The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to fill it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”
Genesis 2: 15-17
While the rest of the country has quickly moved on to other things, the state of Florida where I live is still reeling from Hurricane Ian, certainly in the southern part of our state. When catastrophes strike, we are led naturally to the question of “Why do bad things happen, specifically to good people?” (By the way, there is a book entitled “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” by Harold Kushner, which I highly recommend). This is a question that will be on everyone’s mind, probably multiple times a year. There have been entire books written on this subject, and I can’t do it justice in a reflection or two, but I want to offer some comments on the subject, and hopefully give us some practical things to think about.
Here are some background questions:
1. Is God perfect? God is perfect. God cannot be imperfect, because if He was imperfect, He wouldn’t be God. God is omniscient, omnipotent, eternal and eternally good. Common sense would lead us to say we couldn’t possibly believe in, trust, and serve a fallen entity. We believe in, trust and serve God because He is perfect. He is worthy of our belief, our trust and our service.
2. Did God create human beings perfect or imperfect? How could we believe in a loving and merciful God who creates people with deficiencies? We don’t believe in that. The first human beings were created by God, in His image and likeness. We are still created this way, but I’ll come back to that. The first human beings were created by God. Now, human beings are created in concert with God. Now human beings are created from male matter (sperm), female matter (egg) and divine matter (soul, or spirit). The first human beings created were created only by divine matter. Therefore, the human being was created perfect, because God is perfect.
3. Why did God create us to begin with? I believe that God created us out of love. I base that on the reasoning behind why we bring children into the world today. We create children because we love life, and we want to share our life with someone else, we desire to see someone grow up to live the life we have. If someone hates life, they probably don’t want to have children because they might not want a child to be as miserable as they are. God is love, and God created us to experience love. God created us to share in His love. When God created man, He placed him in the Garden of Eden. It’s interesting to note that in Genesis 2:15, we read that God put man in the garden of Eden “to till it and keep it.” It’s interesting because many people’s perception of the Garden of Eden was that it was this tropical resort where man lived freely without any demands or expectations. This was not the case at all. God finds value in work. The work of tilling the garden was pleasurable. Think of work you enjoy. For me, as you all know, it’s mowing lawns. But on a 95-degree day. I imagine mowing the lawn on a 65-degree day with no humidity, where I don’t have to rush. That is good work. That is actually fun work. That’s what I imagine work was like for Adam in the Garden of Eden.
4. Why the prohibition of not being able to eat of one tree? Our relationship with God is voluntary. That’s because love is a choice. One cannot be coerced to love. One can be coerced to obey, but not to love. Thus, God gave men and women freedom to love without coercion. There was one caveat that God set was that Adam and Eve were not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for in that day, He said, they would die. Let’s unpack that for a moment. Some translations of the Bible said that the tree was the tree of the union between good and evil. God made man good. Man was good. Man lived in harmony with God. To partake of a tree of the union of good and evil would open man’s eyes to evil, and evil is not Godly. So, man partaking of evil would set him against God. In other words, he would die, because to die is to be separated from God. In other words, God told mankind not to partake of the tree of the union between good and evil, because in partaking of evil, man would be separated from God—he would die.
5. Why did man choose to sin? The simple answer was that he believed a lie. The serpent, Satan, himself a fallen angel, told Adam and Eve that they would not die from eating of the tree. He said that “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5) The desire to be like God, the desire to be all-knowing and all-powerful is a malady that still afflicts us. It is our egos. Mankind chose to go away from God based on a lie that played on his ego—this is usually the root cause of most sin, a lie that plays on our ego. Thus, mankind fell. And when confronted by God over their transgression, instead of repenting, Adam and Eve put blame on each other and ultimately on the serpent. This is called the Fall of mankind.
The reason why bad things happen is as a result of the Fall. Tune into tomorrow’s message for four specific reasons that bad things happen to people.
Lord, I know that I was created out of love and I was created to love. Help me to love You and to love others in all times and in all circumstances. Help me to be a survivor of this fallen world, rather than a victim of it. Help me encourage others to survive as well. May I one day recover what Adam lost, and through Your mercy and grace, once again be allowed to enter into Paradise. Amen.
We were not created to die or to suffer. We were created to be with God. We will suffer and die as a result of the Fall. However, we can recover what Adam lost because of the saving work of Jesus Christ. More to follow on that. . .
Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website!
Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
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