The Problem, the Plan, the PriceSuffering of believers is rooted in Satan's hatred of the Good News that proclaims his defeat.
What does it mean to be really human? How often don't we watch people acting in a godless manner, or we find ourselves failing to be all that we should be as followers of Jesus Christ, and we excuse others and ourselves with the expression, "Well, we are only human."
From the third chapter of Genesis we see the basis for the coming persecution of God's people.
I say, "Heresy!" To disobey God is not human. To live selfishly is not what it means to be human. To be truly human as God created us to be is to live in fellowship with God—to obey Him and to serve others. Our acts of disobedience and failure are not due to our being human but due to our being fallen and sinful. We are never so human as when we serve God and others. And we are never so inhuman than when we live in rebellion with God.
This is clear in the fall of Adam in the Garden. Satan tempts the woman to act autonomously. This is not how God created her to be. When she is deceived and draws Adam into her deception, mankind ceased to be fully human, as God intended us to be. Immediately, however, God began a process of restoration what would restore mankind to true "humanness."
Following the creation of man and the giving of man's divine mandate to be fruitful and multiply, to subdue the earth and exercise dominion as His image bearers (see Genesis 1:22,26,28), God declares that His work of creation is "finished" (see verse 2:3). In His work of restoring creation to this condition of perfection, God will make two other proclamations of His work being "finished." The second time is on the cross when redemption promised becomes redemption accomplished (see John 19:30). The third is in Revelation 21:6 when God's work is once and for all finished. Not only will the punishment and penalty of sin be accomplished but also the very presence of sin will be removed and full restoration will be achieved.
But God's plan of restoration did not begin at the Fall, as though it were unexpected. From the very beginning, God designed a plan to restore His creation to the place where it can again be declared "good."
It is obvious from the biblical record that God created man knowing full well that he would rebel and that He had drawn up careful plans to deal with the consequences. This foreknowledge does not make God responsible for the Fall, in as much as He gave man genuine freedom from creation to freely choose or to freely reject His love.
Being created in the image of God, man was capable of genuine independent choice and, like God, capable of real love. Absolute free will is a prerequisite of true love. Forced or predetermined love is no love at all. In His creation of man, God had to allow for the possibility (indeed, the inevitability) that His love would be rejected, in order that those who would respond to His grace would do so genuinely.
As the Cappadocian theologians rightfully noted, force is no attribute of God. To create mankind in His image and to deny them the freedom not to love and trust Him would have been a violation of His own character. God created a world knowing that His representatives would reject Him, subjecting His creation to ruin. Yet, He chose to do so to the end that His glory and character might be perfectly seen in the restoration and enjoyed by those who submitted to His grace in their lives. Knowing this, He sets His plan in motion, as the Scriptures say, from the foundation of the world, doing everything possible to bring restoration and completeness back to His creation.
In His condemnation of Satan, God says in Genesis 3:15, "Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel."
Notice that God does not say that nature is cursed because of the serpent, but that he will be more cursed than the rest of nature. He is condemned to humiliation and ultimate defeat under the victorious offspring of the woman. Satan, God says, will be defeated by the offspring of the woman. In verse 20, following their expulsion from the Garden, Adam gives his wife the name Eve, which means "Living One," being derived from the Hebrew word for "life." Adam knows that mankind's hope is in her offspring. From Eve will come life.
But this life will not come without a struggle; the offspring of the woman will be bruised in the process. The solution to man's suffering because of sin will come through suffering. The heel will be struck. In the process of crushing the serpent, the heel of the woman's offspring will be bitten. The setting is that of conflict between the serpent and the woman, which is echoed in Revelation 12.
The world will be hostile to the message of God's victory over Satan.
From the third chapter of Genesis we see the basis for the coming persecution of God's people. The price of reconciling creation to its Creator will take place in a context of suffering and conflict. Hence, we are not surprised when we see the price for our sins paid for through the sufferings and death of the Son of God. We are, likewise, not surprised when we see that taking the Good News to others costs His messengers their lives, as they take up the cross and follow Him in suffering and death. Christ's cross is necessary for the propitiation of the Gospel; the disciple's cross is necessary for the propagation of the Gospel. The world will be hostile to the message of God's victory over Satan.
It does not take long for this conflict to be manifested in the book of Genesis. In the very next chapter following the promise of God's victory through the seed of the women, Abel, one of Eve's children, is slain by his brother Cain. It is obvious that the New Testament views Abel's death as much more than the result of sibling rivalry or a squabble that got out of control. Jesus clearly saw Abel's death as an act of martyrdom (see Matthew 23:35), as does the apostle John (see 1 John 3:12). John explains that Abel's death was because Cain's acts were evil and Abel's were righteous. Abel's death is clearly set in a context of martyrdom, a result of the conflict between the world and those who belong to God (see 1 John 3:13). The martyrdom of today's followers takes place in exactly the same context.
Glenn Penner is the communications director of the Voice of Martyrs Canada. To receive VOM's free monthly newsletter, please sign up at www.persecution.net http://www.persecution.net.
Originally published in the Voice of Martyrs Newsletter, April 2004.
Used with permission of the author. Copyright © 2004 Christianity.ca.