The Origin of Suffering from Genesis Part II

In the previous post, I examined whether brokenness existed before the magnificent creation according to Genesis 1. I concluded that the origin of pain was neither in the will of God, nor in the eternal fellowship of the triune God, nor in God’s actual handiwork, nor in the Creator-creation relationship, nor in the lives of human beings. Suffering was never part of God’s holy and mighty plan. Now, in this post, moving on to Genesis 2 and 3, I will once again assess the cause of brokenness, especially the broken relationship between Yahweh and humanity, and the broken human relationship.

The Garden of Eden was a place that God provided for Adam and Eve, and even their descendants, with a copious supply of resources and a beautiful environment filled with luscious verdant herbage and a land abundant in water supplies and precious stones. It is difficult to imagine what the garden was like, but many biblical writers describe the place as a paradise. Prophet Isaiah states that God will restore the devastated land of Israel into the beauty of the garden: “The Lord will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing” (Isa. 51:3). Prophet Ezekiel well illustrates the splendor of the garden: “You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: carnelian, chrysolite and emerald, topaz, onyx and jasper, lapis lazuli, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared” (Ezek. 28:13). The fertility of Eden is the promise of God’s restoration and eschatological salvation.

In the paradise that Yahweh personally designed, Eve and Adam had the most cherished relationship with their Maker. As we know, after God created Adam and Eve, he put them in his playground and commanded them to cultivate it, to eat all the fruits of the trees except the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They were able to hear God’s commands and Him walking in the garden, and to answer his questions, in the form of actual conversation. Of course, numerous critics oppose the existence of the garden, and even contend that the Eden narrative is either a myth or a saga that teaches a real life lesson, not a real history that actually occurred. In Romans 5, however, apostle Paul writes extensively of how through one man, Adam, sin entered the world and how through one person, Jesus, the life-giving power of grace can save the whole world, portraying Jesus as the second Adam. Paul is not using a parable or symbolic figure to introduce Jesus as the second Adam. If the narrative of Adam and Eve and the garden is a pure saga or myth, Paul’s teaching does not make any sense.

Returning to the actual incident that happened in the beginning, Adam and Eve sinned by eating the fruit. No, we should not blame Eve for enticing Adam. They both sinned. After their disobedience, they knew of their nakedness (Gen. 3:7). Previously, in Genesis 2:25, they felt no shame and no necessity to cover themselves; however, things changed dramatically. First, the intimate bond between Adam and Eve was compromised. All of a sudden, what they saw in each other and what they saw in themselves was not good enough for them. Having made them in his own personal image and likeness, God was not ashamed of their nakedness, but called them very good. However, they no longer recognized the very goodness of each other, but only perceived the nakedness which represents weakness and brokenness, the damaged image and likeness of God. They used their own ability and standard to determine the value of human beings, not God’s finest acclamation. The deepest rapport Eve and Adam used to enjoy with each other needed a cover made with fig leaves. Sure, they earned the knowledge from eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for they knew that they were naked, and even solved what seemed an immediate problem by covering themselves with fig leaves. Wow, right? What used to be good, and even very good, was ruined at the moment they disobeyed and sinned against Yahweh. Sin breached their companionship.

Second, their precious fellowship with Yahweh was shattered. When they heard the sound of God walking, they hid themselves in Genesis 3:8. This is ample evidence of the wrecked relationship. They used to fulfill the divine duty by cultivating the garden, obeying God, and enjoying the companionship with their own Maker. They lived confidently, without disgrace and fear, in the garden and depended on the mighty Elohim. The privilege and unconditional love that God showered on Adam and Eve was compromised because of sin. The sound of God walking in the garden was no longer the sound of pleasant melody but was changed to the sound of terror. Their innocence and child-like faith shattered into broken pieces. Here, in vv. 11–12, when Yahweh asks Adam about his nakedness and eating the fruit of the tree, Adam not only blames his beloved wife, but also the Creator of Eve: “the woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (v. 12).  Likewise, Eve had no intention to acknowledging her wrong in order to restore the rupture, for she only blamed the serpent (3:15). Not asking forgiveness and not begging for mercy is the indication of the disconnection with God. As sin violated the intimate relationship between Adam and Eve, it destroyed the fellowship between God and human beings forever.

To go one step further, just to help us to imagine the grave nature of the choice of Adam and Eve, choosing the Deceiver, serpent, humiliated the fame of Yahweh. Adam and Eve, instead of believing God’s words that “if you eat the fruit you will die” (Gen. 2:17), chose to trust the words of the serpent, “you will certainly not die” (Gen. 3:4). Molded in his image and likeness, loved, cared for, and breathed by the Master of the universe, when they were tempted and tested by the Deceiver, they rejected God’s command without asking God, who probably was waiting for them to help them in their weakness. If the heavenly and divine court of the angels was already established, they observed the scene where the creation abandoned their Creator. Maybe, the Deceiver and his officials were smiling, even making jokes to one another, “I knew they would eat the fruit. I told you.” God’s heart was broken. It was the feeling of being cheated by your spouse, being betrayed by your best friend, being abandoned by your loved ones. Sin angered and humiliated God. This is why sinners need atonement that appeases His anger and humiliation.

Thus, at the center of the brokenness, there was the disconnected relationship between Creator and creation. What God initiated for humanity, the blessing and privilege of the fellowship, human beings rejected by choosing the words of the Deceiver, changing the dynamic of the bond with God forever. Because humans were made, they never possessed the power to approach God. To illustrate, once upon a time God sent human beings divine invitations to his party, but they rejected him, so that the invitation became invalid. Sure, we can try to use the invitation to enter the party, but it no longer works. We cannot invite ourselves to his party, for he has the authority to make a new invitation. Of course, that does not mean we can never participate in the party, because God already knew the choice that Adam and Eve would make. However, through the narrative of Genesis, we must remember that only God can complete what he initiated, and only his unconditional love can regenerate the broken connection and move him to once again invite us into companionship. Our broken relationship with God is the cause of the suffering of the world and the pain and hardship that we are experiencing right now. This leads us to conclude that restoring our union with God is the solution for our misery. Then, to discuss the problem of suffering must begin from reflecting on the nature of the Almighty. This is so because our broken relationship with God cannot be mended through our own efforts. As briefly illustrated in the previous paragraph, we need God’s invitation to enter into the eternal banquet. Only God can complete what he initiated.

TheologyJ.D. Kim