God made the first man and put him in the Garden of Eden. The man, Adam, enjoyed the perfect environment: no housing bubbles or global warming, no overcrowding or energy shortages. All was good, apparently.
Adam not only had the pleasure of living in the garden, he also had the responsibility of taking care of it. It was the perfect job: no unemployment or labor disputes. He didn’t even have to pay taxes or worry about his retirement account. He was free of worries, or so it seemed.
Religion was good for Adam, too. God gave him only one command. He was free to eat from every tree in the garden except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He only had one verse to memorize and obey. Who could ask for anything better?
So Adam had a beautiful home, a great job, and a simple religion. Nevertheless, God noted that something was not right. He said that it was not good for Adam to be alone. And God had the perfect solution.
First, animals appeared before Adam so that he could name them. Apparently this was God’s way of making Adam aware of his need, his loneliness. All the animals had mates but Adam did not. And none of the animals could serve as his closest companion.
Then God caused a deep sleep to come over Adam. While Adam slept, God took something from Adam’s side. Most English Bibles call it a rib. Rib or not, it was definitely part of Adam’s body.
God took the living tissue that he removed from Adam’s side and fashioned it into a woman, the first woman. He then closed up Adam’s side and presented the woman to him.
Adam was thrilled. “At last! This is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. She will be called woman because she was taken from man” (Genesis 2:23). Adam was no longer alone, problem solved.
But wait a minute. God performed surgery on Adam. Did that leave a scar? God closed him up but did he do so without leaving a mark? What place does a scar have in Paradise? After all, scars are echoes of pain and suffering, right?
And another thing: God could have made Adam and Eve at the same time, but he made Adam first, lacking his lover. Moreover, he sent Adam out on a search for a mate, knowing that his search would be unsuccessful. What is happening here?
Loneliness, failure, and scars are what we expect in the world today. Our world struggles with the tragic consequences caused by countless generations of rebellion against God. But why would God allow these things in the Garden of Eden, even just a little bit?
It’s clear; God made Adam incomplete. Adam was forced to change in order to become all that God wanted him to be. He needed the perfect helper made just for him, a woman, but he had to engage in a failed search first. He had to experience loneliness before he could appreciate her affection.
Then he had to trust God enough to give up a part of himself in order to have this mate. He really did have some “skin in the game!” And he had to put himself in God’s hands without seeing a picture of the woman first so that he could decide if she would be worth the trouble, the very first blind date.
Surely Adam’s struggle was far easier than the agony that people face now. After all, he was in Paradise. Human suffering now is far worse due to centuries of defiance against God. But it seems that God’s original design for humanity included some struggling for growth, even in Paradise.
If God’s surgery left a scar on Adam, then Adam was able to see his investment in Eve for the rest of his life. He could simply glance down at the mark on his side and remember that she cost him a bit of himself. That scar would be a good thing.
And even if Adam was not scarred from God’s surgery, he could remember the failed search for a mate, perhaps giving him his first sensation of anxiety. He had to realize that something important was missing in his life and that, apart from God, he was helpless to do anything about it.
Those who say that God never wishes for us to undergo any suffering are telling a half-truth. The whole truth is this: God does not want us to suffer meaninglessly. He does, however, desire that we experience real growth in our struggles.
If we mistakenly believe that God never allows us to suffer, then we will be tempted to conclude that our suffering is unnecessary, leading to despair. But when we trust that our suffering is used by God not to crush us, but to build us up, then we have hope. Our scars, be they physical, mental, or spiritual, are proof that we have a personal investment in growing stronger and wiser.
God’s greatest work resulted in scars. On the hands and side of Jesus are the permanent marks of the greatest victory in all of time and eternity: God’s salvation for all who will trust him completely.
Jesus obeyed God and suffered on a Roman cross. And for anyone who wishes to do things God’s way, Jesus challenges, “Let him take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). That leaves marks. That leads to eternal victory.
Richard Foster, Grace Baptist Church
Published by the Camden News in Religious Reflections April 21, 2013