Have you ever wondered why there’s death, disease and suffering in the world? Or, if God even exists, why did he allow death, disease and suffering? This is one of the most difficult questions we have to wrestle with, and for some, if an adequate answer isn’t found, they may leave the church, or turn from God. In fact this is one of the reasons why Charles Darwin ultimately rejected God and the Christian faith; the struggle and tragic death of his ten-year-old daughter, Annie, was too much to bear.
No one is immune from hardship or trial. Perhaps some of us have had long stretches without tragedy or serious hardship, but at some point, if we live long enough, we’ll suffer through the loss of a loved one, and eventually be forced to face our own death. Genesis three, The Fall of Man, is where we confront the answer to this age old question. For this reason The Fall of Man is one of the most significant events in history.
Before we delve into Genesis three, it’s important to have some familiarity with Genesis one and two: in summary, God created the heavens and earth, the sea, and everything in them (Psalm 146:6). And when he had finished his creation, God saw all that he had made and proclaimed it to be “very good”. I can’t emphasize this point enough because it tells us what the heavens and earth were like at the very beginning, and what God thought of his creation; he liked it, endorsed it, and made it clear that he didn’t make any mistakes. In fact, if we look at Mark 10:18, Jesus tells us that, “No one is good- except God alone”. In other words, what God considers good greatly exceeds what we consider good. We tend to throw the word around lightly, so when we hear God using the term it tends to have less of an impact. Death and disease are not good, so there’s no reason to believe that they existed at the beginning. In addition, Matthew 10:29 tells us that not even a sparrow will fall to the ground apart from God’s will. Death couldn’t have existed unless God allowed it to happen, and at this point in time it had no reign. So what God considers “good” and “very good” should impact our understanding of these passages and the original creation.
When I talk with atheists, I’m often asked, “If God is good, why didn’t he create a perfect world without death?” The assumption is that death and suffering have always existed and that God goofed up and made mistakes. They claim, in effect, that God must not exist, or if he does exist, then he’s not powerful enough to prevent death, or he’s an evil monster because he won’t. There are a lot of problems with this argument, but they can be resolved by examining scripture further, such as John 11, which tells of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead after allowing him to die. From this chapter it’s obvious that Jesus does have power over death, that he allows people to die for reasons we may not understand, and that he has our best interest in mind. Genesis one is another powerful chapter because it shows that God did create everything very good, and that there was no death, disease or suffering at the beginning. Further, God calls death an enemy in 1 Corinthians 15:26, so it’s unreasonable to suppose that there was death at this point in history. Man, in fact, was created by God to be eternal. Keep in mind that there was no sin as of yet, and there was no curse on man or the earth, which means man didn’t have to worry about hardship; neither man nor animals were eating meat (Genesis 1:29-30), therefore they wouldn’t have been killing each other. Life on earth would have been a peaceful paradise.
Now death may seem normal in the sense that that’s what we we’re familiar with- we know everyone dies, so it makes sense that death has always existed. But that’s why it’s important to read and understand God’s Word, and what was meant by “very good.” The heavens and earth were radically different at the beginning, so it’s not surprising that some have difficulty accepting something so foreign to them; we weren’t there, and we’re not accustomed to seeing people and animals live forever. We’re not accustomed to vegetarian lions and tigers. We’re not used to seeing daylight without the sun. None of us have ever seen a living Tyrannosaurus Rex, and we weren’t there when the earth was flooded, when Moses parted the Red Sea, when Jesus walked on the water, calmed the storm, or rose from the dead. But if we look at the creation as God revealed it in Genesis, then we can begin to make sense of the world we live in today.
As we look at Genesis three, we discover something else strange and unfamiliar. Genesis 3:1 starts off with a talking snake, or serpent. There’s some controversy on whether this was Satan, if the serpent was possessed, or if it was simply acting on behalf of Satan. Revelation 12:9 and 20:2 makes a reference to Satan or the devil being the serpent. Nonetheless, we’re told that the serpent was “more crafty” than any of the wild animals God had made, and it said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?
I find it fascinating that the woman didn’t seem surprised by a talking snake. Since she was recently created, perhaps she didn’t know any better, or maybe it wasn’t uncommon for animals to speak. For instance we know parrots can speak, and apes have learned sign language (although neither of these examples should imply that animals are like humans in any way). There’s also the account of Balaam’s donkey (Numbers 22:21-39) in which God “opened the mouth” of the donkey. We certainly don’t have all the details, but we do know that this serpent spoke.
Eve didn’t fully recognize it, but something sinister was happening- God’s Word was being called into question, and Eve was on the verge of sinning. There are several things to note; first, sin is ultimately disobedience to God. When we sin against others, we’re chiefly sinning against God. Secondly, the wages of sin is death (Genesis 2:15-17, Romans 3:23). This means that if we sin, we are deserving of death, and this is why God told Adam that he would surely die if he didn’t obey. God is holy and hates sin. Being holy means that God is pure, perfect and without blemish or defect; therefore sin cannot be in his presence, and he will separate himself from sin.
This is important to understand because of what happens next. The woman replied to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”
At this point Eve’s response is not entirely correct. In Genesis 2:16-17 God says, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” Eve told the serpent that God also told them that they must not touch the fruit, but in actuality God never said that they must not touch it; he only told them that they may not eat of it.
In Genesis 3:4-5 the serpent said, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Here we see the serpent deceiving the woman, and in Revelation 12:9 we see that it is Satan who leads the whole world astray. In 2 Corinthians 11:3 and 1 Timothy 2:14 it says that Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning and became a sinner. God promised Adam that he would surely die if he ate from the tree, but the serpent contradicts God’s word and basically tells Eve that God is selfish, fears them, and that they would be like God if they ate the fruit.
Genesis 3:6-7 tells us that, “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.”
Adam was there the whole time, watching… listening, but never intervened, and never resisted when offered a taste. And suddenly the world was different and would never be the same again. They felt shame- a feeling they had never experienced before. Sin had entered man, so they hid from God.
In Genesis 3:8-13 God is walking through the garden and calls out to the man, and Adam tells God that he was afraid because he was naked, so he hid. God asks, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” Adam then blames his wife, saying “The woman you put here with me- she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Adam was now living in sin, and he did what most sinners do when they’re at fault- blame someone else. God asked Eve, “What is this you have done?”, and Eve passed the blame, just as her husband had done: “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
Now this is where you and I are impacted. Because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, we now face death, disease, suffering, and all kinds of trials. In Genesis 3:14-19 God curses the serpent, the man, woman, the ground, and, in effect, all of creation (Romans 8:18-24):
So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this,
“Cursed are you above all the livestock
and all the wild animals!
You will crawl on your belly
and you will eat dust
all the days of your life.
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.”
To the woman he said,
“I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing;
with pain you will give birth to children.
Your desire will be for your husband,
and he will rule over you.”
To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat of it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”
These verses explain why we suffer and die. Adam and Eve sinned, thus becoming sinners; therefore their offspring would be sinners and be affected by their sin. In Genesis 3:20 Adam named his wife Eve, because she would become the mother of all the living.
Genesis 3:21 is the first recorded death in the Bible- God made garments of skin for Adam and Eve and clothed them. This is significant for a number of reasons. God still cares for them, recognizes their new needs, and, in spite of his anger, has compassion. The animal sacrificed to clothe Adam and Eve demonstrates the sacrifice needed to atone for sin, foreshadows our need for a savior, and explains why Jesus Christ had to become a man and die on the cross- Satan would strike him on the heel, but Jesus would crush his head.
Lastly, in Genesis 3:21-24 we learn that man now knows good from evil and will eventually die, just as God had promised.
There are some who claim that the death God spoke of was purely spiritual, but I think it makes more sense as both a physical and spiritual death. God told Adam that he would surely die if he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In Genesis 3:19 God’s curse includes man dying “for dust you are and to dust you will return.” This curse wouldn’t have been necessary if man were going to die anyway. It was the curse, in fact, that brought death. We also see in Genesis 3:22 that, if man had eaten from the tree of life, he would live forever, so God banished them from the Garden so that they would not be able to go on living forever. Lastly, we see in Genesis 5:5 that Adam eventually died at the age of 930. Some people will argue that since Adam didn’t die right away, this shows that the death God promised was spiritual. But God never said that Adam would die immediately; God promised that he would “surely die”, and in fact Adam did die.
The first three chapters in Genesis are important in the debate against evolution because they show us that we were created in the image of God, we are sinners deserving of death, God is concerned with our needs, and offered a solution to save us. Yes, there is death, disease and suffering in the world, but despite this bad news, the good news is that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins, and whoever believes in him will not perish, but will have everlasting life (John 3:16). Amen.