world at large experiences today because of the climate changes, geographical changes, geological and vegetation changes resulting from the global flood and its aftermath.

For further information about these changes read material recommended by Answers in Genesis - https://answersingenesis.org or Creation Ministries International - www.creation.com  .

Your comments/discussion: List some of the physical suffering currently experienced around the world because of the global flood of Genesis 6 – 9.

 

 

 


G.2 The Tower of Babel: Genesis 11:1-9
In Genesis 11 we read of the first recorded attempt of mankind at secular humanism - an attempt to protect, secure and preserve itself and its future by its own efforts apart from God (11:4). To thwart this godless and independent effort God confused the language and scattered the people (11:7-9). In this origin of the races/nations is the origin of the racial/international strife which has hounded our history ever since.

Your comments/discussion: List some of the inter-racial suffering present in the world today.

 

 

 

H. THE ADDITION OF LAW

A further repercussion of our choice of disbelief and disobedience in Genesis 3 is the necessity of law. It is only the presence of sin that necessitates the presence of law. Law is essential, not only to define sin and its legal consequences, and to identify our need for someone to redeem us from these legal consequences, but also to limit sin and the suffering it causes.

What do these verses teach about the necessity of law in a fallen world?
Matthew 19:8

Romans 13:1-7

Galatians 3:19

Romans 3:19-20; 5:20

1Timothy 1:8-10

As Christians we ought not to see law, either God’s or man’s, as an enemy, but rather as God’s gracious provision for our protection and preservation from our own and others’ sinfulness, which, without law, would have annihilated life on earth centuries ago.

 

I. THE EXISTENCE OF A LIMIT

To the question ‘How long will God allow the world to exist in its present abnormal state of sin and suffering?’ the answer is that he does have a limit. Although God is slow to anger and of great mercy, there are times when God says ‘enough is enough’.

Study the following. What do they have to say about the existence of a limit?
Genesis 6:3-7

Genesis 18:20-33; 19:13

Genesis 15:16; Deuteronomy 9:4,5

Romans 1:24.26,28

Hebrews 3:7,15

2Peter 3:3-14

Although God shows great patience and what we could, if it referred to a human, call ‘self-restraint’, the seeming slackness of God in dealing with our sin and suffering does have a point beyond which he will not allow us to go. This has been evidenced in the past in respect to almost the entire world (the global flood), and in respect to individuals and nations; and God has made it quite clear that a final day is coming when the final limit will come.

[Note that God’s ‘delay’ is because of his grace, not because of ignorance, slack standards or lowered expectations.]