Thoughts to Ponder

The Curse and Punishment

I field a lot of questions over the Internet and I try to give an honest heartfelt answer to all of them. I believe we should be able to give a reason for what we believe to those who ask us. With that in mind, I received an e-mail from a 'new' Christian who asked the following:

After the fall of Adam and Eve, God punished man with death, more over man was also punished with diseases, cursed ground, strife suffering and terrible hardships, natural disasters etc etc that are still growing and raging to this day. My question is, since all these are heartaches and sufferings man has been punished with weren't they enough for man to bear for his lifetime on earth? Must a man upon dying (Not withstanding the fact that some people die horrible deaths also having suffered to some extent or a great deal in their lifetime) subsequently be woken up to again face yet another punishment from God this time for eternity in hell. Isn't this cruel for humanity is there justice here? All of us feel the sufferings in this world whether were good or bad people, but must we suffer again after we die? Moreover being woken up after a horrific and painful death to another life of eternal suffering?

The very question kind of bothered me. The reason is that it shows a lack of understanding what sin is, and what the punishment is for sin. No amount of physical suffering will pay for even one of our sins, yet that is what the question implies to me. It implies that God is cruel and makes mankind suffer because of what Adam did and then on top of making us suffer in this life then punishes us for all eternity too. He even asks the question; 'is there justice here?'

I find the question sad because it shows me that this baby Christian isn't being taught what sin is, what our responsibility for our sin is, or what the fall of mankind was all about. The sad fact is that churches today preach a feel good gospel, where God is nothing more than a genie in the sky that is there to meet our wants and needs. So when Christians see suffering and pain in this world they naturally think that God has failed to live up to His side of the covenant.

My answer to this question may surprise you, in fact the more I thought about it, the answer surprised me. I don't claim to have an inside line on God or His thinking; in fact His thinking is so far above ours that I don't think we are capable of fully understanding Him and His ways, yet He has given us some insights into Himself that I want to explore. As always, whether you agree with everything I say, or only 10% or none of what I say, I urge you to use this article to explore God's word for yourself.

Let's start with the fall of mankind. You say that God punished with death, diseases, cursed ground, strife, suffering and terrible hardships. I don't agree. I will agree that the result of Adam and Eve's sin was a cursing of the whole of creation, but I don't agree that this was punishment in the strict sense of the word. I will explain in a minute, but first was death punishment for their sin? Think about it carefully:

Genesis 2:15-17
    The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. [16] And the Lord God commanded the man, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; [17] but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die."

Did God say that if you eat I will punish you with death? No, He said if you eat you will surely die. There is a difference. If I tell my child that if he touches the hot stove he will feel pain and he goes and touches the stove and of course feels pain, have I punished him, or explained in advance what the consequences of his actions will be? This is what God was telling Adam, the result from willful disobedience would be separate from God, because sin separates us from God. Yes you can look at it as punishment, but I believe it was much more just a fact that this was the consequence of Adam's actions. The direct result of sin is the separation from God; death.

You see the result of Adam's sin as punishment and I see it as an act of love on God's part. How? Simple, we know from the Bible that God knew Adam would sin and be separated from Him before He created anything and He made the plan of salvation before creating anything. God gave Adam free will knowing that he would choose to willfully sin.

People try to claim that free will was cruel because it has caused so much suffering in this world, but they miss the point. We were created in God's image with many of His attributes. Freedom of choice is something that every human being longs for; it is in our nature, which is why many people are willing to lay down their lives for freedom, knowing that they won't gain it but that they will give it to others by their death. So yes God could have created us as slaves, who couldn't make a choice and who would never sin, but we would not be full human beings, free and able to make our own choices. That wouldn't have been love, it would be like creating us as dogs, no matter how much you beat a dog it will keep coming back and obeying you. We attribute that as love from the dog but it isn't, it is just their nature, which they have no choice in.

So God created Adam knowing that he would sin, and He made a salvation plan to allow Adam and his kids (us) to again gain what Adam lost for all of us. Don't miss the point too that the plan of salvation cost God dearly. He didn't just say I will forgive and forget your sins, He couldn't because God can't change who He is either. He is holy, He is just, He is loving and He is merciful, but He can't be around sin, sin has to be paid for. The problem is that sin requires spiritual death, a spiritual separation from God.

We can pay for our own sins, but it takes an eternity. No amount of suffering in this life will pay for them, nor will all the good works we try to do. Only one thing will pay for our sins on our part and that is eternal separation from God. That presents us with a real problem, if we sin and we all have, then we must be spiritually separated from God for all eternity. But God loves us and wants us to be with Him and love Him. So He took our sins upon Himself. No one else could do it for us. I can't die for your sins because I have my own sins that must be paid for. It took someone like Adam who was without sin, until he decided to disobey, to pay for our sins. But that presents another problem, there was no one like Adam, we all were tainted by Adam and Eve's sin. The sin nature is passed down from father to offspring.

So how could God accomplish this salvation? Jesus had to have a father who wasn't human, so that His father wouldn't pass on the corrupted human sinful nature. Now you see why the Virgin birth is so important, without it being true, Jesus couldn't have died for our sins. Churches today try to down play the Virgin birth as unimportant, but it is so important that without it we are all still dead in our sins. So Jesus was born sinless, without a sinful nature, just like Adam was created. This is why Jesus is called the Second Adam. The difference of course is that the second Adam didn't sin, but rather chose to not sin. Had He sinned even once, then He would have had to pay for His own sins and could not have paid for ours.

Now let me go back and address the cursing of all creation. Why would God do that, as punishment as you say? I don't think so; He did it out of love. To understand that you have to dig deep, let's start with something Jesus said:

Matthew 19:24
    Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.

But what does that have to do with our discussion? Everything! Who is more likely to ever think they need God; Bill Gates or me? Bill has so much money that he gives tons away and worries that his kids will get corrupted if he doesn't give a lot more of it away before he dies. I on the other hand have been without a job, I live payday to payday, and I know that if I get sick I will lose everything. I worry about my life, about my future and that can't help but make me think of God and my dependence on Him. I will tell you the truth I would NEVER trade places with Bill Gates; I know my evil heart would draw me away from God if I got too comfortable. In fact this is one of my favorite passages:

Proverbs 30:7-9
    "Two things I ask of you, O Lord;
        do not refuse me before I die:
    [8] Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
        give me neither poverty nor riches,
        but give me only my daily bread.
    [9] Otherwise, I may have too much
        and disown you and say, 'Who is the Lord?'
    Or I may become poor and steal,
        and so dishonor the name of my God.

An easy life is not worth the cost to me. So if God had allowed Adam and Eve to continue to live in the Garden, without any fear, without any hard work, without any strife, do you really think you and I would even be having this discussion today? I doubt it, we would all be fat, dumb and happy and on the road to hell! So you see in my mind the curse on creation was out of love, to make sure that man didn't get too comfortable without God. It also graphically reminded them of what had been lost because of sin. Yes people live through horrible things and die horrible deaths, but it is their choice which of these passages pertains to them:

Matthew 25:41
    Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.'

Or:

Rev. 21:4
    He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

I personally praise and thank God that He cursed this creation; because I know it helped me come to Him and because I know I will live with Him in a new creation that will be back to the way this one once was.

This is a radical thought, so we need to go back to God's word and see if this is consistent with who God is and we do that by looking at how He dealt with people in His word. Would God use hardship to cause people to come back to Him or to come to Him in the first place?

Amos 4:6-12
    "I gave you empty stomachs in every city
        and lack of bread in every town,
        yet you have not returned to me,"

declares the Lord.
 
    [7] "I also withheld rain from you
        when the harvest was still three months away.
    I sent rain on one town,
        but withheld it from another.
    One field had rain;
        another had none and dried up.
    [8] People staggered from town to town for water
        but did not get enough to drink,
        yet you have not returned to me,"

declares the Lord.
 
    [9] "Many times I struck your gardens and vineyards,
        I struck them with blight and mildew.
    Locusts devoured your fig and olive trees,
        yet you have not returned to me,"

declares the Lord.
 
    [10] "I sent plagues among you
        as I did to Egypt.
    I killed your young men with the sword,
        along with your captured horses.
    I filled your nostrils with the stench of your camps,
        yet you have not returned to me,"

declares the Lord.
 
    [11] "I overthrew some of you
        as I overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.
    You were like a burning stick snatched from the fire,
        yet you have not returned to me,"

declares the Lord.
 
    [12] "Therefore this is what I will do to you, Israel,
        and because I will do this to you,
        prepare to meet your God, O Israel."

God lists many things that He caused to happen to the Israelites to bring them back to repentance. Was He punishing them, or was He showing them love and correction and trying to get them to save themselves from His wrath? Yes He was showing love by causing these distresses to come upon them and yet they refused to repent.

No amount of suffering in this life will pay for our sins. God even talks about the fact that He sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous alike. What that means is simple, good things happen to good people and good things happen to evil people; bad things happen to good people and bad things happen to evil people, it is all just part of living in a fallen world. It isn't punishment to come down with cancer; it is just part of life in a cursed fallen world. If a Christian comes down with cancer, it is not punishment it is just cancer, it won't make his reward any bigger and it won't take any punishment away from the evil man who suffers from it either.

Even cancer is a sign of God's love, because it will make the person think of their death and that is when the Holy Spirit can really deal with a person's heart. Sadly many people still ignore Him and His calling and His offer of salvation.

Death is another way that God deals with our hearts, if we allow Him to. When someone dies who is close to us, we can't help but think not only of the loss, but of eternity, and also our own vulnerability. It brings to our mind that life is short, and unpredictable. We all know that this time tomorrow we might be dead, but we do a great job or ignoring it most days. When a loved one or even for that matter a stranger is taken away, we can't help but think about it even if it is only for a short time, before we push the thought out of our minds again.

I used to tell my children that every day they had a choice when they got up. They could get up with a bad attitude and have a miserable day or they could get up with a good attitude and have a nice day. The choice was theirs, they couldn't change the world but they could change how they thought of it and how they reacted to it. I believe the same is true about our attitude toward God.

We can choose to look at things like the curse on creation and wonder why God is cruel, or we can admit we don't fully understand Him or His ways and give Him the benefit of the doubt. We tend to make stupid assumptions about God and His ways, based solely on our human understanding. What possible good could come from God 'punishing' Adam and Eve by cursing all of creation and making us all suffer with pain and disease and strife throughout our lives? Well, I may not have the answer but I hope I gave you pause to stop and ponder God and His word and view it from outside the box.

Don't get me wrong, I hate what this life is; the suffering, the pain, the loss of loved ones, I just choose to believe that even the suffering shows God's wonderful love for us!

E-Mail Ralph

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October 2009