The Origin of Suffering from Genesis Part III

As we have been exploring the origin of suffering from Genesis, On this post of the Origin of Suffering from Genesis, I will further demonstrate how suffering was inflicted upon the world and how we need someone greater than ourselves to liberate us from what seems to be an endless cycle of curse and misery.

To begin with, the direct result of the disobedience was imposed upon the serpent. In previous chapters, God blessed the works of his fingertip and commanded them to be fruitful and multiply in numbers (1:22). In 3:14, God said, “Because you have done this cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals,” and cursed the shrewdest creature that he made—a dramatic change of the mood in the scene. This is the first pronouncement of God’s curse, which is ארר in Hebrew, and appears eight times in Genesis alone and fifty times in the Torah. Although certain individuals in the Bible curse people, the efficacy of curses comes from the LORD, especially to those who violate His divine righteousness and covenant. The curse that the snake shall crawl on its belly illustrates humiliation. In Israel, the snake was an unclean animal that Israelites must avoid. In addition, as my Old Testament professor Richard Hess lectured, “In imperial Egyptian correspondence between kings of Canaan and their overlord, the pharaoh in Egypt, from the fourteenth century B.C., the appropriate act of reverencing the pharaoh is to fall seven times on one’s belly and seven times on ones back.” The outcome of the betrayal was devastating.

Putting aside the suffering of the serpent momentarily, for the first time in the Bible, we finally observe the word that represents our quest—suffering—which is עצב in Hebrew. The general meaning of עצב contains distress, grief, pain, toil, and sorrow, but mostly, mental or emotional pain of one’s heart, spirit, or soul. However, in the context of chapter 3, physical and emotional pains are included in the word. Then, let’s explore the pain afflicted upon Adam and Eve. In v. 16, we find עצב twice when God spoke to the woman. In the New International Version (NIV) of the Bible, it says, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children.” In v. 16, between “your pains” and “in childbearing,” in Hebrew, there is a conjunction, “and,” so that the verse could be translated as “I will greatly increase your toil and conception in pain. Then, God increasing עצב has two interpretations: (1) the pain related to cultivating the ground and (2) the suffering in childbirth.

Once more, suffering is forced on Adam in 3:17: “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.” And the painful toil in Hebrew is עצב. The ground used to be the source of happiness and praise, but it was destroyed into the source of despair and cry, for it would produce a harvest of thorns and thistle. Adam and Eve had no worries about what to eat in the garden, because God gave them every tree that has fruit (Gen. 1:29). For this reason, some think that human beings were born to be vegetarians. The point is that they had to work and toil very hard for their survival. Paul eloquently describes the state of the curse on the creation in Romans 8:19-22: “For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” Creation was decayed, groaning for justice and liberation, because of sin.

In addition, the greatest affliction was articulated to humanity, for Adam and Eve chose the serpent instead of God, trusted the wisdom and shrewdness of a creature instead of the word and promise of the LORD, and betrayed the loyal and divine fidelity for the sake of the power of the Master. The Bible is crystal clear for those who challenge the divinity and purity of Yahweh: any defiance and any shortness of glory is death. God says “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (Gen. 3:19). Even though God did not take the lives of Adam and Eve right away, they were banned from the tree of the everlasting life and from the joyous life in the garden (3:22) and were eternally disconnected from fellowship with the triune God. From that moment of human history, death entered the world. Death became the chief obstacle for human beings that could not be overcome, the foundation of all kinds of evil in the world, and the greatest cause of fear, anxiety, sorrow, suffering, depression, solitude, frustration, anger, despair, etc. Because of sin, physical and spiritual death disconnected human beings from God forever. John Milton’s revered Paradise Lost captures the classical and theological image of sin: “Earth trembled from her entrails, as again. In pangs, and nature gave a second groan; Sky loured, and muttering thunder, some sad drops. Wept at completing of the mortal sin. Original”

The effect of sin was cruel, manifesting itself through generational curses and unstoppable births to sins. After the first sin, instead of covering the shame of one another, Eve and Adam were busy covering themselves: altruism tainted into selfishness. Instead of repenting and asking God for forgiveness, they blamed one another: humility fell into pride. Sin poisoned the morality of human beings. In Genesis 4, when God did not accept the offering of Cain, he was angry with God and his face was downcast instead of dedicating himself to offer a better sacrifice to God. In his untamed anger, jealousy, and sin, he killed his own brother Abel. Sin so infiltrated every part of human beings that Cain murdered his own brother, a fellow man made in His image and likeness, who deserved nothing but love. His act illegally trespassed the divine realm, for the right to create and end the life of human beings belongs to God, only.

What else? Cain’s descendant Lamech, fearlessly, distorted and misused God’s promise to Adam. When Cain complained to the Judge because of the severity of the punishment in Genesis 4:13, God ordered that whoever injured Cain would suffer vengeance seven times, but in 4:23, Lamech arrogantly and falsely proclaimed that he would be avenged seventy-seven times, which God never promised. Unfortunately, sin was not a shameful, heinous, and negative act anymore. In 4:22, Lamech proudly declared and even praised his crime and sin: “I killed a man for wounding me; a young man for injuring me.” The examples of the way sin destroyed the morality of mankind can go on and on.

The point of this post is to recognize the biblical and Christian understanding of the origin of our pain, which is different from the explanations of other religions, philosophies, and cultures. As you can sense, the problem of suffering is intricately related to other Christian doctrines and topics such as salvation, sin, theodicy, God’s love, power, knowledge, etc. We can even further our curiosity by asking why God created the universe if he already knew that Adam and Eve would disobey, and why evil still exists if good and almighty God loves us. I will deal with these interesting and deep issues later. Nonetheless, the Book of Genesis, as name, which means the beginning, suggests, not only explains the inauguration of the history of the universe and of humankind, but also screams at us who are experiencing pain in this world—the genesis of sickness, racism, terrorism, sexism, discrimination, and every brokenness of the world. Sin, the breach between the Infinitude and finitude, righteousness and unrighteousness, unconditional love and conditional love, and faithfulness and unfaithfulness, is the origin of our suffering; the solution to the common crisis of the world must be sought in the broken relationship with the God of the genesis.

On this account, Genesis narrates the necessity of and the introduction of the super-Hero who is the Creator of the galaxy and who holds the authority and power to liberate us from our present and future suffering, the unfortunate, endless cycle of suffering. Having physical disability and its related hardships, I often sense that the God of the Bible is too quiet when I shout at Him. Actually, my heart and ears become too dull and tainted to hear the scream and outcry of our Savior. However, my hope is in this God of the beginning, who initiated the process of creation, who is also willing to celebrate the finale of his decrees with marvelous glory and beauty. Paul says in Romans 8:24-25, “For in this hope, we were saved. But, hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But, if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”  Through the series of The Origin of Suffering from Genesis, I pray that the God of Genesis may grant us the rejuvenating energy that empowers us to survive and covers us with his sovereign love that causes us to thrive.

TheologyJ.D. Kim