For the past couple of weeks I’ve had a lingering question on my mind about 1 Corinthians 15:45-47. I think there is a general theme within the Christian culture that regards the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden as a depiction of what life was intended to be, but was not. In other words, I had looked at this story as the intended world. And then a couple weeks ago, a discussion arose about the old Adam and the new Adam from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:
“Thus it is written, ‘The first man Adam became a living being’; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. But it is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual. The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.”
It seems that Paul debunks this notion of the “intended world” of the Garden of Eden by suggesting that Adam, though he was the first man, was incomplete because he lacked the spiritual; “It is not the spiritual that is first but the natural, and then the spiritual,” (v.46). If this is the case, then it almost indirectly suggests God’s foresight in creating the world. If He knew that the Adam He was creating in Genesis 2 was still going to be incomplete, then wouldn’t that suggest He had a plan throughout it all anyway?
Another question that gets raised is a famous one that many agnostics have asked (and probably haven’t been satisfied with the answers): Why pain? If God is a loving God as the N.T. portrays and this is the same God of the Hebrew Bible, then why would He create a world fully knowing that pain would be wrought onto the people He created? This isn’t really a question that I intend to address here, but I find it closely tied in with creation. In this particular text of 1 Cor. 15:45-47, however, it hints at the possibility that God did not initially create a complete world. In other words, Adam’s world is not the intended world, but rather the foundation on which the completed world would eventually be built.
It seems to me that we as humans (especially Americans) desire a God that will give us what we want. For some, it’s an I-scratch-your-back-you-scratch-mine sort of theme where the man makes a “self-less” contribution to his local or national society, but then expects God to reward him for his great deed. In a very similar way, when we try to address the problem of pain in the world, we usually portray a God that will give us what we want. Pain is terrible and we don’t want it, therefore God should take it away. At least, this seems to be the reasoning. And yet all the while, we tend to forget that our God is not some sugar-daddy.
He does not go out of His way to spoil His children with riches and fame and every possible gratification. “Well, but doesn’t He love us?” Yes, He does; and that’s exactly why He doesn’t give in to our will. He’s God – He sees the broader picture in life and knows exactly what would happen if He did give us everything we wanted; we wouldn’t worship Him. We wouldn’t take delight in Him, we wouldn’t love Him, and we wouldn’t seek His comfort for the sake of being comforted. God doesn’t need any of us. But He wants to be with us.
Reading on in 1 Corinthians 15, I don’t find an answer to why God created an incomplete world that would quickly be filled with pain. Instead, I find a clue, a hint, a world that is arriving: “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven,” (v.49). The spiritual world has broken into the natural. Our pain emerges because these two worlds have collided and are waging a massive war. What we find in the risen Christ isn’t some magician, isn’t some genie in a bottle granting our every wish; He’s our King building His kingdom.
This post may have raised more questions than it answered and if so, then my job was done. The problem of pain is much more complex than we could really understand. It raises a lot of doubts and fears about believing in God and it has caused many to fall away from faith. But what I’ve seen in this passage in 1 Corinthians is a God with an elaborate plan. He built the physical, natural world with the natural beings of Adam and Eve. And ever since Jesus broke in, tied up the strong man, and began plundering the household, He has begun to build the spiritual world (Matt. 12:29).
We would be wise to trust what He’s doing and allow Him to continue His work.
To open the discussion, how do you answer the problem of pain? Or do you even try?