Summary: God curses the universe for our rebellion, but in discipline there is hope.
In certain segments of Jewish culture, there is a way of pretending to say something nice, then adding a twist that turns it into a curse. Alan King lists a number of these in his Great Jewish Joke Book:
• May you inherit a hotel and die in every room.
• May you have a son named after you soon (the name passed on only after you die).
• May the souls of all of King Solomon’s mothers-in-law inhabit you.
• May your bones be broken as often as the Ten Commandments.
Those are worth a little chuckle. Today, however, we tackle a more serious topic – the real curses which God metes out as a result of the rebellion of our first parents. We finish chapter 3 of Genesis with the beginning of… pain.
[Read Genesis 3.16-24. Pray.]
In the introduction to The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis explains why, for him, pain argued against the existence of God and allowed him to feel secure in his atheism: “Life on Earth is so arranged that all the forms of it can live only by preying upon one another. In the lower forms this process entails only death, but in the higher there appears a new quality called consciousness which enables it to be attended with pain. The creatures cause pain by being born, and live by inflicting pain, and in pain they mostly die. In the most complex of all creatures, Man, yet another quality appears, which we call reason, whereby he is enabled to foresee his own pain, which henceforth is preceded with acute mental suffering, and to foresee his own death while keenly desiring permanence. It also enables men by a hundred ingenious contrivances to inflict a great deal more pain than they otherwise could have done on one another and on the irrational creatures. This power they have exploited to the full” (2).
Lewis then explains the problem: “If God were good, he would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both. This is the problem of pain in its simplest form” (16).
Two things I am not aiming for in this sermon. First, I do not want to peddle simplistic answers. Sometimes Christians imply that trouble is as easy to solve as “just trust and obey.” There is some truth there, but the nuances are important also. My comments are not intended as the whole story, but pointers on the way.
Second, I am not presenting a theodicy, the philosophical justification of God in the face of evil and suffering. That is a good thing for a pastor to attempt in the community of believers. I would be honored to give such a speech, but not on a Sunday morning.
My goal is to pull from the text what God is telling us in these events, and see how he uses them to point us towards his glory and our joy, the hope to which he calls us in Christ Jesus.
Prior to eating the fruit, mankind walked with God in pure happiness and holiness. In the Garden, the soul was at peace both with its Maker and with everything else he created. There was no sin, no sorrow, no selfishness, and no suffering. But then we rebelled; so where does that leave us?
On Wednesday, the lady cooking at the station next to me was speaking about how she raises her teenagers. She gives them many freedoms and speaks often of trust. She said her mantra is, “If we don’t have trust, we don’t have anything.” Here is a woman with no real commitment to religion, yet she knows there are consequences for sin.
That is an important insight, because it shows us how deeply seated is the sense of fairness and the ill effects which result from sin. Many who might criticize God for excessive harshness or unfairness in judging and punishing in this text, nonetheless adhere to the same standard themselves. They know there is right and wrong, good and evil, and that the ultimate answer is that which is righteous and loving.
C. S. Lewis makes this the center of his defense of the problem of pain: “There was one question I never dreamed of raising. I never noticed that the very strength and facility of the pessimists’ case at once poses us a problem. If the universe is so bad, or even half so bad, how on earth did human beings ever come to attribute it to the activity of a wise and good Creator? Men are fools, perhaps; but not so foolish as that. The direct inference from black to white, from evil flower to virtuous root, from senseless work to a workman infinitely wise, staggers belief” (3).