Why is there Death & Suffering? booklet: Raises questions but provides framework for answers


Dr Jonathan Sarfati
14 January 2002

When a Christian tries to convince a non-believer of the truth of Christianity, as commanded by Christ (Matthew 28:19–20), what are the most common objections? We find that, overwhelmingly, they are ‘Why is there so much pain in a world created by a God of love’ and ‘Science has proven evolution and thus disproved the Bible’. In fact, we would suggest that a Christian who has never been asked either question hasn’t been witnessing! The second question is addressed on our site at length, and this is the most common target for ‘scientific’ sceptics because we undermine a key pseudo-intellectual argument for their materialistic faith.

But we don’t stop at ‘science’, because the correct Biblical understanding of origins is also vital to answering the first question. That is, the Bible says that evil is real, not an illusion as New Agers teach, but that it was not a created entity. Rather, God created the universe in six ordinary days and it was ‘very good’ (Genesis 1:31). Even at the end of Days Three to Five, ‘God saw that it was good’, so Genesis 1 teaches that there was no principle of evil of any kind in creation.

But this world with all the death and suffering doesn’t seem very good, so what happened? Genesis 3 explains that Adam, the delegated head of mankind and all of creation (Genesis 1:28) disobeyed the one prohibition that God had given him. Because Adam chose to turn his back on God, God gave him what he deserved — He withdrew fellowship and some of His sustaining power from the world. And because God is perfectly just, He must punish sin, so he sentenced Adam to physical death (Genesis 3:19). This sentence affected not only his descendants (Romans 5:12–19), but the entire creation as well because Adam was its head (Romans 8:20–22).

Therefore we should not regard death and suffering as something created by God in the beginning, but a result of man’s sin. But if the world had really existed for billions of years, as day-age creationists (e.g. Hugh Ross) and theistic evolutionists believe, the fossil record would predate Adam. The fossils are obviously a record of death, but also they record infections, fractures, arthritis, wounds, carnivory and cancer. But if the fossil record existed when God declared the world "very good", then all these conditions must logically be regarded that way. But if, say, cancer, is ‘very good’, then why should we try to cure diseases like cancer? And if animals have been killing each other for millions of years, then what’s wrong with terrorists killing about 3000 people on September 11?

Most people realised instinctively that something was greatly wrong with the world on that day, and asked serious questions. But sadly, even many church leaders said they couldn’t explain it, and invariably they are the ones who have compromised with billions of years. However, we saw the need for teaching the Biblical answers to a hurting public. This was also an opportunity to proclaim the hope we have in the Creator Jesus Christ, who will return and spell the end of the Curse, death and tears for all those who believe in Him (Revelation 21:4). It was also our sad duty to warn that physical death is not the worst thing that can happen to those who reject the Creator Jesus — rather, the worst is an eternity separated from God, the source of everything good.

Therefore Ken Ham and I wrote a same-day article on the terrorist attack from a Biblical perspective, then followed with the witnessing booklet Why is there Death & Suffering? (above right). This booklet covers the above points in much more detail, and we are pleased that it has proved helpful to many people.

But it’s impossible to cover everything in a booklet, so it shouldn’t be surprising that a few people have raised sincere questions. Below is a letter from a Mr BW asking a few questions, and my answers interspersed, based on the Biblical ‘big picture’. BW’s questions are indented and in dark red.

Dear Mr BW

Dear Brothers,

I think what you wrote was very well done and answered a lot of questions about death and suffering. I have been a supporter of [your ministry] for some time now.

Thank you.

However, this booklet brought up or caused to surface other questions which have placed me on a dead end street. Perhaps you could at least address some of these questions as I am sure there must have been others puzzled by the same aforementioned booklet.

Maybe, but we’ll address them when they come.

I can understand how it is difficult to reconcile this world system filled with death, disease and suffering against a alleged loving God of the Bible.

It is difficult mainly if people don’t understand (or don’t believe) His revelation about these things.

Your position is that all of this was a result of Adam’s rebellion, disobedience, insolence and defiance.

This is correct, because it is the only logical deduction from Scripture [see above].

Before that, everything was very good; but was it? How do you address the fact that God put the tree of the knowledge of good and EVIL in the garden before Adam disobeyed.

There is no problem, because there is no actual evil, as opposed to a mere name. As it turned out, it was a highly appropriate name because it described the effects, and of course God foreknew this would happen.

Also, Satan was around to tempt Adam and Eve. Apparently things were not so good in the universe if evil and Satan existed before Adam had his opportunity to bring death and spiritual separation down on our heads as the human race!

They weren’t, but the Biblical timing is different from what you think, as shown several paragraphs down.

Now, I realize that I inherited a corrupt, evil sin nature genetically from Adam because I sin even now.

I doubt there is a physical sin gene as such. Man has both a material aspect, which is now subject to physical death; and a non-material aspect, which survives physical death (Matthew 10:28). It is likely that the sin nature is transmitted via this non-physical aspect.

I have no problem with that. What I do have a problem with is where did Satan and evil come from in the first place before God said, ‘It was very good’?

You may have read something into the text that wasn’t there. Who says that evil existed before then, or that Satan had fallen by then? Starting from God’s Word, everything was ‘very good’ at the end of Day 6, therefore we can know that Satan didn’t fall before then. He must have fallen on Day 8 or later. We can logically deduce from Scripture that it couldn’t have been too long after, because Adam and Eve were commanded to ‘fill the Earth’, they would have obeyed in their unfallen state, and their physically perfect bodies would have been capable of conceiving, yet the first child they conceived (Cain) was indisputably sinful.

The Bible makes it clear that the wickedness was ‘found’ in Satan (Ezekiel 28:15).

And to make matters worse, God said man has become like ONE OF US knowing good and EVIL? So evil existed before Adam sinned then why should Adam or mankind be totally responsible for the evil in the world?

That statement did not mean that God had committed evil, but as an omniscient being, God knew what evil was. This was not meant to be the case for Adam and Eve, who came to know evil through their own actions. Adam was responsible because He was designated the federal head of humanity and God’s delegated ruler of all creation (Genesis 1:28).

You referred to the case of Job. This appears to be a chess game between God and Satan about the evil allowed to come upon Job.

As a chessmaster, I suggest that this may be a poor analogy. Two chessplayers have the same rights and are both subject to the rules of the game. But Satan was subject to God and His rules, and could do only what God permitted him to.

How in the world do you explain this and keep a loving God in mind?

Because God is also sovereign, as explained in the book, He has the right to do as He pleases with His creation (Romans 9). He allowed Satan to test Job to prove to Satan and all of us that Job did not love God just because he had been blessed, as well as to provide an example for us in this cursed world. God’s love cannot be divorced from His sovereignty or His justice for that matter.

Even Job never got a straight answer.

But he accepted that God was under no obligation to give him one, and if he accepted it I fail to see why we should not. This is a lesson to us that we may not be able to figure out why a particular evil happened, even though God has a reason.

Another thing that bothers me is why didn’t God stop all the bloodshed, death and violence immediately with Adam’s rebellion rather than let it go on for thousands of years tormenting millions of humans? It doesn’t make any sense.

As we said, for God to get rid of all sin, he’d have to get rid of all of us. If he’d done as you suggest, neither of us would be here (Romans 3:23), and the skeptics wouldn’t be around to ask those questions! It’s also important to realise that we don’t know everything, therefore just because we can’t think of an answer doesn’t mean there is none.

You mention that all Adam’s descendants inherited an evil, sin nature from conception. Also, we are condemned and separated from God or spiritually dead. How does a dead person make any move toward God and be saved?

God is the one who draws His people to Him (John 6:44), and regenerates them by giving them a new heart (Ezekiel 11:19).

Well, again I appreciate all the fine work you all are doing …

Glad to hear that.

… but these questions are bothering me no end as a result of studying your booklet. I really do not want to be in the camp with Darwin, Turner, Templeton and blame God for all this mess we are in.

I hope not too.

I would like to believe that God is loving and is not responsible for sin, death and suffering.

He is not in the sense that He should be blamed for it, but the Bible is clear that God actively cursed the creation because of Adam’s sin (Genesis 3:19, Romans 8:20-22), as He had the right to do, and was an expression of His justice.

We also pointed out that humans are not in a position to judge God as evil, because such a judgment presupposes a standard of right and wrong, and where can such a thing come from if not from God?

However, I am really in a mental battle over these questions. I hope you can shed some light on these issues and help me out of my confusion and near depression.

I’m sorry to hear that you feel like that. But I doubt that you have suffered as much as Job, who ultimately trusted that God did what is right, as did Abraham.

In conclusion, it’s important for all Christians to be equipped to answer questions such as the above. We hope that the answers show that understanding the ‘big picture’ is helpful for following the Apostle Peter’s command in 1 Peter 3:15 (see Q&A: Apologetics). Conversely, without this big picture, would-be Christian apologists are left floundering. But they should also be ready to show that only a Christian world view makes any sense of both the physical world and moral questions, while a non-Christian should be challenged to justify his questions under his own framework. Some of the responses under Negative Feedback should show what I mean.

Published: 3 February 2006

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