In the previous article, we examined the second act of the great controversy—the fall. We saw how the fall introduced new worldview concepts into the universe. However, from a practical standpoint, can knowledge of the great controversy actually make a difference in our lives? Someone could easily suggest that the story behind suffering doesn’t matter nearly as much as figuring out what to do with our experience of suffering. How can this perspective in worldview actually impact our lives as we live in a sin-infested world? Because the experience of pain is so personal, we’d like to answer these questions with a personal story.
A CONSEQUENCE OF THE FALL
The June before I, Katelyn, left home to attend graduate school, my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer of the ureter. It was an aggressive strain of cancer, but the unusual thing was that she did not meet any of the cancer’s common risk factors and did not even have a family history of cancer. There was no obvious reason for why this happened to her at fifty-six years of age. Over the summer I drove her to various medical appointments for check-ups and treatment. I made all the grocery runs and pitched in more around the house. At her request, though, I left for school at the end of the summer. It was difficult saying goodbye to her. Even at the time, I was not certain if I would see her again.
After leaving, I kept up with my parents over the phone. I would text my mom throughout the day, sneaking messages while attending class. As I was working on my studies on one side of the country, her body was quickly deteriorating on the other. By October she had already been taken to the emergency room multiple times and had been admitted to the hospital for days at a time. There were evenings where planned phone calls were forgone because my father said they were rushing to the hospital. I would wait anxiously until I heard from him again, giving a sigh of relief when an update was finally sent. As her hospital trips became more frequent, I determined I needed to fly out to see her.
She was in the hospital when I arrived, and she had just decided she wanted to stop all active treatment and instead move to palliative care. I cried with her in her hospital room as we felt the weight of her imminent passing. My brother, his wife, and my grandmother all flew in over the next few days while she was still cognizant. We spent her last day together, talking to her and telling her what a difference she had made in so many lives. And then, she was gone.
After her memorial, I returned to my studies and tried to continue on with my life. My body was wracked with grief and overwhelmed. I struggled for quite some time to find a new normal for life without my mother. It was difficult, but through supportive friends, counseling, and a dependence on God, I began to find healing.
WHERE IS GOD IN THE FALL?
Since my mom’s death, people have asked me if I was ever upset with God. After all, my mother was a beloved woman. She was kind and compassionate and was a light to many. So why would a loving God allow this to happen to her? Why would He allow me to experience the pain of losing my mother? I must admit, though, that I was actually never upset with God. Yes, there were times I was angry at cancer and angry at the circumstance that my mother, myself, and my family were experiencing. I was angry and hurt that this was our story. But I was never angry with God. I was raised to view life through the lens of the great controversy story. I knew that “there was war in heaven” (Rev 12:7, KJV). I knew that the plague of sin had to spread across the world to ultimately demonstrate God’s fairness and Satan’s deceit. With this perspective, my mother’s death was a casualty of war. It was not the result of an inactive or uncaring God. It was simply the tragic result of living in this world of sin.
Throughout my grieving process in the wake of her death, I did not see God as cold and uncaring. I did not see Him as weak and unable to help. Rather, I experienced a God who grieves with His people. In the New Testament, Jesus is called Emmanuel, meaning “God with us” (Matt 1:23, ESV). The prophet Isaiah calls Jesus “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa 53:3, ESV), and Peter notes that God is “not wishing that any should perish” (2 Pet 3:9, ESV). God Himself despises the effects of sin, and He cries with us in the face of death. But we have a loving God who is also grieved by sin and who stands with us through our grief. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Ps 34:18, ESV).
“THE LORD IS NEAR TO THE BROKENHEARTED AND SAVES THE CRUSHED IN SPIRIT.” PS 34:18, ESV
In suffering, it can be very easy for us to place our focus on ourselves, others, or our circumstances. We may be tempted to blame others for our suffering or to blame ourselves for not doing something differently. “If only I had. . . ,” we may say. Or “If only he hadn’t. . .” We can get so caught up in the pain of suffering that we may find ourselves drifting away from God, when in fact He desires to be right with us, strengthening us and empathizing with us through our trials if we would only put our trust in Him. That was the experience of the psalmist Asaph, but we can see that he found a solution to his problem: “But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works” (Ps 73:28, ESV).
“. . . I HAVE MADE THE LORD GOD MY REFUGE . . .” PS 73:28, ESV
REACTIONS TO GOD AND THE FALL
Because pain and suffering are everyday experiences for humanity, and because they are uncomfortable and undesirable, every worldview seeks to explain the existence of suffering, or at least propose a way to inhibit it. Using Scripture as a guide, the explanation behind our miseries is clear. The reality of our world is that it is infested with evil as a result of the fall of Lucifer and the fall of Adam and Eve. Furthermore, even though suffering is commonplace in our lives, it makes sense that we disdain it because we ultimately were not created for it. Our Creator has always had desires of good for us. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (Jas 1:17, ESV). Even Jesus said, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt 7:11, ESV).
“IF YOU THEN, WHO ARE EVIL, KNOW HOW TO GIVE GOOD GIFTS TO YOUR CHILDREN, HOW MUCH MORE WILL YOUR FATHER WHO IS IN HEAVEN GIVE GOOD THINGS TO THOSE WHO ASK HIM!” MATT 7:11, ESV
There are some worldviews that acknowledge God and at the same time blame Him for all the evil that has poured out upon the earth. Some may suppose that maybe God is angry at them, and that is why this tragedy has happened. Or they may ask, “God, why have you done this?” There is even the phrase “act of God” used to describe a natural or unforeseen disaster. God is made out to be the cause of suffering. But when looking through the metanarrative of the great controversy, we can see that Satan is the arbiter of evil, and God’s character of love remains true. Some may suggest that while God does not directly bring evil and punishment upon people, His inaction to prevent suffering in fact demonstrates evil within His own heart. A point to note on this, however, is that God has the larger story in mind, beyond the small pieces we can see. Ellen G. White describes this loftier plot point:
Satan’s rebellion was to be a lesson to the universe through all coming ages, a perpetual testimony to the nature and terrible results of sin. The working out of Satan’s rule, its effects upon both men and angels, would show what must be the fruit of setting aside the divine authority. It would testify that with the existence of God’s government and His law is bound up the well-being of all the creatures He has made. Thus the history of this terrible experiment of rebellion was to be a perpetual safeguard to all holy intelligences, to prevent them from being deceived as to the nature of transgression, to save them from committing sin, and suffering its punishment.1
It is clear from Scripture and Ellen G. White that the source of evil originated in Lucifer’s heart of pride and resentment. This is ultimately what brought pain, calamity, and difficulty into the world. However, it is also clear that God desires our good and wants what is best for us. The greatest evidence for this can be seen when He sent His Son Jesus to rescue all of humanity. While the second act of the great controversy is dark under the shadow of sin, the third act is filled by the light of the Son. We will explore this part of the story in the next article.
1 Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1911), 499.
Joseph Kidder is professor of Christian Ministry and Discipleship at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, MI, USA.
Katelyn Campbell is an MDiv and MSW student at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, MI, USA.