-The Origin Of All Family Problems

What is the cause of human pain and suffering? Why do we have problems? These are common questions we all ask when we experience difficulties in our lives. However, the origin and nature of our problems do not emanate from God as we are often inclined to think.

“Then the eyes of both of them were opened.” Genesis 3:7

The Origin Of All Family Problems


The Context
What is the cause of human pain and suffering? Why do we have problems? These are common questions we all ask when we experience difficulties in our lives. However, the origin and nature of our problems do not emanate from God as we are often inclined to think. Rather they are the result of the original choices made by the first human beings. As such, our contemporary problems are no more or less than a manifestation of the problems experienced by the first family as described in the well-known account of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Let’s look at the context for their choices and examine the results in light of our contemporary human dilemmas.


The sequence of events leading up to the exercise of man’s freedom of choice involves: giving of life (Gen. 2:7); planting a garden with two specific trees in it, the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 2:8-9); placing the man in the garden (Gen. 2:15); establishing a boundary to govern his actions (Gen. 2:16).

Notice the inherent wisdom and knowledge of God in the way Adam is informed of the boundary which is established with the best interests of the man in mind (Gen. 2:16-17 NIV).

  • “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden.” God’s boundary stresses latitude not restriction.
  • “But you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” God’s boundary is specific, not vague or general, about expectations.
  • “For when you eat of it you will surely die.” God’s boundary is concrete about consequences, not mysterious or arbitrary. (Wise parents will follow this pattern in setting boundaries for their children.) Embedded in this boundary is a clear affirmation that human beings have freedom to choose. Otherwise no such boundary would have been necessary.

Following God’s instruction to Adam we have an indication of what has been called “original dysfunction” because God observed that it was “not good” for the man to be alone. So God corrected that problem by creating a suitable companion for Adam (Gen. 2:18,22). This brings us to Genesis 3.

The Origin Of Human Problems
We are informed in Genesis 3:6 that Adam and Eve chose to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil thus setting off a sequence of events that produces results in the form of four generic problem areas that every human being faces in life. These problems are launched into being by the phrase “then the eyes of both of them were opened” (v. 7). Thus began a “knowledge explosion” in which they got more information than they could effectively process, and the result was a permanent sense of vulnerability. Not only was sin introduced into Man’s being, but Man’s very nature was changed (Rom. 5:12-20). From that point on, the personality of human beings was reorganized around vulnerability rather than innocence, giving rise to the need for self-protection. So began the spiral of our human problems.

1. Problems From Within (Personal Problems). The first new knowledge Adam and Eve acquired was that they were naked (v. 7), and with that knowledge came the first negative human emotions creating the basis for evil thoughts and changing the very heart of man (Mt. 15:18-20). They were flooded with shame, anxiety, fear, guilt and embarrassment. They knew they were vulnerable and needed to cover up. Physically they created coverings of fig leaves, but psychologically they began to use what psychologists call “defense mechanisms” to protect themselves from their vulnerabilities. Ploys like denial, sublimation, repression, projection, displacement, rationalization, intellectualization and reaction-formation became standard means of covering up weaknesses. Psychological problems such as depression, low self-esteem, obsessive thoughts, compulsive behaviors, anxiety and a host of others that people experience and combat with prescribed drugs, became second nature to the human experience. I have often commented that the origin of my profession as a psychologist was established the moment “their eyes were opened.”

2. Problems Between People (Relationship Problems). Not only did Adam and Eve feel uncomfortable with themselves, but they also felt uncomfortable with each other. So they pulled back from each other producing problems in their relationship (marriage). No longer were they able to interact openly with one another without fear or discomfort. So began the interpersonal problems that we all experience. As a marriage counselor I have found that the biggest problems in marriage are issues of communication and intimacy. Spouses do not feel safe to open up to one another or do not know how to do so effectively. A successful marriage requires work and effort. It does not come easily. But Adam and Eve’s (and our) problems didn’t end there. They still had God to deal with.

3. Spiritual Problems (Hiding from God). “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as He walked in the garden” (v. 8). Their reaction was natural: “They hid from the Lord God.” None of us is all that eager to be in the presence of God in our natural condition. Henri Nouwen once noted that most of us hesitate going to God with our problems, because we are afraid if we get too close He may see more than we want Him to see, and challenge us to deal with more than we want to deal with. Adam and Eve now had the problem of how to relate to God, and on their own merit they could do nothing about it. It was up to God who sought them out with the question, “Where are you?” Notice the physical and psychological vulnerability in Adam’s reply: “I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” (v.10). To this day God seeks us out just as He sought out Adam and Eve. It is an issue we all must come to grips with because one way or the other our response to His invitation for relationship has eternal consequences (Rom. 6:23).

4. Life’s Realities (Coping With Life’s Circumstances). God is the consummate counselor for Adam and Eve’s problems. He responded with compassion and directness. First, He confronted Adam who faced his problems “like a man.” He blamed his wife (notice the self-protection). Actually he blamed both God and his wife: “The woman You put here with me – she gave me …” (v.12). He used one of the most destructive problem-solving strategies known to man – he blamed others to get out of taking responsibility for himself.

So God addressed Eve. Imagine Eve’s feelings about Adam who just saved his own neck instead of protecting her. She responded with another effort to defer responsibility. She tried to appease God by redirecting the focus to the serpent. She said, “The serpent deceived me and I ate …” (v.13). Maybe she thought she could get both of them off the hook if God got distracted by the serpent. It seemed to work, which may be why women tend to use the techniques of appeasing and placating in solving problems even when it means sacrificing their sense of identity and self-esteem.

God didn’t have to query the serpent. He knew that Satan is the “great distractor” whose mission is to deceive (1 Pet. 5:8; 2 Cor. 2:11; 11:14). So he informed the serpent prophetically of the inevitability of Christ’s birth, death and resurrection thereby instilling hope into the scenario and halting the downward spiral (v. 15). Then God proceeded to the consequences of their decision to eat of the tree. He told Eve she would experience pain in childbirth, and “your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you” (v. 16). Thus began the gender struggles known as the “battle of the sexes” – commonly raising an issue that is evident in male-female relationships to this very day.

I have often observed that the need for marriage counseling as a profession was established at that moment. God then turned to Adam and informed him that making a living would be “painful toil,” and that death would be inevitable (v. 17). So we have the realities of life as a struggle framed in perpetuity for all generations affecting each individual, every marriage and all families. Fortunately, the account does not end with a mere detailing of life’s problems.

God’s Resolution To Our Problems
God’s response to Adam and Eve was not confined to counsel and consequences. He provided resources and resolution to their (and our) contemporary and eternal problems. He gave them suitable clothing by providing garments of skin, thereby introducing the reality that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” of sins (Heb. 9:22). He signaled that His own Son would become the ultimate sacrifice for sins (1 Jn. 1:7; Rom. 3:22-25; Eph. 1:7, 2:13). Thus the “garments of skin” represent the eternal solution and the daily resources we need to resolve our problems. So as noted in Ecclesiastes 1:9-11, “There is nothing new under the sun.” And we have God’s Word assuring us that we will experience no problems, trials or temptations “except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Cor. 10:13). So just like for the first family, God is our resource and resolution whatever our problems.

By James P. Trotzer

With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA.



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