Sin opened the door for all kinds of evils, injustices and sufferings, from natural disasters to tyranny to terminal disease. The skeptic observes tragedy and inhumanity and concludes that God is either unloving or powerless. If God is loving and all-powerful, then why does He allow genocide in Rwanda and Hurricane Katrina? If He is all-powerful, He could stop these things. If He is loving, He would want to. How would you answer the skeptic? Why did God plant the tree of knowledge of good and evil and allow the opportunity for sin and evil and suffering? Theologians and philosophers and other people a million times smarter than I am have pondered this question as their life’s work. So, I am not so arrogant as to believe I have the answer. I do have a suggestion, but it is merely a suggestion.
Before I make my case, I would like to recommend that you wrestle with the problem of evil and suffering before you find yourself in the midst of it, for a few reasons. 1) When you face profound disappointment and pain, the big-picture answers sound trite and clichéd. When my wife and I lost our daughter, it was not helpful to hear that God had a plan. We knew it was true, but we were not able to accept the reality of it because we were grieving; and we needed to grieve. 2) Our personal experiences tend to breed biases in our worldview. Without answers established before entering suffering, we will likely interpret God’s story in light of our experiences rather than interpreting our experiences in light of God’s story. In other words, we become the starting point for understanding suffering instead of starting with the goodness and love of God. 3) Emotional stress and trauma shrinks our world down to the tragedy we are facing. When we endure suffering, the periphery disappears. All of our attention focuses on our circumstances. When this happens, we cannot see the bigger picture, much less make sense of it. We need to carry solid answers into suffering, not that they will alleviate the pain and sorrow, but that they will guard our faith from being shipwrecked in a sea of confusion and doubt.
What if God had not planted the tree of knowledge of good and evil? What if He created a universe in which there was absolutely no potential for sin and its tragic consequences? We would enjoy the beauty of God’s creation free of poison ivy, thunderstorms and pollutants. Relationships would be lasting, fulfilling and unbroken. No fear. No crime. No disease. No sin. No need for comfort. No need for justice. No need for healing. No need for grace and mercy. Do you see my point?
I think a world without sin and pain would fall short of displaying the glory of God. Tragedy sucks, but through it we experience God in ways that we never could if tragedy did not exist. It is through suffering that we have the opportunity to learn of God’s great love for us as individuals as He comforts and sustains. Weakness allows us to know His strength. We would know nothing of the merciful nature of God if sin had never gained entrance into the world. Does this mean that God delights in sin and tragedy? Absolutely not. But He does delight in being our comfort. The two are exclusive. I hate it when my wife hurts. When she does hurt, I want my shoulders to be the ones she cries on. I want to be the one with whom she shares her hurts. I hate seeing her cry. I love being the one to hold her until she is done.
Sin and suffering are canvases on which God completes His self-portrait that was begun in the perfection of creation. I realize this is probably not the most comforting thought if you are currently hurting. But this life is God’s story, and in your suffering, He desires to display His comfort, His healing and His love.