As my regular readers are no doubt aware, I reject the idea that physical death and pain were impossible in God’s original created order, and arose only as part of the curse that followed the fall of man. And, I reject not only the idea itself, but also the assertion that it’s what the Bible teaches.
Of course, I think the reason the theory of physical death being the result of the fall is so popular within evangelicalism is not because the Bible clearly teaches it; it doesn’t. It’s popular because it provides an easy answer to a very difficult question: the problem of evil.
“Why is there evil in the world, if God is all-powerful and all-knowing and all-good?” “Hey, it’s not God’s fault! God made everything good, and we screwed it up. So blame Adam and Eve!” Badda bing, badda boom. No more thinking required.
My view of scripture doesn’t give me this easy out; nor does the preponderance of evidence that our physical bodies are the product of a long process of biological evolution and that the world is much older than what we might guess by adding up Old Testament genealogies. Which means I must accept that pain, suffering and physical death were part of God’s original plans for this universe. And I do.
How I make sense of that is something I get asked frequently on GOE’s Facebook page and the lively Disqus threads that often follow the posts on this website. One commenter, Rachel, asked me such a question just this morning, and I thought my answer might be of interest to some readers. Here’s what Rachel asked, followed by my comments:
Was suffering always a reality? Things like cancer, gangrene, and meningitis? Certainly they were not ‘very good’…
No, they are not very good, I agree with you. Let me start by saying I think it’s interesting to note that, in Genesis 1, God does not call everything “very good.” We can often forget that, but it’s true. Instead, he only calls what he made “very good.”
Now, I affirm that God is the creator of all, and that he made everything that has been made, as scripture teaches consistently throughout both Testaments. However, the question is, is it possible that God has allowed “not good” things to exist in this universe he has made, in order to facilitate the greatest possible overall “good”? And I say, not only is it possible, but it’s the explanation that makes the most sense of both scripture and observed and experienced reality.
To give a less polarizing example, let’s consider darkness. Darkness is a natural consequence of light. The one could not exist, or at the very least would make no sense, without the other. And we see, even in scripture, that darkness has existed since the beginning: “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1:2).
Light isn’t mentioned until verse 3, and you’ll notice that, in verse 4, God separates the light from darkness, but it is only the light that he calls “good.” Therefore, it would seem that darkness is “not good,” but that God deemed it a necessary evil in order for the goodness of the light to exist and have its meaning.
Scripture is less clear about the origins and purpose of biological death and physical suffering existing in the world, and hence, theologians and philosophers have grappled with the problem of evil for thousands of years. I don’t have the answer for you. But, based on the simple example above, I would submit that, maybe, evil is a natural and necessary consequence of goodness, and death is a natural and necessary consequence of life — at least as far as the created order is currently established.
As Christians, we have two great hopes: One, that God himself is not disconnected from our suffering, but rather that he willfully chose to leave his place of glory and take the form of a man, walking among us and ultimately suffering beside us as no one had ever suffered before. He does not always explain our pain, but we Christians believe in a God whom we know beyond any doubt does understand it and can empathize with us.
And this is where we find our second great hope: That through the completed work of Christ on the cross and faith in his sacrifice, we will one day behold a new order, in which “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). And we know we are not wrong to place our trust in this promise, because God showed he is capable of delivering on it by raising Christ from the dead as the “firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”
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