Why does a new car devolve into a rusted, broken wreck? Why do the weeds keep coming back in the garden? Why do we get sick? Why does life sometimes seem like an unwinnable battle…
I’m tackling the problem of suffering from a Biblical point of view, because I really believe that the Bible gives solid answers, unlike many-or all-of the world’s alternative religions and philosophies.
THE PHILOSOPHY OF NATURALISM FAILS MISERABLY
Perhaps the most hopeless philosophy, and the most hopeless answer to our suffering, is that of naturalistic evolution. While some atheists put a brave face on their future by saying that they’re part of the onward and upward evolution of life, and that they are “stardust”, they can’t escape the consequences of their own beliefs. Yes, they can feel good about themselves and their mortality by making the world a better place to live in for everyone else-and that’s a wonderful, noble cause-but according to evolution the obvious answer to the question of suffering is that suffering and death are necessary components of evolution. As individuals and as a species we must struggle, suffer and die, with no hope of anything beyond. We are, in this philosophy, no more important or valuable than a tape worm, and we prove to be no more than parasites on the earth. But this idea isn’t satisfying for most of us-a sense which in itself suggests that there really is much more to our existence.
Atheists and evolutionists in general tend to dismiss the Biblical God by saying that he isn’t doing his job, which is to stop all suffering and to give everyone a good time. Well excuse me, but who told them that that was God’s “job” description or God’s obligation? And if he doesn’t do it by their prescription (or ours) isn’t that up to him? How are we going to force his hand anyway? Who decides what God “should” do, and how he should run the world that he created and sustains? Where does it say in the Bible that God promised to stop all suffering and give everyone a good time, except at the end of the Revelation? Just because God doesn’t do things our way, it doesn’t mean he isn’t there at all.
The source of most of human suffering is laid out for us clearly in the early chapters of Genesis. I wrote in part two about the free will that God gave to man, to choose between right and wrong, as well as the ability to decide on many things. Genesis tells us that God gave man a simple test of that free will, because without an opportunity to make the wrong choice and disobey, there could be no free-will.
God gave Adam and Eve a perfect place to live in, with the companionship of a beautiful healthy mate, and his own presence. He also gave them all kinds of delicious and exotic natural foods to eat freely. However, God made one tree that they were not permitted to eat fruit from, and warned them clearly that if they ate from that one tree they would die. They failed the test.
God would not let imperfect man live for ever in a perfect world, so he profoundly changed the order of things. He told Eve that she would bear children in pain (Genesis 3:16). He removed Adam’s access to the tree of life, which would have given him and us health and life without end (Genesis 3:22, 23). He told Adam that he would henceforth have to work hard for a living, until the day he died, and made it clear that the world would no longer be just a playground of pleasure, but was cursed along with his own life. It would actually provide some resistance to him (verses 17 to 19).
Yes, death was and is the result of Adam’s disobedience. Paul stated the situation clearly, when he said “sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned…” (Romans 5:12).
It’s not just humans who suffered from Adam’s decision. Paul explained that “the creation was subjected to frustration” (Romans 8:20), and that “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (verse 22). Whereas God created a perfect world with the potential for perpetual fulfillment and happiness, now all of nature is running down and decaying, and is not on an onward and upward journey of evolution.
This may seem to us like very stiff punishment for “one little mistake”. However, decisions do have consequences, and God can do what he wants to do. More than that, God’s action was a road-block to human nature which already tended towards rebellion against the creator. It wasn’t long before the dark side of humanity was at work again, when Cain, Adams’s son, murdered his brother (chapter 4).
And the rest is history, because like it or not we all inherited the same sin nature that Adam had. It’s not just that we have that same willingness to ignore God’s clear guidance which was written into our conscience and later in Scripture, but we’ve inherited that nature just as surely as we inherit genetic material from our ancestors. It’s as if we’re born with a disease, which God calls “sin’.
HOW TO ESCAPE THE CURSE
We’re not left without hope, because right from the beginning God had a plan-as I said before, “Plan B”- to rescue mankind from sin. Paul wrote:
…if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ (Romans 5:17).
We all now have the opportunity to make a very positive choice with our free will: a choice which will ultimately rid us of all suffering and give us eternal life. Jesus said:
I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies, and whoever lives and believes in me will never die (John 11:25, 26).
Since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man (1 Corinthians 15: 21).
The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus… (Romans 6:23).
In this provision of forgiveness and eternal life is seen God’s concern and love for us, even while we suffer for now in this fallen, broken world. The future for those who choose salvation in the Son of God is fabulous, and the Curse will be lifted:
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’, or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:1-4).