We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program [after Adam and Eve]. We were even told, “Blessed are they that mourn,” and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination. (C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed)
For every action, there is a reaction. Choices have results. Adam and Eve’s decision had consequences that ranged from personal to interpersonal and from immediate to eventual.
The immediate aftereffects of Adam and Eve’s choice describe the stark reality of our world—a world suffering as the consequences of choice. As the story of Genesis moves away from the garden of Eden, a variety of consequences unspool. They include:
The immediate consequences. Adam and Eve were not only the first to introduce sin and suffering to the world, they were also the first to feel its consequences. Those consequences occurred in several critical areas of life.
First, suffering was introduced into the creation. Work would now be toil (genesis 3:17–19). The work that seems to have originally held pure satisfaction was now shrouded in disappointment and harsh labor. Rather than enjoying abundant fruit for his work, Adam had to battle the elements of creation that were now influenced by the curse. The toil of work hasn’t faded in the generations since Adam; we still fight to see our labor accomplish what we intend.
Second, the relationship between the man and woman was affected. Their sense of innocence (genesis 2:25) was replaced by shame and self-consciousness (genesis 3:10). In the new reality of life in a fallen world, their mutually beneficial work and cooperation would turn into domination and tension. For Eve, the joy of childbearing that was intended to fill the world with more who were in the image of God, would now be marked by pain and labor in childbirth (genesis 3:16).
Ultimately, however, the relationship most severely harmed by choice was humanity’s relationship with God. Humanity’s unhindered communion was now broken and lost. The choice of disobedience drove a wedge between the Creator and the people created in His image. The life the Creator had breathed into the man would eventually be extinguished, perhaps not immediately but inevitably (genesis 3:19), and not just in Adam and Eve but also in every human since.
The immediate and life-altering consequences of that first choice were reflected in the personal and private aspects of Adam and Eve’s lives. The consequences, however, went beyond those immediately suffered by the man and the woman and extended to all who would come after them in the human race.
Suffering because of the choices of others. In one way, all of us bear the consequences of Adam and Eve’s choices. In a clearly different way, however, as we move forward to the first children, we also see that all of us make choices—and those choices often hurt others just as harshly as they hurt us. In the story of Cain and Abel (genesis 4:1–12), we find the first brothers—brothers whose conflict and rivalry ended in murder.
The first homicide was tragic in itself, but it also demonstrates the kind of suffering that our choices can inflict on others, especially when our choices are driven by selfish ambition. Often, the wrong that others perpetrate spills over into the lives of the innocent. [sharaimage2]In holocausts and genocides, countless lives are offered as sacrifices to the gods of self and selfishness. In the pursuit of power, wealth, or both, the cost in human life and suffering is the highest price of the choices of hearts twisted in brokenness.
Suffering because of living in a broken world. As humanity spread throughout the world God had made, betrayals, violence, abuse, war, and so much more spread with it, their choices revealing how far from Eden and God humanity had strayed. This became painfully clear in Genesis 6:5–7, as the brokenness of a fallen race so greatly grieved the heart of God that He sent a flood to destroy the earth. From there, He would start over.
The cataclysmic event of the flood, however, also reflects the impact that human choice had on creation. The flood revealed the growing influence of sin; it also showed that creation itself would bear the consequences of the choices humanity makes. The apostle Paul affirms this in his letter to the Roman church, where we read, “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now” (romans 8:22).
Creation’s groaning started when thorns and thistles began showing up in Adam’s attempts to grow food. The earth bore the natural brunt of a supernatural flood. It still groans and will continue to groan until it is renewed and once again functions as it was meant to (isaiah 65:17; 66:22; 2 peter 3:13; revelation 21:1; see also romans 8:18–30). As Ajith Fernando says, with the fall, “the universe lost its equilibrium.” As creation groans, we groan with it.
Suffering postponed for a time. Not all consequences are immediate. Sometimes we cannot see how our choices will affect those around us or ourselves. When Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery (see genesis 37), he was not the only one who suffered. Jacob lost a treasured son, and he would experience the anguish of seeing his own past sins repeated by his sons.
While Joseph’s brothers may have seemed to escape any consequences of their choice, they were simply postponed. During Joseph’s years in Egypt—years that got worse before getting better—the brothers shouldered the weight of guilt from their selfish actions against Joseph and their father.
One of the consistent elements of the Bible’s story is that, though consequences for choices are inevitable, they are not always immediate. In Psalm 73, Asaph lamented the fact that self-centered, destructive people prospered. He wondered if they would ever be held accountable for their deeds, words, and attitudes toward God and people. It was only in God’s presence that he gained new understanding. He began to see that God’s timeline doesn’t always match our own. Asaph’s confusion dominated his thinking “Until I came into the sanctuary of God; then I perceived their end. Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction” (psalm 73:17–18).
Though the wrongdoers may have felt invincible, Asaph began to see the end. An old farmer’s proverb says that, unlike the harvest, God does not settle all of His accounts in October. While any consequences for the choices that create suffering in the world may appear unnecessarily delayed, the Judge of all the earth will do what is right. In God’s timing, a day will come when justice will roll like mighty waters—even though that day may not be today.
This delay is God’s divine prerogative, but it may be an expression of His grace. Peter reminds us that God’s patience is intended to allow people to repent and return to Him (2 peter 3:9). But this delay also brings frustration and doubt. We wonder, “Does He even care at all?” and may even question His very existence.