When and Where Things Went Wrong
THIS earth could be a delightful place in which to live. Even with all the problems of today, most people get a measure of enjoyment out of life. That is why they will do almost anything to avoid losing it. Those who “give up” and prefer death because they find life too hard are still only a fraction of earth’s nearly 4,000,000,000 population.
Yet genuine happiness eludes mankind as a whole. Even in the most favorable circumstances the bad keeps cropping up, cutting into people’s joys, creating anxiety, uncertainty, frustration and, at times, bitter disappointment, cruel heartbreak and depression. These evils are persistent, seemingly defiant of elimination. They know no bounds, reaching into the lives of people everywhere. Today, bad conditions of enormous proportions pose a grave threat to all of us.
Something seems to be ‘out of kilter,’ out of order, with mankind itself. What is it? Obviously it had to begin somewhere, sometime. Where and when did it begin?
A Family Problem
If we read history books and go back, century by century, we find evidence of violence, crime, war, oppression, poverty, hunger and disease all along the way, until those history books finally run out in the distant past. Though they weave around from one nation to another, from one race to another, these histories, nevertheless, show that we are all of just one family. Modern science recognizes this. As anthropologist M. F. Ashley Montagu states:
“All varieties of man belong to the same species and have the same remote ancestry. This is a conclusion to which all the relevant evidence of comparative anatomy, paleontology, serology, and genetics, points. On genetic grounds alone it is virtually impossible to conceive of the varieties of man as having originated separately.”
Yes, the human family is one; we all have had the same parents somewhere in the past. As a publication by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) states:
“All of us, if we went back far enough, hundreds of generations, would arrive at the same place—the base of the human family tree . . . Our common ancestor could as well be called Adam, which also means man in Hebrew, for the familiar Biblical story foreshadowed the evidence of science that present men derive from a common stock.”
The One Historical Source Going Back to the Beginning
Secular history books do not take us back to man’s beginning. Their records peter out toward the third millennium before the Common Era. But there is a historical record that does reach all the way back. That is the Bible. Perhaps you have never examined it. If so, you may not realize that it gives a connected, dated history unequaled in other ancient records or in other so-called sacred writings. Its record is so complete and comprehensive that a first-century historian such as Luke, a doctor, was able to trace the genealogy of Jesus of Nazareth back through four thousand years, step by step and name by name, all the way to the first man Adam.—See Luke 1:1-4; 3:23-38.
The Bible also tells us how all human suffering got its start and how and why it came to be a continuing, humanly inerasable, common inheritance of the whole family of mankind. No other history tells us this; no other sacred writing does. In the absence of any other source, where will we look for the answer to the question of the origin of human suffering and disorder? If we do not seek the answer from a historical source, what are we left with? Only human opinion, conjecture—with wide differences and disagreement. Surely in view of the magnitude of the question—the most perplexing in life—we ought to be willing to consider the information supplied by Biblical history. Consider the reasonableness of what it says.
A Perfect Start for Mankind
The Bible shows that God created the first human pair, Adam and Eve, as perfect creatures in body and mind. Would we expect anything different from the One of whom the Bible says, “Perfect is his activity”? (Deut. 32:4) The Scriptural record shows God’s fatherly care and interest in that original pair. Human parents today make advance preparation for the arrival of their offspring, getting things ready for the new family member. Similarly the Bible recounts God’s careful preparation for his first human son and daughter. He started them off in life—not in a swamp, cave, wilderness or jungle—but in a parklike area, a true botanical garden of fruit-bearing and other trees, where there was no need for them to feel hunger. He gave them purposeful work to do. He set before them realizable and stimulating goals—the extending of parklike conditions throughout the whole earth, with the aid of the multiplying offspring they were to procreate.—See Genesis 1:26-28; 2:7-9, 15.
There is certainly no basis here for accusing God of any lack of care. Nor is there anything unreal about the account. Must we not honestly admit that, right till this day, the goal God set out in Genesis is what mankind has long strived to achieve—namely, a parklike earth, free from hunger or want and occupied by healthy people engaging in rewarding activities? But why has that goal not been reached? Why have mankind’s efforts “boomeranged” on them, causing the earth to be polluted and its ecological balance to be thrown seriously out of order? Again the Bible shows why, and in a realistic, reasonable way.
A Test for Mankind’s Good
Most persons know that the Bible account shows that God set one of the trees in the garden home “off limits” to them, and that violation of his prohibition, by eating of the tree’s fruit, would bring the penalty of death. (Gen. 2:9, 16, 17) But few persons stop to think of the wisdom shown in this arrangement. Consider:
How do we as human parents show genuine care for our children? Is it just by providing material needs? Or is it even more so by helping them to develop right standards of conduct, helping them to learn sound principles, basic truths that cannot be ignored if they are to be happy in life? If a son or a daughter is pampered and allowed to do just whatever he or she feels like doing, is such permissiveness a case of caring or of not caring? We know what happens when parents abandon responsibility, failing to educate and train their offspring. Rampant juvenile delinquency today causes enormous heartbreak and disappointment for fathers and mothers and is largely a result of such lack of parental caring and firm direction.
God took care to impress upon his first human son and daughter standards of righteousness. He was their Life-Giver. Disrespect for him and for his word could bring them nothing good. It would actually be senseless, because it would be out of harmony with reality, a ‘flying in the face’ of the facts of life. Such disrespect would foster—not happiness and peace—but egotism, selfishness and ingratitude. Deep respect for him, on the other hand, could bring unending benefit. It would keep them receptive to God’s superlative wisdom, power and love. It would keep humans living harmoniously, fostering respect and concern for the interests and feelings of others. Today, when we see how many of mankind’s troubles result from people’s being self-centered, with so little concern for the rights and interests of their neighbors, we should be able to appreciate the value of what God did for the first human pair in stressing the vital need to respect his rights and interests as the Universal Sovereign. The “tree of the knowledge of good and bad” that he set “off bounds” to them was used to represent or symbolize his sovereign right to decide for his creatures what is “good” and what is “bad” for them.
The means used by God to make such test of their respect showed considerateness and also granted mankind a natural dignity. It was fitting for their circumstances. How so? Well, though created as mature adults, the human pair were still new as to life. To give them the opportunity to demonstrate respect and loyalty to his sovereignty, their Creator used, not something complicated or confusing, but something simple and straightforward, something involving a daily activity, namely, eating. In this way, too, God was not making a prohibition that implied suspicion of depraved tendencies or malicious inclinations in man, for eating in itself was a normal, proper action. Though the prohibition of eating of that one tree placed limits on the human pair, those limits certainly did not hem them in or cramp them in their full enjoyment of life. They had no need to feel any sense of being deprived of anything essential to their happiness in view of all the other fruit-bearing trees available. (Gen. 2:9) And, finally, though simple, this test of their obedience and respect would be in harmony with the wise principle spoken later by God’s Son, that “the person faithful in what is least is faithful also in much, and the person unrighteous in what is least is unrighteous also in much.”—Luke 16:10.
The Freedom to Choose
The Bible also shows that God gave to his human son and daughter the freedom of choice, free moral agency. Why? Because God cared about them and had feeling for them. He had shown love by bringing them to life and by his preparations for their earthly happiness. If God had created them so that they were automatically obedient and incapable of doing otherwise, then they could never show genuine love in return to their Creator. Their obedience would be mechanical. Real love requires a wanting to do things that please another or that are in his interests. (Deut. 30:15, 16) And we ourselves know that we get our greatest joy out of doing things for others when we sincerely want to do them because we care about them. And we are made happy at heart by others’ doing things for us only when we know they did so spontaneously, freely.
Our first parents chose disobedience to God, as the account shows. Does it seem incredible that they would turn against God in view of all that he had done for them? It might seem incredible if we ourselves did not know of the almost unbelievable things that humans have been capable of in the past and at present. We have seen individuals turn against faithful and loving mates, children turn against parents, parents against children, often for no sound reason whatsoever. We have seen people in various nations express vicious hatred against their neighbors and fellow citizens, persecuting and even engaging in mass slaughter of them with no just cause. Usually they have been stirred up by false propaganda that incited distrust, resentment and that worked on selfish desires.
The Bible shows that the first woman, Eve, was subjected to similar propaganda from a rebellious spirit son of God. She could have resisted this, even as we today, though imperfect, can resist such poisonous propaganda. Instead, she allowed distrust of God’s love and wisdom and fairness to develop—as if he were withholding something from mankind. She trespassed on his property, his sovereign rights, by breaking his law concerning the “tree of the knowledge of good and bad” and its fruit. Under her persuasion her husband joined her.
The Consequences of Disloyalty
We know that simple acts in our own day can have enormous consequences. Human carelessness by one person in handling a relatively small safety factor in the construction of a building can result in a disaster that may cost the lives of scores of persons. Failure to care for a similar feature in a dam could lead to its rupture and unleash a destructive flood that could cause enormous damage and destruction. A single act of dishonesty or corruption by a ruler may open the way for a chain reaction of wrongdoing in a government and lead to great injustice and harm for thousands, even millions of people.
The outcome of our first father’s disloyalty to God was the plunging of the human family into sin and imperfection. The inescapable rule set out in God’s Word is that “God is not one to be mocked. For whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap; because he who is sowing with a view to his flesh will reap corruption from his flesh, but he who is sowing with a view to the spirit will reap everlasting life from the spirit.” (Gal. 6:7, 8) Mankind’s forefather, Adam, put fleshly desire above spiritual interests, just as today a global wave of materialism has practically drowned people’s concern for spiritual matters and God’s guidance. Adam reaped imperfection and corruption and could not avoid passing these on to his offspring as an inheritance. As God’s inspired Word states at Romans 5:12: “That is why, just as through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned.”
A man today who willfully engages in immoral conduct and contracts a venereal disease or who suffers chromosome damage as a result of drug addiction will bring forth defective children. His lack of caring about the suffering this brings his offspring cannot rightly be charged to God. Nor can our first father’s lack of caring and its consequences be charged to God. Showing where the blame rests, the inspired writer tells us: “See! This only I have found, that the true God made mankind upright, but they themselves have sought out many plans.”—Eccl. 7:29.
But, even though free of responsibility for the start of human suffering, why has God not brought it to an end before now? His reason for waiting until our day is one that reveals, not an uncaring attitude, but real care for mankind’s everlasting good. What is that reason?
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The Bible shows that God’s purpose was to make the whole earth a beautiful park for humankind. Is that not what mankind still wants?
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Nations do not take lightly an intrusion by outsiders. Why should God allow his rightful rulership to be treated disrespectfully, as was done in Eden?
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When seemingly small safety factors are ignored, even a great structure such as a dam can collapse. Some persons view the sin of the original man in Eden as something small, yet it let loose a flood tide of wickedness and suffering