As a pastor, I am occasionally asked to explain why a loving God would allow the horrible things we each encounter in our lives. Sometimes the question cries out from genuine pain, but more often expresses a sense of skepticism. Seldom is an answer expected. This is presented as the final, unanswerable argument against Christ.

The truth, however, is plainly found in the first three chapters of the Scripture.

Genesis 1 describes how the universe came into being. All of creation (including angels) came about by the power of the spoken word of God — except man. In Genesis 2:7, God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. Man is God’s special creation — made from the earth and the breath of God. He was created in the image of God as God’s representative to all the rest of His universe. God gave to man authority over all creation and the responsibility to subdue it.

Moses then describes in chapter 2 the garden God made for man. From a world God described as “very good” (Genesis 1:31), He collected all the best and designed a home for man. In the midst of this perfect garden, God planted two unique trees, both of which tell us something of Himself, as well as of His creation — man.

The first tree God planted was the Tree of Life. Man was given full access to this tree. Man was made with the potential for immortality. From the beginning, God has made everlasting life freely available to man. We have, however, have no record that Adam or Eve ever ate of this tree. God’s best gifts are often left untasted.

The second tree God placed in the heart of His garden was the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. This was the tree God warned Adam about. God gave Adam a commandment not to eat of this tree because in the day he ate of it, he would surely die. The name of this tree is intriguing: Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Not the Tree of Evil, or the Tree of Knowledge. Man already had intimate knowledge of good — he lived in a good garden with a good wife and had fellowship with the good God.

Part of being created in the image of God included a necessity of free will. God offered man a life of good, with no knowledge of evil; however, the alternative had to be available for free will to be true.

The serpent presented the fruit of this tree to Eve as something “desirable to make one wise”(Genesis 3:6). Living in perfection, Eve deliberately chose to know what life would be like in a world apart from God. She desired to know evil. Adam chose to place his love for his wife above his love for God and ate.

Scripture says they knew they were naked and sewed fig leaves for themselves. It is hard to imagine it was simply physical nakedness that horrified them so. After all, husbands and wives today are naked and unashamed. Hebrews 13:4 says, “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled.” Rather it was a sudden understanding of vulnerability. They understood they had been manipulated and became distrustful. Adam was “afraid because he was naked”; afraid, not embarrassed or ashamed. Sin brings division and distrust into the family, community and society.

God, rather than responding angrily to Adam’s sin, sorrowfully allowed him to face the consequences of his choice. God’s justice demands separation from sinful man, but it is important to note that man freely chose this separation. It was to fulfill man’s wish to understand evil that God cursed the ground. Genesis 3:17: “cursed is the ground for your sake,” could be better translated “for your benefit.” The attitude is not, “You caused this!”, but rather, “Considering this is what you want…” God had given Adam and Eve what they demanded — the opportunity to see evil in the world.

Yet, as man was rebelling, God was offering provision for restoration: a promise of a Redeemer is in the midst of the curse: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Genesis 3:15).

Why is the first promise of the victorious seed of woman directed toward the serpent rather than to Adam or Eve? It seems neither Adam nor Eve yet understood the enormity of the choice they had made. Here God is outlining the consequences of their decision, and Adam decides this is the right time to name his wife (Genesis 3:20). It seems they were listening with some anticipation to the adventures of their new life. Michelangelo got it wrong — rather than stumbling broken-hearted from the garden, man marched arrogantly into the new world he had caused.

Still, God killed two animals and made clothes for their journey. He gave them a sacrificial system to remind them of the enormity of their sin, and the promise of a Savior. God’s love is shown to us in that while we were in the midst of sinning, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

Every time we experience evil, it is another reminder of the goodness of God. Truly, Christ will come “To give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified”
(Isaiah 61:3).

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