A consequence of the curse, not from evolutionary processes
Sin must be punished
Sin—disobedience to God’s law—must be punished: “The soul who sins shall die.” (Ezekiel 18:20) This is a principle derived from God’s holy character, and one that is intrinsic to the nature of the created realm. God first stated this principle after he had created mankind. Adam was warned that if he broke the prohibition against eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he would be punished by death (Genesis 2:17).
Sin must be punished. If there are no consequences for a breach of a command, then the command is meaningless. We know this from experience. What happens when a parent warns a child to behave and says that there will be consequences, but does not follow through? The child quickly learns that parental commands and warnings are meaningless, and he or she becomes incorrigible.
While Adam was living out his days until his physical death (Genesis 5:5), he, and Eve, experienced the consequences of the decay and death they had brought upon the created cosmos. This included the experience of pain (Genesis 3:16–17).
Eve’s punishment included pain
Part of Eve’s punishment for eating the forbidden fruit was that she was condemned to suffer pain as she brought new life into the world (Genesis 3:16). As the “mother of all living” (Genesis 3:20), her relationship with her children should have been filled only with joy as she fulfilled the mandate to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28). Instead, bringing new life into the world became arduous. Her punishment not only affected her but has been visited on all her female descendants who bear children.
The pain of childbearing includes not only the severe pain associated with labour but also other problems. These include difficulties conceiving, pain for some women during sexual intercourse, miscarriages, excessive bleeding after giving birth, and breech births that often require caesarian sections. In addition, some women have painful lactation problems caused by plugged milk ducts. These pains related to childbearing that women experience worldwide are a constant reminder of Eve’s grievous sin.
Adam’s punishment included painful work
Until Adam’s sin, work had been, and was intended always to be, a pleasant activity that would stimulate people’s minds and engage their creative abilities. However, the first aspect of Adam’s punishment is that work has been cursed with pain (Genesis 3:17, 5:29). Because he ate what was prohibited, mankind will always face challenges providing food. The challenge is not because the world does not have sufficient resources to feed a large population. It does, even if mankind was faithfully following God’s reiterated command to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 9:1,7). Rather, the problem is that food production requires work which can be painful.
We might think that this aspect of the curse has been lifted since today only a small percentage of the population in developed countries works directly in agriculture. Also, people in developed countries spend a relatively small percentage of their income to supply food. However, we have not overcome the curse on agricultural work through the green revolution or automation. The entire human population faces an on-going battle with weeds, insect pests, soil erosion and infertility, and declining plant and livestock genetic viability. Painful work continues to be the lot of Adam’s posterity.
Creation is cursed
Adam’s sin and its associated punishment introduced calamity and decay into the physical universe. Throughout the created order, from ‘edge’ to ‘edge’, wherever mankind sets his foot, the consequences of the curse can be seen. The cursed ground (Genesis 3:17) and “thorns and thistles” (Genesis 3:18)1 are to be understood as a synecdoche, in which a part of an entity is used to refer to the whole entity. In the NT, Paul indicates that this is how we are to understand the effect of Adam’s sin—i.e., all of creation has been cursed (Romans 8:20–22).2
The ground that was under man’s dominion and was to be a source of comfort and joy, has become his enemy and a source of toil, weariness, and pain. The thorns and thistles stand in the place of everything that can hurt us, including rocks falling from cliffs, hot lava spewing from volcanoes, tornados destroying homes, viruses that cause diseases, toxins in plants, and attacks from dangerous animals. Everything which is injurious to us, whether organic or inorganic, alive or inanimate, or plant or animal, was introduced into God’s perfect creation as a result of Adam’s sin.
Animals experience pain
Animals were originally vegetarians (Genesis 1:30). Thus, the curse on creation introduced carnivorism.3 We cannot fully understand the manner by which this change and other significant changes in nature were introduced. But we must believe that God could have easily used direct or indirect means to bring about the changes. For example, he could have instantaneously changed animal kinds for their new place in the now spoiled world. Sharp incisors, poison glands,4 and cruel claws could have suddenly appeared in some of the animals created on the fifth and sixth days of creation. However, it is more likely that God flipped a genetic ‘switch’ in the broad spectrum of coded information found in every creature’s DNA, so that the existing creatures produced progeny suited to their new hostile environment.5
Regardless, after Adam’s sin, animals could experience pain6 and inflict pain on other animals and man. And the animals referred to as “living creatures” (Genesis 1:20, 21, 24) became subject to death. The “very good” creation (Genesis 1:31) was filled with suffering, pain, and death.
The ‘problem’ of pain
Pain is a constant reminder that we now live in a sin-plagued realm. Before Adam and Eve had sinned, the world (universe) was “all very good” (Genesis 1:31). Therefore, no pain would have been associated with any activity of humans or animals.
Those who wish to deny the existence of God, or to accuse him of being a mean and capricious person, attempt to use the existence of pain as a reason for their unbelief. They claim that Christians have the problem of pain, because a good God would not allow his creatures (e.g., ‘innocent’ children and baby animals) to suffer from pain.
We Christians know the reason why pain was introduced into the world—as punishment for mankind’s sin of rebellion. Thus, it is not God who is to blame for pain, but our first parents. We can also explain, logically, why a good God would allow and decree that supposed innocents would suffer pain—they suffer because they were partners with our first parents in their sin. Pain is part of God’s just punishment for those who attempt to usurp God’s authority and to live autonomously. If Christians question why pain exists, it is not a logical or factual problem, it is a psychological problem and a problem of unbelief. If we have problems with why God decrees pain, it arises from the fact that we don’t believe that God can have a sufficiently good reason for his decrees. We simply do not believe that he is truly working out all things for the good of his people (Romans 8:28).
We can lift the veil somewhat on why God permits pain in a sinful world and find good reasons for its existence. For example, the pain caused by a pebble in our shoe makes us stop what we are doing and remove the pebble before it causes serious damage to our foot. Or the pain caused by touching a hot stove makes us quickly remove our hand from over the heating element to prevent serious burns. People who are born with the rare condition (analgia) of not being able to sense pain, or who suffer from leprosy which kills the pain sensing nerves, cause great damage to their bodies. From this perspective, we can grudgingly agree that pain is justified. However, it is difficult for us to explain what the value of excruciating or chronic pain is. We must accept it as fact that God has good reasons for allowing us to suffer from mild forms of pain. Likewise, he also has good reasons for allowing us to suffer from the worst forms of pain—only we do not understand the reasons at this time.
We should put the problem of pain into a proper perspective. Jesus was the only innocent person who has ever lived. Yet, he suffered pain of a kind and to a degree that exceeds what most people will ever suffer. His pain was the result of his being beaten and whipped (Matthew 27:26) and crowned with thorns (Matthew 27:29). And he died after facing the excruciating pain of crucifixion. God had a very good reason for decreeing and permitting his Son to suffer pain and to die—to display his love for us (Romans 5:8). Christ suffered to pay our debt of sin so that God could forgive us. No one, believer in Christ or unbeliever, has a right to claim that God cannot have a sufficiently good and loving reason for allowing suffering caused by pain.
It is not Christians who have the problem with pain; it is the materialistic naturalists who have the problem. They find it difficult to explain why:
- Pain exists. When we walk out of a dark room into sunlight our eyes automatically make an adjustment to the increased light, but do not cause us pain. Without fanciful inventions, proponents of evolution cannot explain why biological warning systems, which currently give pain signals, do not operate like other self-protective biological systems. They cannot explain why pain is beneficial for survival.
- Pain can be very painful. Excruciating pain cannot be explained under the Darwinian model. For example, evolutionists cannot explain the adaptive value of the extreme pain associated with passing a kidney stone through the urinary tract. Organisms suffering from severe pain often cease to function normally. For example, they may shut down their metabolic and reproductive systems. Also, animals suffering from pain can make sounds that attract their enemies. If survival of the fittest were actually how life developed, then the way animals and men react to pain should have been bred out of the genome by natural selection.
The existence of pain is a philosophical problem for every system of thought that denies the Genesis account. Only Christianity has an answer to the problem of pain. The presence of pain should not be a problem for us, but rather it should teach us to trust God and remind us to look forward to the resurrection when pain will no longer be a problem for any of God’s people.
Countering the pain curse
God intended that the curse on creation would make man’s work difficult and painful. However, since he states that men would still be able to eat (Genesis 3:18–19), this implies that the consequences of the curse were not to be so overwhelming that it became impossible for us to continue our existence on the earth. God expected mankind to meet the challenges of the curse by working to counter it. For example, if farmers did not clear thorns and thistles from their fields, the fields would soon be overrun, and they would not be able to produce food. Likewise, we may use means for countering the curse on pain such as surgical procedures or pharmacological painkillers, including for childbirth. Of course, our strategies for countering pain must be biblically moral, legal, tested, cost-effective, and beneficial.
The curse of pain will be lifted
Even though we have physical means for dealing with pain, we must remember that the curse on creation can never be entirely undone in this present temporal-spatial reality. Ultimately, the curse will only be countered when Jesus returns and initiates the consummation of this age and unveils a better paradise than that which Adam forfeited.
In the paradise that existed originally, God designed and controlled the physical systems so that nothing bad (e.g., a tree branch falling on Adam’s head or Eve stubbing her toe) would happen which could cause pain. We are not able to determine how he did this, but one means may have been through the provision of protective angels (Psalm 91:11–12). Likewise in the coming paradise he will design and control the physical systems to prevent events from causing pain. We have the sure promise that in the new heaven and earth there will be no pain (Revelation 21:4).
References and notes
- Catchpoole, D., Drawing power: People get the point when they see these two pictures: The famous ‘Eden on bones’ illustration has a new stable mate, ‘Thorns before sin’, doubling the impact, creation.com/thorns, 16 Aug 2012. Return to text.
- Smith, H.B., Cosmic and universal death from Adam’s Fall: An exegesis of Romans 8:19–23a, J. Creation 21(1):75–85, 2007; creation.com/romans8. Return to text.
- Gurney, R., The carnivorous nature and suffering of animals, J. Creation 18(3):70–75, 2004; creation.com/carniv. Return to text.
- Catchpoole, D., Skeptics challenge: a ‘God of love’ created a killer jellyfish? Creation 25(4):35, 2003; creation.com/jellyfish-sting. Return to text.
- Batten,D., et al., How did bad things come about? Creation Answers Book, Ch. 6, 8th Edn, CBP, 2019; creation.com/bad-things-cab-6. Return to text.
- Sarfati, J. The Greatest Hoax on Earth? pp. 294–7, CBP, 2010; creation.com/hoax. Return to text.