The Cause of Suffering
So times to tribulation and suffering are inevitable, and obviously we cannot always understand and discern God’s purposes. But we are called to live by faith, rather than sight, always trusting and obeying the revelation of God in Scripture and knowing that, "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29).
Later, I hope to address the purposes of God in allowing suffering, but we need to initially determine its cause. And quite clearly, the genesis of human suffering is sin. There is no indication that there was suffering in Paradise. Indeed, when God looked upon His creation, He proclaimed it “good.” Likewise, it seems clear that suffering will not accompany God’s people into the New Heaven and New Earth, presumably because there is no sin. We can read John’s inspired description of the new creation in Revelation 21, where he writes,
1 Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. 2Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And 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. 4And 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."
Though different circumstances bring about suffering, it is important to understand that the essential cause of suffering is sin. After the serpent tempts Adam and Eve into sin, God pronounces judgment, "Because you have done this, you are cursed more than all cattle, and more than every beast of the field; on your belly you shall go, and you shall eat dust all the days of your life” (Gen. 3:14).
The phrase “Because you have done this” is the key to understanding suffering. We can, I think, essentially insert this phrase into verse 16 and 17 as well, where God pronounces judgment and condemnation on Adam and Eve for their disobedient actions.
That begs an important question—“What do Adam and Eve have to do with my suffering?” Well, Scripture is clear that Adam was a representative for all of mankind, and that as a so-called federal head, his sin was imputed to all mankind. Paul puts it this way, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). So Adam’s sin, and the consequences of it (death, suffering, etc.), came to all men as a result of Adam’s fall.
The creation account tells us that God made man in His own image (Gen. 1:26-27). Though God had no need for fellowship outside the Trinity, He desired fellowship with His creation. In His goodness, God then gave Adam the gift of a wife, so that he could have fellowship with another being similar to himself (Gen. 2:18-25). They had perfect love for each other and for God. There was harmony—no sorrow, no suffering.
Satan sought to drive a wedge between God and His creation. He did so by convincing Eve that she lacked something essential. He deceived her by suggesting that she should act independently of God. This separated her from God and also from Adam and left Adam alone in fellowship with God. We have no idea how long this remained the case because there aren’t, to my mind at least, obvious time frame references.
So Adam is sort of in the middle. He desires fellowship with his wife on the one hand and with God on the other. In effect, he had to make a choice. He could obey God’s command or follow Eve’s example.
We see that Adam does ultimately partake from the forbidden tree. It's also noteworthy that he was not deceived as Eve had been, “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression” (I Tim. 2:14).
In short, Adam made a deliberate choice to break fellowship with God and rebel against His authority. The point to remember is that suffering is not caused by God, it is caused by sin. It is caused by man.
Nevertheless, we see that God makes provision for His wayward creation. He is determined to repair the damage that has been done. God foretold a coming of one who would “bruise” the head of Satan even as Satan bruises His heel. This is a prophecy of the coming Messiah who would win victory over sin, suffering, and Satan. But that victory would entail a price. And that price would be the suffering taken by Christ on our behalf.
3He is despised and rejected by men,
A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him;
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
6All we like sheep have gone astray;
We have turned, every one, to his own way;
And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.
So not only does sin bring suffering to man, it brought still greater suffering to Christ, who took the burden on Himself.