Bay Hills Church

East of Eden

This past Sunday, Bay Hills tackled the question, "Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?" The pastor who I tasked with answering that question, Pastor Terrence, skillfully parsed the opening chapters of Job to do so. I encourage you to give it a listen here:
The fact that we even have to answer this question should tell you a lot about our culture. Everything around us is advocating, selling, or promising something to eliminate your suffering. To be fair, we do this because we instinctively know that suffering is evil. In other words, simply put, we do not like to suffer.

In fact, we don't just abhor suffering. We don't even expect it anymore. This is a much bigger problem than our aversion to it. After all, we're not called to enjoy suffering, only to find joy in it (James 1:2). As our culture has become so proficient at mitigating it, avoiding it, victimizing it, and medicating it, we have grown accustomed to the perception of control that goes along with it, as well. Our modern context has, so to speak, trained us to believe if we do or have the right things, we can somehow bend the odds in our favor. In effect, making ourselves immune from suffering altogether. The Bible, however, has different thoughts on the matter:

"Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way..." —James 1:2a

Did you catch the modifying word? He said, when. Not if. God presumes suffering is coming your way. That's because it is. No amount of effort or expense can prevent that. And herein lies the problem. What, then, happens when a culture with distorted expectations of suffering is asked to deal with the God that presumes it?


We think, as we've been trained, that we can bend God to our will. Perhaps not with money or influence, but through good works and good intentions. We think God owes us. We think we're entitled to be exempt from life east of Eden. What do I mean by that? Let me explain:

"So the Lord God banished them from the Garden of Eden, and he sent Adam out to cultivate the ground from which he had been made. After sending them out, the Lord God stationed mighty cherubim to the east of the Garden of Eden." —Genesis 3:23-24a
After the debacle in Eden, Adam and Eve were sent to live east of Eden. This will become a theme. Notice:

"So Cain left the Lord’s presence and settled in the land of Nod east of Eden." —Genesis 4:16

After Cain killed his brother, he, too, was sent packing. In what direction? Once again, east. How about one more:

"As the people migrated to the east, they found a plain in the land of Babylon and settled there." —Genesis 11:2

Babylon, which was symbolic of everything that stood against God, was in which direction? East. I think I've made my point. Since Eden, God's people have been drifting east. In the Bible, eastward is a metaphor for movement away from Eden. Away from God. Away from a suffering-free environment. East is movement towards Babel (Babylon). Towards autonomy. Towards control. Ironically, towards suffering. When we suffer, our hearts tend to drift east, as well.

So why, then, do we expect East to be like Eden?

My whole life has been some form of suffering or another. Part of that suffering has been to love, care for, and watch my son in his suffering. In other words, to live life together east of Eden. A place where the people of God have been asked to expect to suffer and to do it together. That's what the word commiserate means. Literally, co-misery. Community can be defined this way: people living life together unsurprised by suffering together. That's what Peter was getting at:

"Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you." —1 Peter 4:12

I wanted to write this in the middle of this path of sorrow. In the middle of my son's suffering. I want to go on record when I don't know how things are going to turn out. Not on the other side of it when/if things are conveniently resolved. Because I know exactly what God is doing! I know exactly how He is repurposing this season! At least, in part. So let's look at that first verse, one last time, to understand what I mean:

"Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing." —James 1:2-4

As I said before, our culture instinctively knows that suffering is evil. That's because it is. However, we can be sure of no less than one way in which God repurposes that evil (because He's that good). It is to give us the very endurance we require to live in the land east of Eden.

"You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good..." —Genesis 50:20

You're going to need that endurance to make your way through this world. For the Christian, that way will eventually lead you west. Out of Babylon. Out of the wilderness. Out of sin and death. Out of suffering. But it begins with changing your expectations in this world and of our God. After all, when the Son of Man (Jesus) stepped into the land east of Eden, even He was not exempt. So why should you be?

"The Son of Man must suffer many terrible things." —Luke 9:22a

From the middle of my suffering and my son's bedside,

A song for the soul of those who suffer:

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Laurie - April 25th, 2023 at 2:29am

Thank you for your example for us all. Prayers for Tylet.

Laurie - April 25th, 2023 at 2:31am


Lleny - April 25th, 2023 at 10:12am

Thank you Pastor Allen for this loving reminder.

Connie Coburn - April 25th, 2023 at 10:42am

I hate suffering and I wish there wasn’t so much of it. I know God uses it for good and it grows our character to be more like Christ but I also struggle to find joy in it. Watching and being with those that are suffering is often unbearable. Trusting God in it and His will I choose too because He’s God and I am not. Love you Pastor and your family. Thank you for your sacrifice to lead and help others. God is always holding my right hand and never let’s go. He is holding your Son’s hand and you and your Family’s. I’ll be learning until God takes me home. Thank you for the article…The Holy Spirit is working!