If you’ve been up all night and cried till you have no more tears left in you—you will know that there comes in the end a sort of quietness. You feel as if nothing was ever going to happen again. (C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)
Philip Yancey writes, “Oh, how we long for an answer to that everlasting question (‘Why?’). Sarajevo and other wars we can blame on human evil that has brought about incalculable sufferings. Newtown, Boston, and similar tragedies we can blame on mental illness or radical ideology or bad gun laws or negligent parenting. Tsunamis and other natural disasters, absent anyone else to blame, we classify as ‘acts of God.’”
The shadow of the question why has crept over us all. It is an important question. Even Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (matthew 27:46, emphasis added). The why question begs for a reason for it all, something to point a finger at. What we want is someone to blame.
Some blame God, suggesting that He is, at best, incapable of preventing our pain. At worst, He is disinterested. Others say that suffering is caused by the devil. Our pain is the result of his evil work. Still others say that there is no answer, nothing or no one to blame. The universe simply is the way it is, that the only place to look for answers is within ourselves.
The Bible, however, tells us a different story. According to Genesis, suffering is the potential (and obviously unwelcome) companion of something so natural and good that it’s hard to imagine being without it—the ability to choose.
God’s original creation. Genesis 1 describes the events of creation. God looked out over everything He had made and said it was “very good” (genesis 1:31).Our suffering was not a necessary part of the equation. The first man and woman enjoyed an existence filled with meaning, purpose, enjoyment, and, best of all, unhindered relationship with God and uninhibited relationship with one another. This condition, however, was not impervious. God not only gave Adam and Eve the gift of a paradise for a home, meaning for their lives, and access to Himself—He also gave them the opportunity to choose whether or not they wanted those things.
The gift of choice. The events recorded in Genesis 3 have become known as, simply, “the fall.” What is written there could never have happened if God created humanity to operate automatically, always humming along smoothly to the rhythm of His will, not able to choose a different beat. Instead, the Creator allowed them to choose their own way: “The Lord God commanded the man, saying ‘From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die’” (genesis 2:16–17).
It was not a complicated choice, but it wasn’t exactly simple. The uncomplicated part was the choice whether or not to eat; but with this choice, the man and woman were also deciding whether life would be lived on their terms or on their Creator’s terms. They chose their own way. When the choice was made (genesis 3:6–7), the curtain fell and the first couple entered into a new reality—a reality no longer shaped exclusively by the goodness of God. Life, for them and for everyone that followed them, would be shaped by the implications and consequences of their choice to go their own way, rejecting God’s guidance.
The result of choice. In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis described the implications of Adam and Eve’s choice: “Out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of humanity trying to find something other than God which will make us happy.” All generations have shuddered with the aftershocks of that choice. We not only shoulder the weight of the consequences resulting from Adam and Eve’s choice, we also hunch under the burdens created by our own choices.
Despite the potentially disastrous effects of choosing—most obvious in the broken relationship between God and us—God still allows us to choose.Our choices have extraordinary impact. With the gift of choice came the reality that choosing produces effects. We cannot embrace the ability to choose and yet reject the fact that choosing has results. When we choose, something happens, and conversely, something else doesn’t happen. Choices have consequences.
Referring to the story of Adam and Eve’s choice, Philip Yancey tells his students, “You are free to reject God and the way this world runs. I, for one, respect a God who not only gives us the freedom to reject Him, but also includes the words of rejection in our scriptures.” This rejection answers one why question but raises another:
Why is there suffering, brokenness, and struggle in our world? Because God allowed humanity to choose—and the world around us carries the weight of the choice and the subsequent choices that have been made.
But . . .
Why does that matter? Because our choices, like Adam and Eve’s, do not occur in a vacuum. They have consequences.
What are those consequences like?