I’ve been pondering the problem of suffering as I prepare workshops for our mid-year Summit (our theme is ‘In His Image’ on Genesis 1-3).
I find I’ve got lots to say. Far too much! Although, I’m convinced that information transfer is a lower priority than carving out the emotional space to wrestle honestly with the problem of suffering — a problem the Bible affirms rather than solves (or dissolves), pointing to God’s victory over it in Jesus rather than explaining it (e.g., as some sort of cosmic necessity).
The opening chapters Genesis are our key texts for the week. So I’m entertaining the idea of highlighting three intersecting biblical ‘angles’ on suffering that emerge from the pages of Genesis 3:
- Idolatry — The story of the first temptation sets the pattern we all follow: doubt God’s goodness and pin our hopes for fulfilment, satisfaction, and autonomy on created things rather than the Creator. This is the root of so much suffering because not only do created things inevitably fail to deliver (an ‘idol is nothing in all the world’, 1 Cor 8.4) but they also unleash powerful toxic — even demonic (see 1 Cor 10.19-20) — forces.
- Exile — The Genesis story suggests that lots of the suffering we experience is bound up with the fact that ever since our first parents were expelled from the Garden we’ve been in ‘exile’ — cut off from the source of life, estranged from one another, and blocked from enjoying the God-given order and harmony represented by the Garden.
- Salvation-through-Judgement — There are clear hints in Genesis 3 of God’s grace — not only in the midst of the judgement (e.g., providing Adam and Eve clothing, indicating the painful but still open possibility of ‘filling’ and ‘subduing’ creation, and promising that one born of the woman will eventually crush the serpent) but also in the form of judgement (e.g., limiting the potential for human sin to wreak havoc by ruling out access to the tree of life).
What I’d love from you is what your gut says about whether these ‘angles’ will help or hinder honest personal wrestling with the problem of suffering in light of God’s victory.