Suffering is no obstacle to joy; it is the necessary means

The following are lightly edited notes on Genesis 3:16 from my ESV Journaling Bible, Interleaved Edition.

3:16: “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing”: The occasion for greatest joy in life—the birth of a child—will now be accompanied by pain and suffering. This is emblematic of life in this fallen world. Joy is impossible to achieve apart from suffering.

Why do I so often forget this?

See, I usually consider suffering an obstacle to joy, rather than its necessary means. Suffering, I believe, disrupts the plans that I’ve made to achieve joy—as if my plans would have succeeded in the first place! But God’s plans for our joy will always succeed, provided we trust him.

But it won’t come easily—because “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life” (Matthew 7:14 KJV).

The very next sentence points to the reason: “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” As a result of sin, the relationship between man and woman, husband and wife, is no longer what God intends. The human being to whom we are closest and with whom we have greatest incentive to live in harmony will often strive against us.

And if this is true of our spouse, a flesh-and-blood person whom we can see, touch, and talk to, how much more true is it of our God? “Your desire will be contrary” to our Creator as well, as a necessary consequence of sin.

So what should a loving God do about it?

This quote from C.S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain is fitting:

When Christianity says that God loves man, it means that God loves man: not that He has some ‘disinterested’, because really indifferent, concern for our welfare, but that, in awful and surprising truth, we are the objects of His love. You asked for a loving God: you have one. The great spirit you so lightly invoked, the ‘lord of the terrible aspect’, is present: not a senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way, not the cold philanthropy of a conscientious magistrate, nor the care of a host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests, but the consuming fire Himself, the Love that made the worlds, persistent as the artists’s love for his work and despotic as a man’s love for a dog, provident and venerable as a father’s love for a child, jealous, inexorable, exacting as love between sexes. How this should be, I do not know: it passes reason to explain why any creatures, not to say creatures such as we, should have a value so prodigious in their Creator’s eyes. It is certainly a burden of glory not only beyond our deserts but also, except in rare moments of grace, beyond our desiring.[1]

To say the least, God is not a “host who feels responsible for the comfort of his guests.” He loves us enough to hurt us, or be willing that we suffer hurt, if it means our ultimate happiness.

1. C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: HarperOne, 1940; 1966), 39-40.

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