by Paul George
Few could deny that something seems desperately wrong with the world in which we live. The desperate plight of our planet has convinced some that there is no God. Those who do believe in a God find God somehow responsible for all that is painful. They think God is either cruel or that He is not in control. However, God is in control. His perfect plan does include the suffering and agony we see all about us. In answering “What in the world is going on?” another question must be asked and then answered: “What in the world went wrong?” That question forms the basis for this article.
Genesis 1 describes the creation of our world as it relates to God’s purpose for man. Man was created by God to rule over His creation (Genesis 1:26-31).
Genesis 1 portrays the big picture, the role Adam and Eve were to play in relation to the entire creation. Genesis 2 narrows the focus to the Garden of Eden. Adam was placed in the garden to cultivate or keep it. This was no ordinary orchard; God had planted various trees in the garden to provide for man’s needs. All the trees shared the common characteristics of being pleasing to the eye and good for food. The fruit of two trees in the midst of the garden would provide either “life” or “the knowledge of good and evil. The fruit of all but one tree was provided for Adam and Eve to eat. The “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” though pleasing to look at and good for food, Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat the fruit from that tree. Eating its fruit would give them a knowledge of good and evil, but it would also produce his or her death.
When God caused every creature to pass before Adam to be named each had its own mate. These pairs of creatures were able to procreate and fulfill the mandate to multiply and fill the earth, not so with Adam. He too needed a mate, a wife. God created a mate for Adam. Rather than create the woman from the ground, God put Adam to sleep and fashioned her from a rib which He took from Adam’s side. Neither Adam nor Eve had parents. Eve was brought into being through Adam’s flesh. Eve had no tie to her parents, but only union with her husband. Because of the nature of this first relationship between Adam and Eve, Moses parenthetically interjects the principle that when a man and woman come together, the husband must subordinate the tie he once had with his parents to the tie he now has with his wife.
According to this account, all of creation came into existence in response to one thing: the spoken Word of God. The spoken Word of God is precisely what Satan first questioned, and then denied. In chapter 3, Satan convinced the woman that God was holding back something good from her by prohibiting her from eating of the forbidden tree. With Satan’s prompting, Eve becomes convinced of her need to “know good and evil,” feels compelled to eat of the fruit of that forbidden tree, she gave the forbidden fruit to Adam, and he ate the forbidden fruit.
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings. And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Then the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” And he said, “I heard the sound of Thee in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself.” And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” And the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me from the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” And the woman said,” The serpent deceived me, and I ate.
And the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, Cursed are you more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly shall you go, And dust shall you eat All the days of your life; And I will put enmity between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.” To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you shall bring forth children; Yet your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you.” Then to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree about which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat from it’; Cursed is the ground because of you; In toil you shall eat of it All the days of your life. “Both thorns and thistles it shall grow for you; And you shall eat the plants of the field; By the sweat of your face You shall eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.” By the sweat of your face You shall eat bread, Till you return to the ground, Because from it you were taken; For you are dust, And to dust you shall return. Now the man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all the living. And the Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife, and clothed them. Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, lest he stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”–therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim, and the flaming sword which turned every direction, to guard the way to the tree of life (Genesis 3:1-24).
The disobedience of Adam reversed the “chain-of-command” God, Adam, Eve, serpent to serpent, Eve, Adam. When God confronts those responsible for the fall, the order is that of His chain-of-command: Adam (v. 9), Eve (v. 13), the serpent (v. 14). It is little wonder that the one who rebelled against God’s authority over him (Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:12-15) would seek to overturn God’s order of authority. Eve did not know what she was doing as Adam did. Adam’s sin was the more culpable, both because he was the one who was to lead and because he sinned knowingly rather than ignorantly. Rather than assume responsibility for their own actions, Adam and Even passed the responsibility on. From their actions in Genesis 3:7-8 and Job’s statement in Job 31:33, we know Adam tried to conceal rather than confess his sin.
The God who generously provided all things for Adam and Eve to “richly enjoy” is quickly perceived as a tight-fisted tyrant because one fruit is forbidden. The forbidden fruit was now seen as desirable even though it was deadly. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil overshadowed the tree of life. Eve saw only this one forbidden tree as “good for food” and as a “delight to the eyes” when in reality every tree in the garden had these same qualities (Genesis 2:9).
Why was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil forbidden? The tree of the knowledge of good and evil enabled one to know good and evil which Eve deceptively believed was both necessary and beneficial. It was neither. Eve only needed to know that God had forbidden the fruit of this tree. Had Eve trusted God, she would have found His Word sufficient. She needed only to know who had forbidden the fruit, not why the fruit was forbidden. Eve needed only to know what God had said–she did not need to understand why the fruit of that one tree was forbidden. Satan would have been defeated in the Garden of Eden if Eve would have trusted God and Adam obeyed God.
There is an important principle taught here. God desires from us the obedience of faith. Such obedience is not based upon our understanding of why we are to act as God requires, but simply because it is God who requires it. The obedience of faith is based on our faith in God, not on our understanding of why God calls one thing good and another evil. Parents teach their children to obey on the same basis. You cannot explain to a young child why an electrical outlet is dangerous. You can only forbid them to touch it, because you said so, and because they trust your word.
The fall of man occurred with unbelievable speed and ease. God’s response was prompt, pointed, and painful. In addition to the general curse of death, individual judgments were pronounced on the serpent, Eve, and Adam. Each judgment was particularly suited to the nature of the offense.
The judgments of Genesis 3:14-19 included not only Adam, Eve, and the serpent but also their offspring. It did not take long to see the consequences of the disobedience of this man and his wife, as well as in their offspring.
Adam and Eve gained knowledge of good and evil, one they would regret. Gone was the innocence they had once enjoyed. Their nakedness, which once caused them no shame (Genesis 2:25), now made them ashamed to stand before God. Hastily made loin coverings with fig leaves still made them feel naked and ashamed. The daily encounter with God to which they once looked forward they now sought to avoid. They were banned from the garden and from access to the tree of life (3:22-24). Their son Cain killed his brother Abel (4:1-11). Later, Lamech boasted to his wives about killing a young lad who had struck him (4:23-24). Genesis 5, a virtual graveyard, lists the life span and deaths of Adam and Eve’s offspring. When we reach the sixth chapter of Genesis, the whole earth has become corrupt, requiring the judgment of the flood.
When the world started afresh with Noah and the seven other members of his family, one might expect things to improve. They did not. Noah became drunk, resulting in the curse he pronounced on Canaan, his grandson (Genesis 9:25-27). By Genesis 11, men join together to disobey the divine command to Noah and his descendants to disperse and populate the earth (Genesis 9:1). When men banded together to build the city and the tower of Babel, God stopped them in their tracks by confusing their languages (Genesis 11:1-9). Things worsened. Clearly, the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden was the fall of man. Paul speaks in Romans and in 1 Corinthians of the on-going effects of Adam’s sin. The history of man, and especially of God’s people, bears constant witness to the sinfulness of man. Their sins were the result of the sins of their ancestors and of their own waywardness as well ((Isaiah 43:27; Jeremiah 16:10-12).
The biblical account of the fall of man recorded in Genesis 3 explains the condition we see within us and in the world today. Adam’s sin explains the sin nature within each of us. We sin because we are like Adam, our father. The sufferings of man and all of creation are the consequences of the fall of man (Romans 8:18-25).
Are you perplexed by the evil, suffering, and injustice of our world?
The suffering, chaos, and tragedy of our world shouts for our attention, telling us something is desperately wrong. God is gracious to give us this indication of trouble. You need look no further for the explanation. Man and creation are suffering and groaning due to the consequences of sin.
Those most affected by the curse are, in Jesus’ words, the most blessed (Luke 6:20-26). James told the first century Christians, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4). The Apostle Peter in his first letter to the first century Christians, “For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls (1 Peter 1:20-25).
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you (1 Peter 4:12-14).
Sin and condemnation is not the end of man’s hope, but the starting point. In His grace, God condemns men so that He might manifest His grace upon them: “For God has shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all” (Romans 11:32). Sin does not close the door on God’s blessings; it opens the door of His grace. Jesus did not come to provide salvation for saints, but for sinners. He came to seek and to save those who are lost. Until sin and the fall, there was no occasion for God to deal with men graciously. After sin and the fall, He could only bless men by dealing graciously with them. “But where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20b).
Job’s experiences serve as an illustration. As described in chapter 1 of the Book of Job, Job is an ideal servant of God (Job 1:8b). Job was an excellent example of a servant of God. In this state, Job was something like Adam and Eve before the fall. Then Satan was allowed to afflict Job. Eventually, Job’s suffering got to him. While Job did not curse God, he surely acted in an unseemly way. He sinned. By the end of the book, we see a new Job, humbled by his suffering and by God’s rebuke but with a much deeper love and devotion for His God. He is now a man who more fully understands the wisdom of God and who has experienced His grace. Job is not just more prosperous for the experience; He is nearer to God than he has ever been before. While Satan attempted to alienate Job from God, Job’s sin was the occasion for grace, bringing repentance, reconciliation, and a more intimate union with God. Job’s experience is the experience of all who receive God’s grace because of sin.
It is all too easy to think of God’s “cure” in Jesus Christ as a restoration, merely restoring everything to the condition in which it was found before the fall. This is simply not the case. The last state, as it were, is vastly better than the first, for all those who are the called according to His purpose. The Apostle John saw, “a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying,” ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them, and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.’ And He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ And He said, ‘Write, for these words are faithful and true’” (Revelation 21:1-5).
In Revelation 22:1-5 John wrote, “And he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. And on either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. And there shall no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His bond-servants shall serve Him; and they shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. And there shall no longer be any night; and they shall not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God shall illumine them; and they shall reign forever and ever (Revelation 22:1-5).
As one compares the description of the new heavens and earth in the final chapters of the Book of Revelation with the paradise of Eden, a very clear message emerges. The tree of life, which was in paradise lost, is in the heavenly city. The paradise of Genesis had a sun, a sea, and a night. The paradise of Revelation has no sun, no sea, no night, and the curses of Genesis removed.
While there were painful consequences for sin, the curses were divinely purposed to serve as a part of the cure. In dealing with the sins of men, God’s glory is revealed. In forgiving the sins of men, the grace of God is manifested. And in the end, the last state of the believer is far better than the first.
God’s plan for humanity is one that turns ruin to redemption and a curse into a blessing. Adam and his wife failed to trust and obey God. They made a tragic mistake that brought sin and condemnation on themselves and their descendants. No one has ever made a more tragic mess of their lives. However, there is a solution to the suffering and pain experienced in this world. The solution will provide a better paradise than that which was lost due to sin. Adam and Eve’s life seemed to be ruined by their sin, but God promised a cure and a better paradise.
God knew man would disobey Him. He did not in any way encourage the fall, although Satan was permitted to tempt and to deceive Eve. A perfect world would not demonstrate all that God is and thus reveal all His glory. An imperfect world enables God to display His full splendor and glory (Exodus 33:17-23; 34:5-9; Psalm 78; Ezekiel 20).
Adam and Eve knew, as can be seen in Genesis 1, that all of creation came into being because God spoke the Word. They knew that the fruit of the one tree was prohibited because God spoke the Word, He told them not to eat of it. God’s Word has been proven reliable; Satan’s word has not been proven reliable. Adam and Eve did not understand what “good” and “evil” were, nor did they really grasp what life or death were. These were all beyond their experience. They would have to trust God, His definitions, His distinctions, and His prohibitions.
Because of the fall, humanity came under the curse of death. The fallen condition of humanity hinders humanity’s relationship with God and with each other. Creation was thrown into chaos. There was a new relationship between the man and animals. Man’s relationship with nature took on a hostile quality. From the time of the fall, men inherit from Adam a hostility toward God. Genesis 1-3 records God’s commissioning of Adam and Eve. The way they were to rule creation is similar to, though not identical with the instructions God gave Noah in Genesis 9. Like Adam, Noah sinned, and this affected his offspring. As there was a curse pronounced on Adam and his offspring in Genesis 3, there was a curse pronounced on Canaan, Noah’s offspring. A pattern quickly develops. In the Genesis record, the sin and the curse only seem to grow as time passes.
Adam was charged with two responsibilities concerning authority. He was to rule over creation, and he was to obey God. He failed in both these areas of authority. First, Adam listened to his wife instead of God. Adam defaulted on his leadership responsibilities, allowing the serpent, a creature, and Eve to influence his decision to eat or refuse to eat the forbidden fruit. In addition to failing to exercise his God-given authority, Adam failed to submit to God’s authority. God had commanded Adam not to partake of the fruit of that one tree, and Adam disobeyed. Adam failed to lead, and he failed to follow. Adam’s two failures were in the area of authority. Eve failed to submit to God’s authority, choosing to obey the serpent instead. When our Lord came to suffer and die for our sins so that the curse of sin and death could be cured and sinners could be saved, He submitted to the authority of the Father rather than act independently. Our Lord’s submission to His Father is never more evident than when Satan sought to tempt Him (Matthew 4; Luke 4).
God revealed to Adam and Eve what was good and what was evil. All of God’s creation was, by God’s testimony, good. The only evil in that garden was the eating of the fruit of that one tree. If man is incapable of reasoning out what is good and evil then the only way he could know evil, apart from divine revelation, is to experience it, by sin, with the penalty of death.
God wanted men to demonstrate their faith in Him by obeying a command they did not understand. God wanted Adam and Eve to sacrifice, as it were, the benefit of this one tree; as good as it looked to them, simply because they trusted the One who forbade the eating of its fruit.
What do we learn about the nature of sin from Genesis 1-3?
First, sin is defined by God and not naturally discerned or rationally grasped by the mind of men. This is why man must trust in God’s definition of sin as found in His Word. God’s law defines sin that we would not have otherwise recognized. Our senses cannot be trusted to discern sin. Often, that which is evil is also desirable, as was the fruit of the forbidden tree. Sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4). Sin looks good; it is tempting, but it is deadly. A seemingly insignificant sin can have widespread repercussions. Sin resists God’s purposes but never succeeds in overcoming them. Sin, like Satan, seeks to oppose God. God’s commands define sin and provide the context for obedience. God’s commands are for our own good. God’s commands are to be obeyed, even when they do not make sense to us, simply because God gave them.
Since the curse resulted from man’s disobedience to God’s command, the cure must involve obedience. In sin, man rebelled against God’s authority; in the cure, man must submit to His authority. The fall was the fall of and by man. The cure must be a cure of and by the God-man, Jesus Christ. The fall resulted in death. The cure must result in life. The fall brought about chaos, confusion, and suffering. The cure must restore creation to peace, order, and blessing. The curse defaced man as a reflection of God’s image; the cure must restore man to the image of God.
There is a direct relationship between the curse and the cure. On the one hand, the cure reverses the curse. The cure promises rest. The curse is death the cure is life. However, the curse is a part of the cure. Death is a deliverer. How tragic for sinners to live eternally. Death is our escape from this life, this world, and this body. The death of our Lord bearing our curse on the cross frees us from the curse.
Christians and non-Christians when they encounter suffering and trials in their lives they tend to ask, “Why me?” There are times when one’s suffering is directly the result of sin in his own life, as when David and Bathsheba suffered the loss of their first child, who was conceived in adultery (Psalm 44).
Much of the suffering of this world is the result of sin’s entrance into the world (Romans 8:18-25).
God does not allow purposeless suffering. His plan incorporates suffering in a way that ultimately “Works together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).
Just because something looks good, is desirable, and is available, is no proof that God wants us to partake of it. The existence of a desire does not demand its fulfilling (1 Corinthians 6:12-13). When God gives us a command, we do not need to understand why God has given it to us, we need only to trust Him who gave the command, and obey it. Satan seeks to change our perspective first and then our behavior. Sin begins with a rebellious attitude toward God, which leads to a rebellious act. Sin is conceived as unbelief, and then grows into disobedience.
In our lives, as in the Bible, sin precedes redemption. We cannot and will not receive God’s grace until we recognize and repent of our sin. The problem with those who perish is that they reject God’s grace because they do not believe they need it. Only sinners need God’s grace and only God’s grace saves sinners. The self-righteous sinner denies his sin and despises God’s grace. The penitent sinner admits his sin, repents of it, and gratefully receives God’s saving grace.
“Why is the world so troubled, and why is there so much suffering and evil?” You tell me.
Let us pray: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.