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Thinking ‘upside-down’!

How creation provides the right framework for our thinking


Originally published in Creation Extra, March 2011.

A while ago we received a letter from the Rev. R.J. He was responding to one of our creation.com web articles which talked about the infamous claim by atheist Richard Dawkins that God is a ‘bully’. He wrote:

123rf.com/allegretto 8093-hanging-upside-down

I want to express how much I have been blessed by your materials and ministry! My family serves as missionaries in Kenya, and shockingly, have had to fight a huge battle in the local Christian school about creation/evolution, and are still in the middle of that battle. I’m writing to respond to the article on ‘The Goodness of God’ posted today on your site. Very nicely done. May I add one thing to it?

It is impossible, especially for those who do not know the Lord, to have any kind of mental framework in which they can recognize what ‘good’ really is. As fallen people, we are born cut off from knowing the only right and good Being in the universe [God], and therefore, we are also cut off from knowing what is really good. Sinners think sinning is good, and God is bad! Clearly, their thinking is upside down!

So, when God acts out of His nature of goodness, it might look unrecognizable to those of us who do not know what good is, or rather, Who good is. Consider the cross. A horrible, bloody, gruesome spectacle in which God’s supreme goodness and love is displayed. To the disciples on that night, or anyone else watching, it did not look like goodness. Thank God, God did what was right and good anyway!

Isn’t it funny how people, cut off from the only One is really good, still try to draw a distinction between good and evil? I’m sure that Richard Dawkins would happily tell anyone who would listen what he thinks is good, and what he thinks is bad. The Bible says there is a way that seems right to a man, but that way ends in death.

Thank you again for your wonderful ministry!

What is good?

If we retreat from this area people will naturally gravitate to a worldview they feel can provide answers and the secularists will ‘pick up the slack’.

R.J. is spot on, and has shown yet another reason why the creation issue is so foundational to what every human being thinks about why they are here. Dawkins et al are adept at expressing such moral outrage about God, especially pointing to the Old Testament’s accounts of violence, etc. These ‘new atheists’ are adept at marketing their ideas and they know how to tap into the public’s consciousness, especially by addressing an area in which the church seems devoid of answers.

For example, the death and suffering issue. Whenever major international tragedies strike, like ‘9/11’ or the Haitian earthquake, most people, including many Christians, ask “If God is a God of love, why does He allow all the death and suffering in the world?” And, in our experience, most Christians cannot answer this question when asked by non-believers. A common answer goes something like this: “Well, in the wisdom of God, we don’t know why these things happen, but in Heaven all will be revealed to us.”

This, of course, is a non-answer that does nothing to draw the person closer to a God he/she doesn’t believe in the first place. This is because their framework for understanding the foundational reason for such issues is completely upside down!

We have answers!

At CMI we regularly respond and help Christians to provide answers to such major international tragedies like 9/11, the Indonesian Tsunami in 2004, the devastating Australian bushfires of 2009, or the Haitian earthquake. While there are obviously proximate causes, the underlying foundational reason is that we all live in a fallen, cursed world due to the entrance of sin in what was originally a ‘very good’ world. We have to go back to Genesis to find the answers. But the Christian cannot provide those logical answers if he/she does not accept Genesis as real history. If we retreat from this area people will naturally gravitate to a worldview they feel can provide answers and the secularists will ‘pick up the slack’. The evolutionary worldview would say that death, suffering and bad things are just part of existing in a tough, harsh world where only the fittest survive. Therefore, such tragedies and the loss of loved ones due to diseases or illnesses etc. are just part of this process where life and death ultimately have no meaning and purpose, so why even question it anymore?

Death and suffering all around us serves as a reminder that something is actually wrong with this creation.

The good news

But here is an opportunity for the Christian, because ultimately no-one is really ever reconciled with why bad things happen to them, and particularly why there is death—everyone grieves. We can point out that death and suffering all around us serves as a reminder that something is actually wrong with this creation. Because of the real historical events in Genesis the whole creation was cursed (Romans 8:20) and every human is born a sinner. In Romans, the Apostle Paul, because he believed God’s Word as real history, preached that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23). He also makes it plain in Romans Chapter 8 that this entire creation is groaning under the effects of this Curse, and will be so until it is liberated from its “bondage to decay” (Romans 8:21) when all things will be restored (Acts 3:21) through the lifting of this Genesis Curse (Revelation 22:3).

This means that while both Christians and non-believers live on the same planet and are affected by the Curse, the difference is that the believer has been rescued for eternity from the effects of death that mankind brought upon itself at the beginning. Laying the correct foundation for thinking will help people see that ultimately God is love and He did do something about the death and suffering—He sent Jesus! “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

This is an example of how one can help people think straight in a twisted world. Though it’s sometimes tough to be exposed to the ‘flak’ that comes from it, no matter how we do it, CMI is one of a few ministries today that does not avoid providing the answers to the tough questions, nonetheless. Thank for your support that allows this to happen as we keep the ‘information machinery churning’.

DVD brings tears to eyes and leads to conversions

Gary Bates’s recently released DVD Why Does A Good God Allow Bad things has been getting lots of positive feedback. Jim Mason, nuclear physicist and speaker for CMI-Canada described it as the “The most powerful presentation of the Gospel I’ve ever heard.” And recently, a Doug B. wrote to CMI and said,

“This is regarding your DVD ‘Why Does A Good God Allow Bad things?’ I sincerely believe you hit a home run on this one, after watching many DVDs from AIG, ICR, and you guys this one has had the most impact I have ever seen. The first time I previewed it, it brought tears to my eyes. The next week I showed it in adult Sunday School and also had the high school kids watch it with a very positive response. Next I took it to the county jail in [Montana, US]. for the Sunday night service our local prison ministry has brought in for over 25 years. We began by talking about our biggest ‘Why’ questions, some of them only God Himself could have answered. As we watched the DVD I seen heads nodding in agreement, afterward two men said they wanted to make a commitment to accept Jesus! I led them in the sinner’s prayer and assured them they had just made the best decision ever. The other 9 men said they had many of their questions answered. PTL! Keep up the good work, may God bless you all.”

Click the picture of the DVD for more information. It’s available as a video download too.

Helpful Resources

Readers’ comments

Christian G.
Hi Gary. More super info on death/suffering. Now I've wondered if Christ our Lamb of God, Bread of life, is not also the tree of life (or closely linked to it). Before the fall and after restoration, there is healing and eternal life thru the tree of life, but it is also clear that life and healing is thru Christ. Also, in New Heaven and Earth (Rev 22), in the presence or face to face with Christ, the author of life, will we need a tree? Are 12 fruits similar to 12 gates/foundations of New Jerusalem in some kind of symbolism, or some kind of 12 monthly Lord ’s Supper/moon cycle feast? Anyway, the tree of life may help understand the tree of good/evil, but so little written on them. We know mainly that Satan had at least (maybe only?) access to the tree of good/evil, which brings me to main point.
Satan/deceiver is working very hard behind the scenes in this Great War between good and evil. For wheat and tares Mt13 and for crippled lady Lk13, Christ explains that “an enemy has done this” and “whom Satan has bound”. For Job, Satan seems allowed to control weather, death, etc, at least when God’s protection is removed. So a lot of our pain and suffering seems to be directly related to Adam/Eve losing dominion to Satan by obeying his two foundational lies at tree (you will not die and you will be like God). BTW, these two lies are still used very successfully worldwide to deceive such as thru reincarnation, spiritualism, NDE, human apparitions/Mary, New Age, immortal by nature (apart from resurrection), we are gods, etc). Finally, as we sin (disobey – bad fruit), we tend to separate or lose some access to Christ (same as what happened with Adam/tree of life in garden) and open door to Satan. So... go and sin no more... the soul that sins shall die!
Thank you! God bless!
Lita Cosner
The Bible never makes the analogy of Jesus as the Tree of Life (though there is the analogy of the Vine and the branches). Furthermore, the Tree of Life reappears in the New Jerusalem alongside the River of Life. I would be hesitant applying metaphors to Jesus that Scripture itself does not.

BTW, see 1 John for some nuanced thoughts on sin and the Christian. On the one hand, the Christian will never be able to engage in habitual unrepentant sin, but "if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
Danyl M.
Though I am an ex-Catholic, monotheistic Muslim (anyone's welcome to try to revert me) I still have a significant respect for Christians.

My thoughts on the issue of suffering:

Suffering is caused by ourselves and our lack of understanding of the world and eachother and could be fixed. If everyone were to work with eachother in harmony, there would be no war and excess poverty; we would work together to solve such problems to cure diseases and recover from natural disasters. So God cannot be blamed. I have heard that 'the worst brings out the best in humanity.' The important thing about us humans is that we have free will. If we had perfect faith, and no pain; faith and tests would have no value.

And we would have less to live for.
Lita Cosner
Your view of man as lacking understanding is consistent with your Muslim beliefs. But Christianity goes significantly farther and says that man is evil, and much suffering is caused directly by sin (and all suffering is ultimately because of sin). Because we're sinful, we need a Saviour, Jesus.

Your rejection of Christ will have eternal consequences. I urge you to read about the Good News.
Mike D.
If they didn't know good from evil before disobeying and eating the fruit... then why are they accountable for not doing good (obeying/not doubting God's word)? Seems a logical impossibility.

An analogy may help: punishing a baby for a wrong act before you Taught it right from wrong.

If Adam and eve didn't HAVE knowldge of good or evil before they disobeyed...it doesn't make sense! Punished for ignorance? Clearly they had SOME knowledge: that obedience was good and disobedience was to be avoided.
Lita Cosner
We don't know exactly what "the knowledge of good and evil" represented. It is likely that Adam and Eve had a sort of innocence in the Garden. But they were also intelligent and able to understand the simple command not to eat that particular fruit, and the consequences if they did eat it.
Daniel J.
Yeah, I've heard all that before. But the real question is this: why in the world did God allow Adam and Eve to reproduce after the curse? I can understand Adam and Eve having to live in the cursed world because they caused it! But the people who were born afterwards had no choice; it's not they're fault that they were born into a cursed world. I have never been able to find an answer to this question, though I have looked hard for one. If you guys could provide one, I would be very grateful.
Lita Cosner
If Adam and Eve hadn't had children, the Messiah couldn't have come and saved humanity, and Adam and Eve themselves would have been hopelessly lost. Since they were the stewards of creation, creation also would have been lost to sin. And that would mean Satan would have won and thwarted God's purposes.

God's sovereign purposes cannot be thwarted, and so Eve's offspring (ultimately referring to Christ) would be the one to defeat the serpent.
Mitch C.
I believe there are several biblical answers to the question "Why did God put the Tree of Good and Evil in the Garden?"

1. As a practical symbol of God's rightful authority as God. Man is a creature who is obligated to love and obey God. But what does obedience mean apart from a law that he must obey? The tree provided an opportunity for man to worship God through obedience.

2. Sin can exist even when there is no clear violation of a command. Prideful rebellion and self-reliance are sinful because they put us in God's rightful place and make us the center of our affections when God alone deserves that position. The tree did not cause Adam and Eve to sin--it merely displayed outwardly their inner willingness to sin--their distrust of God and their desire to follow their own desires. In short, we shouldn't blame the tree--Adam freely chose to disobey God.

3. God's ultimate purpose for creation was not to make man comfortable, but to glorify Himself through the most amazing act of self-sacrifice imaginable--the suffering and death of Jesus Christ, the eternal, uncreated, only-begotten Son of God--Himself God--who freely bore the awful punishment that we rebellious sinners deserved (Rom 5:8). Had there been no Fall, there would be no cross, and the amazing grace of God would never have been openly manifested. The tree made possible the Fall, which led to the cross, whereby redeemed sinners stand amazed at the loving mercy and grace of God, resulting in their joyous praises for all eternity.

Ronnie D.
The Bible does not tell us that the "fruit" was poison. It was the act of eating what God commanded them not to eat that was an act of rebellion that resulted in death for all of creation. The fruit was just an instrument.
Alex J.
A Fruit of tree is to eat, the fruit there off is for man but not at that time. When he grew in Gods Love then he could eat from Tree of Life by which he would not Die, then eating the tree of Knowledge of good and Evil will not take effect of Death. God wants us to be like him - without knowledge of Good and evil we cannot be like him but timing does matter. If a child is taught of good and bad, he will have knowledge of bad without knowing how to deal with it eventually sinning(ex; unwanted things in internet). If a mature man has been told of it, he could have discerned about it and do right thing.
Dean M.
This is in response to Terry P. from Australia.

I have often pondered on the same question. Why did God place the tree in the garden?

I find the best answer, at least in my own mind, is to envision a scenario in which God had not planted the tree in the garden. What if God had not planted the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?

Since man was given the gift of free will there might have been many generations of men and women who, by the technical definition, were sinless. However, even this would not be ideal. God does not desire that we be sinless because we know no other way, but that we choose to please Him because we love Him.

If 10 generations of people flourished in the Garden of Eden, but an individual in the 11th generation were tempted to sin, then a great schism would have been created between the previous generations (as well as the subsequent generations of the sinless blood lines) and the malefactor's descendants. This would place a great burden upon the innocent population of the world as well as the line of the cursed, sinful population. All of creation, guilty and innocent alike, would have to deal with the effects of one man's decision.

Also, how would anyone know the meaning of obedience if there were no standard to measure up to? Rather than start the relationship with a list of right and wrong behaviors and attitudes to live by, God made the requirement for obedience to be simple.

In the beginning God desired and still desires to have a relationship built upon love. This, in my opinion, can be seen in the fact that He did not present the law to man until many years after the flood.
Michael I.
Great article. As with Terry P’s comment I have been approached with the same question. Sorry to answer a question with a question but, to what end can our own sincerity in our love, trust and obedience to God mean anything without the means to do otherwise? God Bless.
Tom J.
The sin of turning away from God and thinkinking, "I don't need God" happened before the act of eating the fruit. First came the planting of doubt as after Eve told Satan they shouldn't eat of it Satan replied, "Is that what He said?". Then when Satan told Eve they would become as God and that was believed, the actual eating of the fruit was a mere formality. Sealing the deal, as it were. The tree was planted not to tempt us, but to confirm to us that we turned from God.
Lita Cosner
Tom, the only problem with this interpretation is that the tree was planted before Adam and Eve sinned.
Stephan B.
Very nice article. This reminds me of something i experienced once and i would like to share it if i may
I was doing evangelism with YWAM in a high school years ago and in a classroom, one student asked ''if God is real, why does He allow bad things to happen to us?''. He was upset and angry at God.
Right after his question, i really felt a deep sadness as i had never felt before and i started to cry while answering him something along this line:
''This isn't God's will to see all the evil that we do and the consequences that follow. Never was. Each time someone does something wrong to someone else, God is hurt. We, as humans, have chosen to reject God & to do wrong and many bad things happen as a result. God is love and we must stop blaming Him''.
My fellow YWAMers were astonished to see tears on my face as i wasn't that kind of guy back then. I wish i could also say that this young man gave his life to Jesus (maybe he did later) but his anger was gone and no one could speak after that.
I really give thanks to God for the way the Holy Spirit spoke thru me that day ! I will now go check the info about that DVD from G.Bates.
Thomas W.
One thing I'd like to add to your response, is that a good reminder to me of why bad and sin were apart of God's plan really goes back to Christ. You can't conquer sin and death without allowing it. It is entirely allowed so that sin and death are conquered, that Christ is glorified (as well as the rest of the Trinity), and that we can become co-heirs with Christ once and for all.
Vincenzo R.
The question asked by Terry I think is one of those questions every Christian has asked at some point. I am not an exception. After having matured a bit as a Christian, I came to a conclusion that is not far off the points Gary wrote down.

The purpose of that tree is manifold.

Like Gary says, it would have been unfair of God to programme us to love Him. Also, programmed love is not really love, therefore it wouldn't have been what God wanted. So He gave us the choice.

Also, that choice allows us to know, by experience, one important thing: any will that departs from God's will is a bad will. But in order for us to know that, we had to have a free will to depart from God's will and see that that departure is actually a mistake. When eternity comes, the only will is going to be God's will (as we are going to lose the ability to sin, that is to rebel against His will). I am convinced this is fair only *after* we have experienced that God's will is the only perfect will.

Also, with this plan God has had the opportunity to show us (and all of creation) that His love is not just a concept, a word, an idea, or a promise. It's real. So real that He didn't refrain from taking on flesh and humbling Himself from King of All to poorest and most despised of men.

He also showed how He cannot act out of His character and renounce love for justice's sake (or viceversa): the Cross is the perfect display of full justice and full love at once; a thing that it's impossible to us, but it's our God's character.

With this plan we know for sure that what He says about Him is real; and God has children who love Him sincerely. Any other way, we couldn't have known by experience.

Hans-Georg L.
Isn’t it funny how people, cut off from the only One is really good, still try to draw a distinction between good and evil?
R.J. is spot on
"Ye know of yourselves what is good and evil" ... "They are a law unto themselves"

After the fall, the problem is not knowing in general what is good and evil, but applying it in particular.

That is why CSL rejected the approach of Rev R.J. in The Problem of Pain. Not that the book is itself unproblematic, since it creatively reinterprets the fall to suit evolutionism, but that in turn brings out why evolutionism is wrong. But as to general answer, CSL tried to give an answer appealing to our sense of what is good and what is evil.
Shane K.
It seems to me that people don't understand who God is. If God is love and that's all you understand about who He is then an awful lot has been left out about Him. Yes God is love but God is also compassionate,merciful,jealous,angry over sin,and will by no means clear the guilty. Understanding who God is is vital to understanding the Gospel of Christ(you see both blessing and cursing beginning in Genesis)and sadly most people even in churches in the U.S. don't get this because it's not taught from most pulpits. That's what happened to me on this issue,I didn't understand suffering until the Word of God revealed to me a few things on who He is(as in Creator and Judge)then the Gospel became clear and very real to me. May God bless you and this ministry.
John E.

Where does it specifically say that God knew Adam was going to sin?

There are many passages in the Bible that clearly and straightforwardly record in historical passages that God does not absolutely know certain outcomes but will alter his action according to our action. For example, Exodus 32:10,14 state that God "changed his mind" concerning the harm he said he would do to the Israelites. This passage doesn't make sense if God had not really intended to do the harm because he wouldn't have been changing his mind. It would mean that the Bible is inaccurate or God has lied, neither of which is a compelling option.

Wouldn't a better option be to take the Bible passage at face value, throw away all thought of anthropomorphic special pleading, and go with the idea that God really, really did have a change of heart and didn't know what he would do a few minutes later until Moses reasoned with him, just as a child occasionally does with their father. Of course, if one is a draconian inflexible authoritarian who must always have their own way then changing one's mind is not a possibility.

The above, applied to Genesis 2 & 3, makes more sense and escapes the charge of God setting Adam and Eve up for a fall (pardon the pun!) and that he is a cruel God.
Lita Cosner
Dear John,

Your question asks a bit more than we can answer in a short comment. But one of the consistent teachings of Scripture is that God knows "the end from the beginning" (Isaiah 46:10). That's why He is able to give accurate predictive prophecy unlike the false gods.

What you are advocating is Open Theism, which is heterodox, and this isn't the place to debate it.
Terry P.
As we know, God planted the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the middle of the garden of Eden, and told Adam not to eat of it, for on the day he did, he would die. And so we all die because Adam ate the poison fruit of good and evil. I am positive God wasn't having a senior moment in eternity and made a mistake when he planted that tree—it is inconceivable that God could not foretell that Adam would eat of it.
So, what was God's purpose in planting that tree?
Gary Bates
First of all, God does not tell us why He planted the tree, but let's deduce a couple of things.

  1. As difficult as it is for us to comprehend, God knew that man was going to sin even before He planted the tree or made the universe. But we have to be careful of thinking about God and time in a linear fashion or the way that we humans understand it. On this subject there is an article on our site called If God created the universe, who created God? So, did he plant the tree in order for man to sin? No, but because He knows the future He knew what choice we would make anyway. BTW there is a new DVD out that deals with the concept of eternity called Who Made God?

  2. Because He knew man would sin the tree is an incredible demonstration of God's love. In short, it is an example that man. left to his own devices would reject God. But notwithstanding, because God is eternal, before He created He already had the plan of Salvation in place to redeem rebellious mankind.

  3. God wanted to have a loving relationship with mankind, which is why He created us. He could have programmed humans to love Him like robots but what would be the point. Being a loving being, just like you and I, He desires love and fellowship from us of our own free will or choosing. But to repeat, knowing that we would not choose Him of our own free will He set up an example to show us why. Next point.

  4. At the time of the choice, it may have been possible that Adam and Eve, as our representatives, did not fully understand the consequences of death. The point being that this was an issue of trust that still applies to us today. All they needed to do was to obey God and trust Him for their own well-being. By not doing so, the tree and the subsequent failure to obey has created an awful demonstration of how sin corrupts, decays and destroys everything that was once beautiful and perfectly created by God. When we look around we see it's effects everywhere in death and the disasters that beset our world (Romans 8).

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