Mary met Joe at a Bible study group on campus. After a few dates, they could clearly see the Lord meant for them to spend their lives serving Him together. Joe had the desire to be a businessman that would serve Jesus and create wealth that would fund ministry operated by other friends he saw God calling. Mary wanted to serve Jesus as a housewife with an in-home cottage industry business. She was smart, motivated and dynamic. The short story is they graduated, she with her Bachelor’s degree and he with an Associate’s degree. They got married and she started her business and her family. Joe went back to school to get further education and get his business career started. In the middle of the next year, both of their lives changed. The baby that was forming in Mary was in distress and had to be delivered early. The complications were many, and the baby, little Jolene, was born with a series of severe physical limitations. The couple was stunned. They were prepared to serve God in many ways, but this changed both of their plans. What went wrong? Why would God sideline both of these dear ones and move them to a place of struggle like this?
Tom loved two things in life: his family and fishing. Anyone who knows anything about their family knows this: fishing is more important than perhaps any activity beyond work and worship. Tom and his wife are vibrant in their faith. Their children are active in their children and youth programming at their church. Yet, no one could miss that all of them were very familiar with time on the lake. Every child could worm a hook, net a catch and know the variety of fish caught. They “force adopted” their father’s love. All this was true until the day his son started to pull the boat forward too quickly before his youngest daughter was aware of the move and properly braced herself. She fell backward against the side of the boat and tumbled off into the water as the boat sped away. It was only a matter of seconds before Tom took control, slowed the boat and jumped into the water. The blow to the little girl’s head in the fall and her subsequent toss into the water took her little fragile life from her. Those few minutes changed everything for the family. Tom couldn’t bring himself to look at the boat again, much less go fishing. His son couldn’t forgive himself for the mishap. The family began to fall apart. All sat with their own loss, their own pain, and their own wonder: “What went wrong?”
Why doesn’t God stop these kinds of bad things from happening?
Such “why” stories may be hard to listen to, but they are not difficult to imagine. In preparation of this Bible lesson, I found myself selecting from a long list of stories where the outcome didn’t seem to match the situation. In case after case, it seemed like people were doing good things, only to have a crisis rise in spite of their situation.
When such stories hit our radar, we respond in a number of ways. Some of us just HURT with a “there but by the grace of God go I” kind of mentality. Others seek to find a weakness in the preparation of the people, the medical practices, or someone else to BLAME. We feel an instinctive indignation in the unfair nature of the situation, and we seek to “right it” by drawing from our own mental library of experiences. Here is what we all know inside: You can do everything right and things may not turn out in a way that is either comfortable or desired. Here is where understanding the next part of God’s Word helps us. The truth that saturates the ground of the Genesis 2:4-4:26 is this:
Key Principle: The design of God came with the possibility of trouble – but that was NOT a flaw.
Life has been broken by sin, but that isn’t the ONLY reason things went wrong. The world is operating under a “patch” after sin entered, but there is MORE to the reason for life trouble than the sin issue. The possibility for trouble began with our very design.
When you ask Jesus followers the “Why?” question, they inevitably turn to Satan’s fall and the subsequent “Fall of Man” passages. That doesn’t answer the whole problem. The underlying question is this: Why would a perfect God design a society that could embrace evil? Sin isn’t the only factor in what went wrong. Part of our understanding of trouble should be found in the equation of our design.
You see, God answered the question about evil and why it exists. It is found in several parts over the earliest chapters of the Bible.
To get to the answer, remember where we have been. The opening prologue of Genesis reminded us of some important truths:
• God created all that is, and He did it for His own purposes. The world is His, and so am I.
• God ascribed intrinsic value to each of us. The value we possess is not based on our ability to accomplish things, but simply because He placed that value upon us. Whether I can do much or little, I am His creation – and that alone makes me valuable. That is true of the elderly, the physically limited and the unborn. If God created it, the intrinsic value is there.
• God assigned purposes to us. They are the true purposes of our existence. Any siren call to change the path of those stated purposes should be identified as the call to mutiny, not a call to freedom.
• God liked what He made when it was as He made it.
The whole first account had only one real actor – He was the Creator. Man had a “walk-on role” in the story, and more explanation was due.
The first “scroll” of life stories found in Genesis 2:4-4:26 can be easily divided into four primary stories:
1) The Creation and assignment of man (2:4-17)
2) The Creation and assignment of woman (2:18-25)
3) The Fall of Mankind and the curses (3)
4) The Beginning of Murder (4)
This is the account of the heavens and earth and what went wrong!
Since God liked things the way they were made, it is obvious something went wrong. The obvious question is this: “What happened?” That is what the four stories reveal…Look for a moment at the first account. Let’s look closely at the first of the four stories of this scroll: man’s creation and purpose (2:4-17).
Fitting the stories together
Take a look at the statement in Genesis 2:4. Some see the statement of Genesis 2:4 as a summary of what went BEFORE in 1:1-2:3. Other scholars believe it sets apart the account of what happened with the creation of man, woman, the garden and the introduction of evil. Genesis 2 recorded:
Genesis 2:4 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven.
There are good reasons why you may maintain either view. What is important is this: there is a clear purpose for the narrative. God wanted to explain what happened to His perfect creation.
The Timing of Man’s Creation
The account opened with a word about timing…
Genesis 2:5 Now no shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground. 6 But a mist used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground.
Verses five and six set the story back into the narrative of the sixth day in Genesis 1:26-31. The record wasn’t of a new event, but rather a “zoom in” on the details of that day for the purpose of setting up the story of what went wrong.
Apparently, the earth’s continents were set in place (though not as they are now extant post-flood), but the “ground cover crops and vegetation” hadn’t yet grown. That note helps us to understand two things:
• First, that in the beginning, God used dew as His primary watering method for the earth. Rain came later in the story as we shall see.
• Second, the management of the land was directly linked to the purpose of man (more about that later).
The crucial point is that man was created before the rains were operational as the sprinkler system on the earth. God seeded the landscape and set it to incrementally grow by dewfall and internal design (each plant, etc.). God then turned His attention to creating man to manage the earth’s natural order.
The Creation of Man
Read on, and the account explains man’s creation moment:
Genesis 2:7 Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.
Contrary to other explanations of the origin of human life, the Bible claims we are actual “earthlings” in the sense that we literally were formed from the chemicals and minerals of the ground. The link in the Hebrew language is even more obvious: Man (adam) is created from the ground (admah). Man was not eternally a being – he has a beginning point. He was created in the temporal, frail and physical world. He was intentionally formed (he didn’t come to be from another species). At the same time, man was given a very special gift. God breathed into that formed pile of clay and minerals and gave it “life” – using the word for breath “nawfach” – the word for blowing air into a fire to stoke it, and the word “chaim” for life (part of the essence of God Himself). This included sentience, self-awareness, determinative will and moral conscience.
Stop and consider that man was made by the intention of God and with an essential life component that came from God. In this, our faith has taught us a basic primer of the DIGNITY of human life. We are NOT MAMMALS, nor are we an incidental part of the CIRCLE OF LIFE. We are unique and exceptional on the planet. Every attempt to make us part of the animal kingdom by a random “natural selection” multi-millennial change demeans the uniqueness of man and robs him of his exceptional quality.
To speak to the point: What we are teaching in today’s science classes will end up as tomorrow’s nursing home health care and end of life policies.
I am not trying to be some fussy cleric teaching you to resist modernity and the scientific explanation of things, out of some plea to hang on to perceived power over your heart. I am simply making the argument there is a cost for buying into lies that make people no different than the animal kingdom, and those lies will change public health policy. They will demean human life. They will accept the premise that when a life is lost, though it is sad, there is little consequence. It is a natural part of life on our planet.
One of our own young women faced a choice about a treatment for an illness in her body that would have certainly resulted in the loss of her unborn child. If I understood the situation correctly, the doctor seemed to have precious little understanding of why “terminating the pregnancy” was even a problem. “The couple could always have another child later,” the doctor reminded.
When we lose the sense that every life is exceptional because of God’s assigned value, we lose a sense of who we are as humans created in God’s image.
The Placement of Man
As you keep reading, God not only MADE man, He POSITIONED man to be able to give Him an assignment. This was integral to the man’s self-understanding and his sense of accomplishment. The beginning point was the simple note of “where” man was placed – in an environment that required arrangement, management, and care. The text recorded:
Genesis 2:8 The Lord God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed.
First, it doesn’t claim the “whole earth” was a garden – only that a garden existed on the earth in that location. Even before the advent of weeds, the work involved in the garden wasn’t some kind of penalty. Man was created with a purpose. He was made to work and accomplish. He was made to work the environment around him and organize it. He was made to care about the things around him – not haplessly use them for momentary purposes. Keep reading:
Genesis 2:9 Out of the ground the Lord God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Some get out of the story at this point. They were fine with the notion of creation, but the sound of a tree of life or of knowledge seems like a bridge too far. My advice: slow down! Look at what the account is attempting to explain. God made the world in a way that it would meet our needs and bring us great pleasure – even by looking at it. The point of the passage was not to offer you a genus of a tree that bore knowledge. The tree didn’t make you have life or knowledge – God did. He ascribed what everything was FOR, and He made clear what would result from eating a fruit. If God said Vitamin D would make your bones and teeth strong, and the fruit of the “tree of life” would regenerate cells in your body – what is the real difference? One sounds plausible and the other fictional simply because you are familiar with the former and have never experienced the latter.
Let me ask you: Can a God Who can fling one quintillion stars into position make a tree to offer a fruit that, when eaten, will regenerate tissue?
If He cannot, then the account is simply false. If He can, then the account may offer a simple account of what God did long ago. What if God made a tree whose fruit could help you grow dramatically the neural pathways of your mind? Would you call that a “tree of knowledge” because of its results?
Remember also, the world that Adam saw was not the same one you are looking at today. Most of us believe the earth began with a single body of land (a pangaean continent). Since the original design, there have been at least two cataclysms – the arrival of sin and its penalties – as well as a reorganization of a massive flood event that has changed places and appearances significantly. If you read the next part and think you can use it for exploration purposes, you have forgotten the cataclysm that separate that world from the one you are in now:
Genesis 2:10 Now a river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and from there it divided and became four rivers. 11 The name of the first is Pishon; it flows around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12 The gold of that land is good; the bdellium and the onyx stone are there. 13 The name of the second river is Gihon; it flows around the whole land of Cush. 14 The name of the third river is Tigris; it flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates.
We don’t know where the places mentioned here are because they aren’t there anymore. The rivers that have their names are not where the originals were. The continents have moved, broken and changed. The fact that Tigris and Euphrates exist NOW in the Persian Gulf at the places mentioned in the text are a simple anachronism. What we should understand is there was a lush garden environment around man sown with a balance of good soil and temperate weather ideal for growing the plants that were already replicating themselves.
One other important factor about this place was that it was a place where God met man in the cool of the day (cp. Genesis 3:8). This little stretch of physical “Paradise” was the place where God came and walked with man and where man gained knowledge of his purpose. It was a sacred place, a HOLY place, a meeting place fit for the King of the Ages to walk with His subjects.
Before we continue with the explanation of man’s assignment, go back and look in the first chapter at what we were already told in the summary statement of the sixth-day creative activities. This will add texture to our understanding:
Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
The account offers three details:
First, God made man in His own likeness. The term “tselem” that is translated “likeness” is a word for “shadow, shape or form.” What does it mean? It is hard to know the whole depth of the term, but it minimally includes in the context the idea of purposeful labor as satisfying. God liked creating and administrating the world and man was given this “sameness.” Put another way, you are most like your Heavenly Father when you are working to tend an organized and disciplined life. There is satisfaction and pleasure in purposeful labor that leads to some accomplishment. The enemy celebrates leisure and sloth, but little would be gained if we make those our chief ambitions.
Second, God commissioned man to rule over the earth’s created beings. In addition to organization, man was given some control over things in his environment, and that sense of control was meant to be a pleasant feature. This too was something that seems part of the “sameness” men were given by God.
Third, God created two varieties of humankind – male and female. They were created distinctively one from the other with differing design and different purposes.
Go back now to the second chapter:
Genesis 2:15 Then the Lord God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.
In addition to ORGANIZATION and LEADERSHIP (RULING) found in Genesis 1, two new words were introduced into the dialogue in this chapter that describes man’s assigned purpose, the words “cultivate” and “keep” the meeting place Paradise.
The term “cultivate” is from the word “obed” which is used throughout the Hebrew Bible to denote “service” or “labor.” It is used of slaves and their productive labor and even used of worshipers before God. The simple term means WORK. Even in Paradise, work for God in an assigned task is what gave man’s life one of his main senses of purpose.
Economist Todd Buchholz, in his book Rush: Why You Need and Love The Rat Race, sampled 27,000 American workers between 1972 and 2006 and determined that 86% of the people were satisfied with their jobs. He wrote: A life of stasis or murmuring mantras, of staring endlessly at the surf with a pina colada will confound and frustrate your frontal lobe.” He argued that there was no real evidence that in “simpler” times people were happier. They lived shorter and more arduous lives. He further posited that since dopamine is released in response to taking risks, we were designed to try things. He went so far as to state that based on the scientific metrics he studied, it appears that activity and external stimulation, not quiet contemplation, sync us with the world and produce a longer term sense of happiness. Competition and risk produce necessary innovations for progress. That creativity seems to be inborn.
I cannot tell if the details of Buchholz’s findings are reliable, but I can tell you his general conclusion was already stated in Genesis 2. Men were created with the desire to organize, create and master the world around them. Strangely, the desire to do this work in harmony with the Creator is now found in the most unlikely place. This is the basis of PRAYER – working as a servant while requesting supplies from the Owner to keep your world running well.
Next, God added something else:
Genesis 2:16 The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”
In the warning God gave to man, he separated man from all other creation. Here, God treated man as a moral agent, able to decide to follow commands or warned about consequences for not doing so. This act demonstrated that God desired a LOVE RESPONSE from man, even if doing so placed the story of history at risk.
Here is the first answer to the WHY question we looked at earlier.
This is a mere beginning, but it is so foundational, so very important, that I am unwilling to rush past the rich and powerful truths embedded in verse 16 and 17.
Why doesn’t God stop evil from happening?
The first answer (and there will be several others as these chapters unfold) is found in what God said to man about his own CHOICE to follow or to mutiny. We must recognize that as a moral agent, man was inherently given a choice to follow God.
Let me explain…
When asked, Jesus said the greatest commandments of God were two – to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves (cp. Mt. 22). He claimed all the Law and Prophets hung on these two commands. In essence, Jesus said the supreme ethic God gave us is the ethic of love. It is the peak of all intellectual and emotional order. It is the organizing principle of all other parts of God’s story of history. It is this love that installs value and worth on each person we encounter. God loves His creation, so it has value. Between us, love is a prime cause that makes us desire to protect another.
The problem is that you simply cannot have love without weaving into the story the freedom of the will to choose to turn away from love. You can force compliance without the will – but that isn’t operating LOVE as the supreme ethic. Your computer can be wired to respond to the command, but it doesn’t LOVE you. It obeys. It is predictable when functioning properly. It is loveless.
Here is the truth: You can only love by choice. Freedom is indispensable to love.
The essence of God’s desire is relationship – with us and between us. Jesus said love drives the story. Therefore, we cannot rightly follow God without both loving God and receiving God’s love.
The problem is that our choice to follow presupposes the choice to reject, to mutiny, and to commit acts of selfish evil.
If God’s chief goal for us is to love both Him and our neighbor, our freedom to choose either to do so or to do the opposite is a necessary component of that command. Love will flow no other way.
Without choice, true love is crushed.
If we demand God put a stop to all evil, we demand Him to stop the premise upon which human history is built. He has planned the story with intricacy to show Who He is, and He has designed a stunningly complex world to make His identity clear. God is love. He chooses to love.
If God blocks all evil and thwarts all choices that don’t honor Him, how can we learn to love? Can His goals for us ever be realized? Is not the Maker the One Who sets the goals and principles of the story? If you want a world in which there is no evil, you are demanding a world in which there is no choice. It would be a coin with only one side. It would be a meaningless contest in which there were joyful winners, but no chance of losing. It isn’t only impossible – it is absurd.
As the absence of light is darkness, so the absence of choice is compulsion.
If God is good, why is there evil?
Ironically, the choice to ask the question is also part of love. We only know it is a problem because we can choose between good and evil. We ask because we are free to ask.
Simply put: with choice, there is love. Sadly, there is also the possibility of evil.
The design of God came with the possibility of trouble – but that was NOT a flaw.
In the coming lessons, we will see the choice to mutiny destroys man and his environment. At the same time, one day, we will also love reign supreme.
Some years ago, Dr. Ravi Zacharias spoke about this. He said:
“We think we know so much. The story is told in Near Eastern folklore of this man who lost his horse when the animal ran away. His neighbor heard about the horse and came to him and said, “Oh my, bad luck isn’t it?” The man replied, “What do I know of luck?” A few days later, the horse came back with twenty other wild horses and the neighbor saw them all in the corral. He said to the man, “Oh my! What good luck! The horse has brought many others to you! Our man said, “What do I know of these things?” The man sent his young son out to feed the horses and one of them kicked his son’s leg, breaking the leg. The neighbor heard about the injury and came to the man and said, “Oh my! What bad luck for it appears your son has been injured!” Our man said, “What do I know of these things?” The next day an evil hoard of thugs entered the village taking every available youth to go to their gang army. They spotted the young son but left him behind because his leg was broken. The neighbor came over to say, “What good luck, your son has been saved!” In one little series of episodes, it becomes obvious that we don’t know what lies ahead and what it all means. (I shortened and paraphrased as faithfully as possible his original story).
Dear one, let me plead with you… instead of indicting God because evil and trouble are in your life, why not wait until you stand before Him one day, face to face, and you will find out the reasons why He did what He did to show the heinousness of evil and see the majesty of His unmatched love?
God made the choice clear: follow the Creator or turn and live to serve self. One He defined as GOOD, the other He said was EVIL. The stakes are life itself. What is YOUR choice?