God’s answer

to suffering 

Barnabas Aid Magazine November /December 2021

Suffering of every kind, including physical and spiritual death, came into the world when Adam and Eve, tempted by Satan, sinfully rebelled against the Lord. As Basil Atkinson has said, “Sorrow would not exist apart from the Fall.” 1 The Fall damaged our relationships with God, ourselves, other people and the rest of creation. It also made Satan our implacable and insatiable enemy. He seeks always to hurt and destroy, and with God’s people his main lines of attack are temptation and persecution.    

Sometimes we ask why “good people” suffer, but this merely shows how little we grasp God’s standards of holiness. If it is a matter of deserving or not deserving to suffer, we are all sinners deserving punishment. Jesus, who later died to take away our sins, was asked about some Galileans who had suffered greatly. He answered:

Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?  I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them – do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?  I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.  (Luke 13:2-5)


Adam and Eve brought their problems on themselves – and on us – when they chose to rebel. We cannot blame God. Rebellion in a country brings mayhem and destruction. Similarly, Adam and Eve’s rebellion bred conflict and death. God’s Word records Samuel’s rebuke to King Saul, in which he stated that “rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry” (1 Samuel 15:23). The king had blatantly disobeyed the Lord’s clear and specific instructions, just as Eve and then Adam had done. Rebellion and arrogance (or “pride” in some Bible translations) are on a par with the terrible sins of divination (witchcraft) and idol-worship. Both rebellion and witchcraft are about seizing power and control, while both pride and idolatry are about putting something in the place of God, whether that is self or idols.

Many know the agony and tears of a parent who watches their child go astray, ignoring wise parental advice, and make decisions that will lead to suffering, perhaps even to death. Is it presumptuous to imagine that the Lord God felt the same when Adam and Eve decided to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? While we may assume His curse against the serpent was uttered in a voice of judgment, what was His tone of voice when He told Adam and Eve what the future now had in store for them? Perhaps it was laden with sorrowful love.

Hope of a Saviour

God affirmed His love for Adam and Eve even before He turned from addressing the serpent to addressing them. He had already set in place a way to redeem humankind from the sin that had just come into the world. It is there in His final words to the serpent, announcing the serpent’s future defeat and punishment:

And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel. 
(Genesis 3:15)

The Lord did not curse Adam and Eve, but He told them what the consequences of their action were going to be. And before doing even that, He gave them hope in the Genesis 3:15 prophecy of the Good News of Christ’s ultimate victory over Satan. Amongst Eve’s descendants was to be Jesus, the firstborn over all creation (Colossians 1:15).  

To strike the head of the enemy would cause fatal and final destruction; to strike the heel would cause harm but not fatal damage. Thus the verse tells us that Satan will cause some temporary harm to Jesus but Jesus will utterly destroy Satan. This all happened on the cross at Calvary. Satan caused Jesus some damage and suffering but Jesus rose victorious, never to suffer or die again, and Satan’s final defeat began. As Matthew Henry explains, these words at the end of Genesis 3:15 are a gracious promise of Christ who will be the Deliverer of fallen humankind from the power of Satan.

…  Here was the dawning of the gospel-day: no sooner was the wound given, than the remedy was provided and revealed. 2

Because the victory of Christ is imputed to us, God will also beat down Satan under our feet, while at the same time we are exposed (as God permits) to his malice. Thus Christ’s people share in both His sufferings (though never in a propitiatory sense) and His victory.  As the Apostle Paul assured the Roman Christians: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:20)


…  Here was the dawning of the gospel-day: no sooner was the wound given, than the remedy was provided and revealed.

Christ’s victory

Christ’s crushing of Satan was achieved when He died on the cross and rose again. Satan is now in his death throes. He knows his time is short and that knowledge fills him with fury (Revelation 12:12). One day Christ will return in glory and establish the new heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21:1). But, until that Day, Satan continues to prey on us, causing us as much misery, pain and suffering as he can, including both temptation and persecution for Christ’s sake. In the words of Matthew Henry,

Christ’s heel was bruised, when his feet were pierced and nailed to the cross, and Christ’s sufferings are continued in the sufferings of the saints for his name. The devil tempts them, casts them into prison, persecutes and slays them; and so bruises the heel of Christ, who is afflicted in their afflictions. But while the heel is bruised on earth, it is well that the Head is safe in heaven. 3

There is permanent enmity between Eve’s offspring, that is, redeemed humanity, and the devil and his offspring, that is, demons and other evil spiritual powers as well as unredeemed humans who persist in sin and Satanic desires.

Humans who reject God and His divine eternal laws to pursue their own desires, are, though they may not know it, furthering the aims of the evil one because they are opposed to God (John 8:44). Their shared objective enables them to come together in their struggle against Eve’s offspring so that even amongst the children of darkness there is an intimate solidarity, bound as they are by a shared hatred.

An unceasing struggle continues between the Kingdom of God on earth – that is, the Church of Christ – and the kingdom of Satan. The devil is trying to exterminate the Church by persecution or allurement into sin, but the Church overcomes by faith. Matthew Henry calls this the “continual conflict between grace and corruption”.4

The spiritual war

Jesus has promised us that ultimately the gates of hell will not prevail against His Church (Matthew 16:18, AV). We also know that the “man of lawlessness” (Satan) will be overthrown and destroyed when Jesus returns, bringing to a final end his deceit and rebellion (2 Thessalonians 2:3-10) and all the suffering that they produce. But until then the two armies are locked in perpetual combat. Just as Eve chose between two trees, every day we face a choice between which army to fight with: God’s or the devil’s. It is a war without neutral nations, without non-combatants or bystanders, without a no-man’s land. We have to engage.

… don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.
(James 4:4)

Suffering will come, yes – but there will also come a Saviour to take the weight of our sin-caused suffering on the cross including dealing with the curse.

Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”)
(Galatians 3:13 NKJV)

The cross of death for Jesus is a tree of life for us.

Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”)
(Galatians 3:13 NKJV).

God’s suffering

God’s heart is broken by our suffering, even though its ultimate cause is our sinful rebellion against Him and it was He Himself who came in the flesh to bear that sin and suffering. In the words of Campbell Morgan,

If I want to see God I go to Calvary, and when I see God there, I find out that He is not indifferent, in spite of all the stupid things that stupid men are saying. I find that He is sharing in humanity’s agony.  He is bearing the results of its rebellion. I find He is bearing the sin of the world. “A body hast Thou prepared Me.” He is bearing the sin of the world in that body. If I want to see God I see Him there, and I find that God is revealed there as sharing, bearing, suffering with suffering humanity in spite of all its sin.5  

The Fall not only caused humanity to suffer but also caused God Himself to suffer.

May we picture grief in heaven, as Eve bit into that fruit, while flames leapt in hell and weeds sprang on earth, to be followed by disease, hunger and death? Yet worst of all – and beyond human imagination – it led to the Fall, which brought tears to the eyes of God.

If there were no death in the world, Jesus would not have wept with the other mourners at Lazarus’ grave (John 11:33-36). Jesus also wept over the city of Jerusalem, grieving for the violence and suffering that He knew would come to its people, which they could have avoided if they had recognised the Prince of Peace (Luke 19:41-44). Think, too, of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, sweating drops of blood in His anguish at the horrifying prospect of bearing the sins of the whole world as He dies an agonising death (Luke 22:44).

Yet, God’s suffering did not begin with the incarnation. He loves us and, since the Fall, has suffered whenever we suffer. He also suffers whenever we sin. We read of how God’s people “rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit” in Isaiah (63:10). Likewise, the Apostle Paul warns us not to grieve the Holy Spirit by unwholesome talk, bitterness, anger, fighting, slander or malice (Ephesians 4:29-31).

A new Jerusalem

Turning back to Adam and Eve, we can be sure that God still loved them after they had sinned. Did not the God who is love (1 John 4:8), miss them when they hid themselves amongst the trees and cut themselves off from their accustomed fellowship with Him? Dare we imagine His grief when He had to expel them for ever from Eden, literally the Garden of Delight (Genesis 3:23-24) which He had made for them? He longs to forgive our sins6. He even put a protective mark on Cain the murderer (Genesis 4:15).  

Along with the tsunami of sorrow and suffering which humanity experiences, there is hope in Jesus our Redeemer and our Healer (Titus 2:14; Isaiah 53:4-5; Matthew 8:17). There is the eschatological hope of the tree of life, whose leaves will be for the healing of the nations, in the new Jerusalem, where this life-giving tree has taken the place of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and there will no longer be any curse (Revelation 22:2-3).

1 Basil F.C. Atkinson, The Pocket Commentary of the Bible: The Book of Genesis, Worthing, Henry E. Walter Ltd, 1954, p.50.
2 Matthew Henry, A Commentary on the Holy Bible, 1706, London, Ward, Lock & Co., new edition, 1857, Vol. 1, p.18.
3 Henry p.18.
4 Henry p.18.
5 G. Campbell Morgan, The Triumphs of Faith, London, Pickering and Inglis, 1944, pp.127-128. The Bible verse quoted is Hebrews 10:5.
6 God does not forgive the sins of the devil because no one influenced the devil to sin; he is the very epitome of sin and the source of all evil. 

Dr Patrick Sookhdeo
International Director, Barnabas Fund

More stories