This is Part 3 in answering the question, “What are man’s ways of dealing with the suffering God allows?” in the larger question, “How can a loving God allow suffering?”
Man’s Efforts to Deal with Problems
What are some of the man-centered ways of dealing with suffering? We need to look no further than the Garden of Eden and examine how Adam and Eve dealt with their failure, because it exposes how man deals with suffering. Suffering is NOT always or even often from personal sin, however, sin is what caused the first suffering in life. How Adam and Eve dealt with their sin-failure is often how many deal with suffering. Man, when they exclude God from their lives, or do not depend on Him.
When Eve was confronted by the serpent, who challenged God’s character and Word, Eve stood up to the challenge and began speaking rather than remaining dependent on Adam as her leader, protector and provider (Gen. 3:1-2). Adam passively stood there watching, but not fulfilling his role of leading (Gen. 2:15-18; 1 Tim. 2:13-14). When Satan deceived Eve’s thinking, she ate of the fruit and gave it to Adam who was standing right there. He didn’t want to give up his relationship with Eve, so he chose to rebel against God’s Word and ate of the fruit also (Gen. 3:6; 1 Tim. 2:14). What happened?
There are five things that Adam and Eve did regarding their failure and these directly relate to how people handle suffering. First, they denied the significance of God’s Word and character. God was clear with Adam that he was not to eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. God’s goodness was questioned that He was withholding something that Adam and Eve should have (the fruit) and that “something” was limiting them from becoming all they could be. In the same way the enemy argues that suffering limits the creature from being what he should be. Hence, by questioning God’s character and Word, they questioned whether God had their best interests in mind. In the same way, questioning God about suffering questions whether God has our best interests in mind.
Secondly, they tried to cover-up the effects of their failure. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.” (Gen. 3:7 NKJ) They had a problem (they disobeyed God’s simple command) and in self-righteousness, they chose their own way of dealing with it. Interestingly, the word for covering refers to a “loincloth” type covering of fig leaves. In other words, they only tried to cover up what they saw as differences between each other. Their physical differences were not the issue; sin was the issue (which is why God provided animals skins that covered most of their body (Gen. 3:21). In self-righteousness, when man suffers, he often tries to cover-up his part in the suffering, which began in the Garden as a result of sin. Everyone contributed to the entrance of sin into the human race. Adam was merely the representative (most call him the federal representative), because everyone would have made the same decision he made (Rom. 5:12). Remember, all suffering is NOT necessarily directly from personal sin, but is a part of living in a sin-infested world. There are a variety of ways man covers up, which will be dealt with in the next chapter.
Thirdly, they avoid the truth and run from the problem. Adam’s eyes were opened and after sewing the fig leaves together in some way, he heard the approaching footsteps of his Bible teacher. “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.” (Gen. 3:8 NKJ) The moment of truth was coming, because the Truth was walking their way (this was the manifestation of the Lord Jesus Christ in a pre-incarnate form John 14:6). You can imagine the fear they felt, like high school students who were playing with the Bunsen burners and started a small fire in the tenth grade science lab, while the teacher was momentarily out of the room. Someone yelled out, “Mr. Perpich is coming!” Fear seized those culpable and they wanted to hide! The truth is suffering is a part of life as we saw in Part One and rather than running to God and asking Him how to deal with it, man avoids Him and tries alcohol or drugs to mask the pressures and stresses of life. But no one can escape the truth. Suffering is real and personal.
Fourthly, they react in fear rather than trust. Adam did what most of us do, he acknowledged fear in his circumstances.
9 Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” [God knew where Adam was, but He wanted Adam to acknowledge he was not where he was supposed to be] 10 So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.” (Gen 3:9-10 NKJ)
Fear is one of many responses in difficult circumstances, because of a broken relationship with the Lord. Fear is often the response we feel when we face suffering. We don’t know where it came from, why God is allowing it or how long it will last, so we respond with fear. That fear in suffering can develop into worry, resentment, bitterness, hopelessness, discouragement, and a host of other responses.
Fifthly, when forced to face the problem of suffering, they blame others. Adam, confronted by the presence of the Lord shifted the blame onto Eve.
11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?” 12 Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.” (Gen. 3:11-12 NKJ)
Problems and suffering are often blamed on others or circumstances. Man often asks, “What could I possibly have done to receive this?!” If there is someone in close proximity, man will seek to fix part of the blame on that person; it doesn’t matter who it is. That is often true with suffering. Someone must have done something that has caused me to feel this way or suffer so! Misery in suffering is easily shared with others. Sharing the misery happens when people are grumpy or cranky, from which people don’t often think of how their expressions of misery in suffering might impact others.
Often, when we think this way, we’ll look for culprits and identify potential targets of our judgment. It is natural or human to not bear up under all things, rather than bear all things. It’s natural or human to believe the worst about people, rather than believe the best. It’s natural or human to lose hope in people, rather than hope for the best in people. And it’s natural or human to give up trusting, rather than enduring all things. Paul said it best, “Love suffers long… bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor. 13:4-7 NKJ)
How does man deal with suffering? In many ways and contrary to God’s character and purposes. So how do we help mankind get to the point of dealing with suffering in a godly way? That will be explained in Part three. In the meantime, we need to ask the question, “What are man’s ways of overcoming the suffering that God allows?”
1) What are several ways that you find yourself consistently dealing with suffering?
2) Why do you suppose man is prone to make decisions independent of God when it comes to suffering?
3) How do the factors of rebelliousness and inadequacy impact on how man deals with suffering that God allows?
4) Think through the way Adam and Eve dealt with their sin problem in the Garden. What similarities do you see in what they did then and what you have observed how people deal with suffering today?
5) Can you think of some differences between how man deals with suffering and how God wants us to deal with suffering?
This concludes the answer for this question.
1Broger, John, Self-Confrontation: A Manual for In-Depth Discipleship, (Palm Desert: Capstone Enterprises, 1991), p. 65.