Nothing is more natural or more common than for human beings to ask “Why?” This is especially true when we suffer disappointment, loss, sickness; or when we are suddenly faced with the prospect of death. Sometimes the why is a challenge hurled at the heavens; an accusation of unfairness aimed at the God whom we instinctively blame for the unexpected sorrow that so often invades our lives.
Often, that challenge could be easily answered; since the challenger has probably neglected and provoked God for most of his life. “Why not?” He might with justice demand. “What have you done to render me the honor or the gratitude or the respect that I deserve from you as the Author of your being, and the providential support of your life? I have given you every joy you have ever known. I have preserved you from countless dangers that might have ended your life before now. Why should I not send you the trouble that you have deserved from Me?” Instead of blaming God when things don't go as we want them to, we ought to take the opportunity to look within and ask if we have ever deserved otherwise.
The Why of Despair
But sometimes “Why?” is not a challenge. Sometimes it is simply despair. We are sure there is no answer to the question, but we ask it anyway, just to let out our feeling of unbearable and irreparable loss. We don't expect an answer, because we do not believe. This is a terrible mistake; for if we really asked God the reason for our trouble – if we were ready to listen to His voice – He would give us the answer. And the answer would not lead us to despair; but to hope and peace and joy, and ultimately to eternal life!
The answer is simple, and it has been said so many times from the foundation of the world, that it is a great pity so few have found it! The wise man wrote about it three thousand years ago:
“Doth not wisdom cry? and understanding put forth her voice? She standeth in the top of high places, by the way in the places of the paths. She crieth at the gates, at the entry of the city, at the coming in at the doors. Unto you, O men, I call; and my voice is to the sons of man. O ye simple, understand wisdom: and, ye fools, be ye of an understanding heart. Hear; for I will speak of excellent things; and the opening of my lips shall be right things. For my mouth shall speak truth; and wickedness is an abomination to my lips. All the words of my mouth are in righteousness; there is nothing froward or perverse in them. They are all plain to him that understandeth, and right to them that find knowledge. Receive my instruction, and not silver; and knowledge rather than choice gold. For wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it. (Proverbs 8:1-11)
Happiness was the Original Plan
When God made man, He meant for him to be perfectly happy. There was nothing lacking to him. He had perfect health, a beautiful companion, a palatial home in a garden planted by God Himself, under cloudless skies, abundant food of every kind of delicious fruit, unpolluted air and water, peace and quiet and perfect security, an endless variety of trees and plants and harmless animals to wonder at. Most of all, he had the fellowship and the goodwill of his Creator. (God is not the monster that some men make him out to be. He is really the best friend anyone can have.)
Man was given an understanding of the will and law of God when he was created. He didn't have to go to school to learn what he was, why he had been made, or what he was supposed to do. If he had a question about anything, or a problem of any kind, he had an Infallible One to ask. He would never get rebuffed or made to feel stupid for asking. He would never catch God on a bad day, or find Him too busy to be bothered. He must have had a lot of questions, starting out from scratch in a brand new world, and with no Encyclopedia Britannica or Internet; and every time he got an answer, he also had with it a new discovery of the wisdom and power and goodness of God!
There was just one special rule. It was apparently given just as a test. The rule was simple and plain and abundantly clear. There it was, from the start: “You can eat the fruit of every tree in the whole garden – except this one.” How fair is that!
The Fall of Man
We do not know how long this idyllic state lasted – days, or months, or years. The Bible doesn't say. But one day the Tempter appeared and seduced Adam and Eve into an act of foolish and wanton disobedience. They had absolutely nothing to gain by breaking the one special rule; but Satan managed to convince Eve that the rule was designed to hold them back from reaching their potential. He made her think she was downtrodden and abused by this God who had never given them a reason to doubt His love and goodness. He instigated doubt in her mind, where there had never been anything before but faith and trust. He convinced her that the only sensible thing to do was to disobey the silly commandment and become the woman she was meant to be, living above all such arbitrary restrictions. Somehow, he got her to swallow the whole thing, hook, line and sinker. Her husband followed her lead, knowing full well that none of it was true; for the Bible tells us that “Adam was not deceived.” Why did he go along? I don't know, and no one else does either. The fact is that he did, and he joined his wife in the act that brought them and us into a state of sin and misery.
Before the fall, no one died, got sick, or suffered in any way. There was no hunger or thirst, no money woes, no fighting or killing, no deadly storms, no earthquakes or landslides. There was no oppressor or tyrant or IRS. Not so now. Death was the threatened punishment for breaking the rule; and now death in all its forms, and all the forms of suffering that lead to it began to come on the scene. They would be evicted from Paradise, or course. Hard labor for the man, and a different kind of “hard labor” for the woman were appointed as a part of the punishment; as was scarcity of good food and family strife:
16 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. 17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; 18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; 19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. (Genesis 3:16-19)
Not Without Hope
This was a curse. It was meant as the Divine expression of His displeasure at the evil they had done. But it was more than this; for God had foreseen the whole sad affair, and He had intended from the first to rescue this pair from the ruin they had brought upon themselves. A hint of this is seen in the fact that they did not die right away. Another was in the promise that “the seed of the woman” would one day “crush the head” of the serpent. A third is that God clothed them with skins, which almost certainly implies that an animal was slain, and a blood sacrifice was made for them. This could not save them; but it held out the hope that a better sacrifice would someday be offered that would. This sacrifice was Jesus Christ himself, who offered Himself without spot unto God for us.
But there was a rupture in the beautiful relationship with Him that they had formerly enjoyed, which was a monumental tragedy. God could no longer treat them the same, for now their nature had been permanently corrupted. They could no longer be trusted to live under ideal conditions; they would only abuse it, like spoiled children, and grow worse and worse. Sometimes there must be consequences. Something had to be done to make sure that they never could forget where they came from, what they once had, what had happened, and why. They were cast out of Paradise – never to return while they lived.
Sorrow is a conspicuous part of our inheritance in this world. No one is exempt. This is not an accident; it is designed to punish those who never repent and turn to God; but its beneficent purpose is to save us from ourselves. God will not allow us to forget that He is there. Why should He? Has He no rights? Does mankind have rights, and not God? God not only has rights, but it is entirely fitting that He should insist on them, and punish those who refuse to render Him what they owe. Parents who care for their children will never allow them to walk all over them; for to thus permit them to be ungrateful and disrespectful to their parents would be to teach them to despise all authority, and to take everyone for granted. No decent person would want to be responsible for rearing such a monster and loosing it on the world. Besides, such children become delinquents and criminals, and usually come to a bad end. This kind of indulgence and permissiveness would not be a kindness to them, but cruel neglect. So it is with God and his children: He will not be the cause of their delinquency.
That, in short, is the answer to our question: that is why. It is not the whole answer: but it is true as far as it goes. God sends sorrow and trouble into every life, including yours and mine, to punish mankind for its disobedience, to uphold His honor, to make us think of Him, and to bring us to repentance. If we respond to suffering in the right way, we will find that it is not only necessary, but highly beneficial to our souls. If, on the other hand, we rebel against God's almighty hand upon us, we will only compound our guilt and risk the eternal misery that God has prepared for the impenitent. Seek the Lord while He may be found! Turn the evil into good by using it to learn of your true plight, and the remedy that a good God has provided. Jesus says:
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)
Howard Douglas King
December 1, 2015