‘If God created the world perfect, why is there so much disease within it?’
It is necessary to start by saying this question is not without theological explanation. Many orthodox believers consider disease and illness to have come about as a result of human rebellion from God (aka The Fall). This is the idea that when humans rejected God, they collectively became prone to moral evil – that is they began to mistreat and kill one another. But more than that: the world which was under their stewardship was also affected with the result that their idyl was lost as weeds made work toilsome and disease and illnesses ran riot across the earth until such time that humanity could be restored with God.
Now, the difficulty with this orthodox explanation is that the rational person finds the idea unsatisfactory in terms of the action of a loving God. Indeed, some might reason that if God knew how humans would fail and allow illness and death to enter the world, He should also be held culpable. After all, if God gave humans the task of stewardship, He must have known the irreparable damage that would happen to the environment should they fail in this endeavour. Author Harold Kushner observes the incidents recorded in Genesis 2 &3 with these words:
‘I can’t remember how old I was when I heard (the story) for the first time, but I can remember that, when I was still young, I found some aspects of it hard to understand or accept…Isn’t this a harsh punishment for one small mistake – pain and death. Banishment from Paradise, for breaking one rule. Is God really that strict? Why did God create a tree that He didn’t want anyone to eat from?
Was God setting up Adam and Eve so that he could punish them? Was the woman ever told of the prohibition, either by God or by Adam? Why is the story told in such a way as to make it seem that it was all the woman’s fault? What is the significance of the first humans being unashamed of their nakedness before they ate the forbidden fruit, and feeling shame immediately afterward?
And perhaps most troubling of all, if the forbidden tree was the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, does that imply that Adam and his mate had no knowledge of good and evil before they ate of it? If so, how could they have been expected to know that it was wrong to disobey God? And why were they punished if they had no sense of good and evil before they ate of it?’ (‘How Good Do We Have to Be?’ Harold S Kushner).
Today, the more rational among us would think it nonsense to believe the equilibrium of the physical, spiritual and moral world of humans might be affected through the consumption of an apple. That said, it is clear that our growing understanding of human activity in the world has and is resulting in changes to the environment in ways that are detrimental to health and wellbeing of ourselves and the creatures within it. However, this type of change is a long way removed from orthodox thinking of how the world is affected by a spiritual reality where illness and death have been introduced into it. True, human decisions do have outcomes for people in the world, like when rich nations prosper at the expense of the poor, but this is a different question altogether…