By José Javier Pérez
Photography by Bryan Arvelo Bonilla
I imagine the moment when God had formed the shape of the first man out of the dust of the ground, as He prepared to get up close and breathe life into His nostrils (Genesis 2:7). Did He take a moment? Did He pause?
The Bible says that Jesus is “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8). Before He finished Adam’s creation, did He count the cost? Did His divine foreknowledge cause His future suffering as Messiah to flash before Him like a horrific movie? Did the fact that He would acutely feel every pain felt by every person who would ever live in a sin-darkened world enter His mind? Did the mourning parent’s grief wash over Him as he thought of every lost soul that would breathe it’s last without accepting His overtures for their salvation? Isaiah 53 says that Jesus would be crushed, despised, rejected, afflicted, stricken, a man of sorrows. Psalm 22 says that His hands and feet would be pierced and He would be forsaken by the One He had never been without (verses 6, 1).
I can imagine him gulping, and taking a deep breath.
But then He thought of you and, in so doing, realized that no price was too high and nothing too dear, that He wouldn’t trade it for you. He would have you at any cost. The infinite flood of the love that only God can know, rushed into His heart, and He knew in that moment that He loved you too much to let you go.
He would not allow anything to come between you and Himself.
Breathing life into the first man would come with inherent risk. Adam would not be an android, programmed to carry out a list of instructions. There would be no joy in that. The Bible teaches that God is love that does not seek it’s own (1 Corinthians 13:5). That implies that God could not truly be Himself without someone other than Himself to lavish His love upon.
God created Adam as a new kind of being; a sentient being in His own image, fully capable of love, completely free and intellectually independent. Such a being, similar to the angels created before him, would have the capacity to make his own decisions, right or wrong.
Without any outside intervention, any violation of God’s law would lead to the demise of the new race.
Therefore, He chose to assume the risk upon Himself. In the event of the fall of mankind, the Creator Himself would pay the penalty that His law would require.
A reading of the first two chapters of Genesis paints a picture of a loving, thoughtful Creator, who gave Adam and Eve every reason to trust Him and willingly submit themselves to His sovereignty. Every ecosystem, every natural law that makes the earth a perfect, intricate, symbiotic whole, was ingeniously designed and crafted by God. He created a self-watering planet with no need for rain (Gen. 2:5-6). Within the living canvas of this beautiful new world, God created an exquisite garden-paradise to be the home of His earthly children. He planted a garden filled with “all kinds of trees … trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.” (Gen. 2:8-9). He filled the earth with creatures who would share the bountiful resources with humanity. And when He designed the first man and woman, He expressed His love and utmost regard for them by making them in His own image.
“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them…” Genesis 1:26-28.
As His crowning achievement, He gave us love and marriage, and the ability to procreate; the ultimate expression of Himself in us. God walked with Adam and Eve, and spoke with them face to face as a friend.
Said Adam of his beautiful bride, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”
The stage was set for humanity to be perpetually and blissfully happy, in unbroken communion with each other and with God Himself. That was God’s dream for us. That’s what He intended.
It was never God’s intention for pain and suffering, sickness and misery, death and decay to exist.
But He has a plan to resolve these things. He has a plan to bring His children back to a world where these things do not exist. But between the time of the fall, and the future time of restoration, God is, in the words of Ty Gibson, “navigating evil”.
So to get back to the original question, why does suffering exist? Because of the choice of Adam to distrust God and walk an alternate path.
You see, despite the vast beauty and perfection of God’s original design, there was a competing principle being promulgated in the universe, and that principle was brought to bear upon the new race within the Garden of Eden, in the confines of the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil”. A creature that God likewise created in a perfect world mysteriously began to love himself above all else, and create a self-centered worldview that he would seek to sell to as many of God’s created beings as possible.
God made Lucifer good, pure, and noble, “the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty… blameless in [his] ways. (Ezekiel 28:15). But he fell. The Scriptures say that he spread his slanderous lies far and wide until he became filled with violence. Because of this, he was expelled from the throne room of God and was cast down to earth:
“Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down – that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.” Revelation 12:7-9.
So, there were dueling worldviews – selfless love and humble submission to God – vs. selfishness and self-worship. Beyond that, there were two people, with two distinctive characters put forward to humanity. One said, “Trust Me,” with His words as well as His actions; He gave them everything they had, and made them like Himself. The other said, “Don’t trust Him. He’s out for Himself and wants to keep something back from you. He doesn’t want you to have the knowledge of good and evil because He doesn’t want you to be like Him”.
One created and gave to humanity; the other gave nothing, but rather took from them the paradise and dominion over the earth they once enjoyed.
It is this enemy that is the root of all the evil and suffering in this world. And he is lying about God’s character to this day.
Lest we believe that God inflicted all this suffering upon us out of anger, God Himself took on human flesh and permitted Satan to expend the full force of his wrath upon Him to the point of orchestrating the cruel and inhumane death Christ suffered at the gruesome hands of the Romans.
Lest we believe He allowed us to exist for His own selfish pleasure at the expense of our suffering, God Himself took our pain and bore our suffering.
“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:4-6
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
God does not stand aloof, watching us suffer – he suffers with us. He did not remain in heaven distant from us – He came to earth and suffered for us.
The truth about God is that everything He’s done toward us has been exclusively for our good. It is the enemy who seeks to do us harm; but even in this evil world, God will work all things for our good, even when the enemy means them to hurt us (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28).
Suffering exists when we depart from the path of love. God’s way – the way of selflessness and service to others as the center of life – is the only way for us to be truly happy.
When asked what the greatest commandment was of God’s entire law, Jesus said these words, which encapsulate the essence of God’s government:
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40.
In this same vein, the apostle Paul said that “whoever loves has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13:8). Further, Paul stated, “The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Romans 13:9-10.
Therefore, contrary to what the devil would have us believe, the way of God was, is, and ever will be, the way of love. To obey God is not a hard, exacting, cruel thing that He requires of us. It is simply to love. When we have learned to fall in love with God, and love Him with all that we are, and when we learn to love others as we love ourselves, we have kept the entire law of God.
We suffer in this world because we have fallen to the power of sin, which has warped our hearts into rejecting God and making ourselves the object of our love and worship. The suffering that we experience in the world today is but the natural result of living out the Luciferian principle of selfishness set forth by the serpent of old.
My question to you is – is life still worth living, in spite of the pain? I submit to you that it is. I believe that we would choose to live rather than to never have existed if we could have the chance to live our lives with Jesus. If we could but know Christ in His perfect, loving beauty, we would not pass up the opportunity to be with Him forever.
“And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me, “Write, for these words are true and faithful.” Revelation 21:3-5
The tender Creator-God will find His greatest joy when He forever erases tears, pain, and death from our lives for all eternity.
Remember that in the grand sweep of divine history, any suffering we can endure in this age is fleeting and temporary. What God will give us in exchange is eternal glory that cannot be fathomed or appraised:
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” II Corinthians 4:16-18
“In the world you will have trouble,” said our Savior. “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33.
One day, all the sorrow will be over, and God will personally wipe every tear from your eyes. In that moment, all the pain of the former life will fade away to nothing in the presence of God; endless ages of pure love and happiness will erase every scar you thought would never heal.
When you feel downtrodden, put your trust in Jesus. He has promised, it will all be worth it in the end.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” John 14:1-3.
So that He could one day give Himself for us and make a home for us where we could be with Him forever, our God and Savior knelt down before the lifeless form of Adam, and, with deep pleasure, breathed into His nostrils the breath of life.