Genesis: The Cost of Love
by Dan Paterson & Rian Roux
The Christian story begins not with a world gone wrong but with a world made right. Genesis anchors our innate protest by affirming that our world was created for good but has tragically become damaged by evil. So how then does Genesis explain the origins of evil? Why does God allow suffering? In a word, love.
God could have created a sterile world populated by beings who always did what God wanted them to do, but no one can have a significant relationship with a robot. Because God wanted to create a meaningful world, one animated by Trinitarian love, many indispensable features had to be built-in.
First, there needed to be a stage of physical order so we could learn to harness nature for meaningful work. Being made in God’s image to continue the project of bringing order from chaos, God built a world where what people do matters. As gardeners and governors of God’s good world, we were created to be a part of the cause-and-effect structure, bound to our environment as embodied creatures dependent upon it for our life.
Second, humanity had to be imbued with the right degree of freedom, not only so we can be morally responsible for our actions, and so live praiseworthy lives, but also to open up the door to the possibility of love.
Imagine if, instead of seeking to win over the affections of my wife, I forced my love on her and coerced her into making marriage vows under the threat of death. It is safe to say that no one attending that wedding ceremony would be filled with warm fuzzy feelings. Why? Because we intuitively recognize that for sacred words to mean anything they must be freely uttered. For love to mean anything, it must be freely given.
This explains why a loving God might choose to make this world – not a world of robots who blindly follow orders nor a world of oppressive coercion where people reluctantly obey. Instead, God chose to create a world where humans were free to love God and love their neighbors or to do otherwise, which is the very definition of evil.
Genesis describes what happened when God granted humanity that choice. What theologians now call the fall was that tragic moment in space-time history when humanity fell from love and crashed against the moral fabric of reality, whereby we, and the entire world over which we were set to govern, became damaged by evil.
As in any world of meaning, where what we do matters, our choices bear consequences. Akin to what happens when you try to break the law of gravity and only end up being broken by it, when humanity went against the moral grain of God’s universe, there were splinters. No longer did we relate to our environment as God intended. Where once we were shielded from suffering in God’s garden, now exiled from Eden, we became susceptible to the disorder, disease, decay, and death. God’s good design for us was now distorted.
Sin always leads to suffering. This does not mean, though, that the Bible endorses karma. Far from it. Though sin indeed leads to suffering, it is equally true that not all suffering stems from sin. With the whole system now corrupted by evil, things are more complex than people simply getting what they deserve. Our sense of injustice should be provoked when seemingly indiscriminate suffering comes for the most undeserving of people. And even if it served no other purpose, their unfair suffering shouts aloud that something has gone wrong between Creator and creation.
What are the differences between Eden and eternity? In Eden God only came periodically to be with us, as though heaven were courting earth. In eternity we are told that God will forever dwell with us, as Jesus’ return finally ushers in the cosmic marriage between heaven and earth. So why was God not present all the time in Eden? Perhaps God’s absence in Eden, and on earth now, serves to guard our freedom, allowing us to make a choice His constant presence wouldn’t otherwise afford. If He did not veil His glory, then the choice to worship Him would be irresistible. Whatever cosmic marriage to follow would be solely an arranged one, without the chance for us to decline. But once we have freely chosen, in response to the Holy Spirit’s enabling, to reciprocate God’s love, and so bind ourselves to Him for eternity, then perhaps we simply graduate, like any newly married couple, from one kind of freedom (from marriage) to another (within marriage). The difference between Eden and eternity is that we transition from freedom of breadth (options) to freedom of depth (intimacy).
While our ancestors in Eden may have been told about evil, they had no personal experience of its bitter aftertaste. That is not true of those in eternity. They will be intimately familiar with the empty promises of sin and the terrible fallout of going against God’s good design. And with the coming of Jesus, they will have glimpsed God’s nature in ways they otherwise could never have known. Having tasted and seen the depths of God’s self-giving love at the cross, drinking deeply of God’s grace through the gospel, and with the snake now vanquished and his temptations silenced, it will be impossible to entertain any notion that sin is a good idea or that we need to go anywhere else to find our deepest desires satisfied.
In light of these differences between Eden and eternity, it seems obvious that our world now is not the best of all possible worlds. Eternity will undoubtedly be better. But perhaps, given God’s goal to create for us deep and meaningful relationships and a role, this world now, as broken as it is, may just be the best of all possible means to finally get us to the best of all possible worlds.
Adapted from Questioning Christianity: Is There More to the Story? by Dan Paterson & Rian Roux (© 2021). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.
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