On The Origin Of Sin And Evil
Posted by Job on August 24, 2009
It is a vexing question for Christians: the origin of evil. If God did not create evil, is not the author of evil, and does not tempt with evil, why does evil exist? Where did it come from? And why did God not prevent or destroy it? Why did man (and Satan) fall, and why did God not act to prevent it?
To begin to answer these questions, we must not start with evil and sin. Instead, we must start with holiness. Jesus Christ Himself stated that there is none holy but God in a statement recorded in each of the synoptic gospels: Matthew 19:17, Mark 10:18, and Luke 18:19. Making this statement of Jesus Christ even more unusual is the context, in which He appeared to be deflecting the statement of the rich young ruler who was assigning this attribute to Him. Jesus Christ did so not to deny His own holiness or His deity, but rather because the rich young ruler did not recognize His deity. The rich young ruler did not approach Jesus Christ with the mind and heart that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, but instead as if he were approaching just another rabbi. So, Jesus Christ told the rich young ruler not to credit any man with having a divine attribute, that is something belonging only to God. So clearly only God is holy.
What, then is holiness? Holiness for the purposes of this exercise is total separation from and lack of sin or evil. Sin and evil, therefore, is that which God is unconditionally separate from and as a result is hated and rejected by God … that which has no portion with God and God has no portion with it. Further, being sovereign, God has the sole right to determine what is sin and what isn’t, including but certainly not limited to defining by His command, including declaring sin to be the breaking of His command. Thus, it is necessary and sufficient to say that Adam fell simply by doing something that God told him not to do. God being Adam’s creator and sovereign had every right to give Adam commands and to punish Adam for not keeping them. Thus, there had to be nothing inherently wrong or evil about eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil (i.e. nothing intrinsically wrong with the tree itself that made it sinful to eat) in order for God to convict Adam of sin and thereby condemn him for eating it. Adam’s doing something that God told him not to do was enough in and of itself. And by the mere act of disobeying God, Adam demonstrated that he did not live up to God’s standard of holiness.
This should not surprise anyone. Indeed, it is inevitable. No one can live up to God’s standard of holiness but God. In order to live up to God’s standard of holiness, one has to be eternal, omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent. Any entity lacking those qualities will eventually inevitably fall into corruption. This has to happen, this will happen because of the limited nature of created things. For example, consider moral agents. Even in the absence of original sin, a created moral agent will fail to always behave perfectly because of the lack of perfect knowledge – that is omniscience – required to do so. Even if this moral agent were given perfect knowledge – or at the very least the sufficient knowledge required to function in a limited arena – the moral agent would lack the perfect will or desire to use this knowledge in the right way. Not knowing the consequences of one’s actions (and by this I mean the consequences that every single action will have for all time) alone is something that prevents a limited being from being eternally holy, because to be eternally holy by definition means being free of limitation. (I am not stating that the sole cause of the lack of holiness is a lack of knowledge – which teeters on gnosticism – but a lack of knowledge can certainly cause a lack of perfection. Adam possessed all of the knowledge required not to sin, but he still sinned because he was limited in otherwise.)
Again, this is holiness and the absence from evil according to God’s perspective, not according to man’s religious, theological, or philosophical standards. Man cannot even comprehend the holiness of God, and what limited knowledge that we have of these things is due to what God has graciously revealed to us for the purpose of making Himself known to us and drawing us to Him. Thus, the only conclusion is that to create moral agents – man and angels – was to create beings would inevitably sin due to their limited nature and their ability to act on that nature in a way that would fail to live up to God’s standards.
Does this make God the creator or author of evil? God forbid. Creation was perfect and sinless when God accomplished it … God declared it to be “very good” in Genesis 1:31. The Hebrew word translated “good”, which is “towb”, does not only mean physically and structurally sound or pleasant (though this is certainly the case) but also morally or ethically good, such as that which Jesus Christ bore witness of to the rich young ruler. So by God calling creation “good”, it meant that creation possessed an original holiness or righteousness. There was not an evil thing present in creation at this time. So what of Satan? Ezekiel 28:15 tells Satan: “Thou [wast] perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee.” Similar to “towb”, the Hebrew word “tamilyn”, translated perfect, has moral meanings i.e. sound, wholesome, unimpaired, innocent, having integrity, what is complete or entirely in accord with truth and fact. The word “tamilyn” is also translated as “perfect” when describing the ways of God in such places as Deuteronomy 32:4 and Psalm 18:30. So, iniquity was not created as part of Satan, but rather Satan, by making use of his own moral agency, generated his own iniquity.
And why did Satan use his own moral agency to fall, as well as the other angels who joined him in rebellion? The answer is in 1 Timothy 5:21, which is that Satan and his demons were not elect. Being created in a state of original innocence but unable to attain eternal absolute holiness by virtue of being so limited as a created being, Satan and his demons used their free agency to fall. The angels who did not join Satan in his rebellion were prevented by doing so not by the purity of their own moral agency, for they were subject to the same limitations as Satan. Instead, they did not join Satan only because God prevented them, because God preserved and sustained them with His power. In short, the angels did not fall because they were elect, and they did not elect themselves but rather God elected them.
So is God responsible for the sins of Adam, Satan, and all who followed them by failing to elect them? God forbid. Claiming such a thing would deny the meaning of moral agency. To use a very imperfect illustration: consider parents and their children. Consider the case of parents who do all that they possibly can for their children, including providing loving stable homes, discipline, food and shelter, education, and religious training, yet for all their efforts their children turn out rotten anyway. Are the parents to blame? Of course not. What is more, even in the case of parents who are much less responsible and honorable in the treatment of their children, it is acknowledged by society (and more important it is ackonwledged in the Bible) that the adult children of parents make their own decisions and are responsible for them. So, if parents are not held accountable for the moral decisions of their children, how much less is God responsible for the moral agency of humans and angels? Charging the sin of humans and angels to God is claiming that God was the author of evil for accomplishing creation in the first place, and therefore God was not within His rights to perform creation. Of course, that denies God’s position as sovereign. This is the common human error of allowing God a degree of relative sovereignty. This is the type of sovereignty afforded to human kings or nations, and is necessary because A) human kings and nations have limitations and B) such entities have to coexist with other kings and nations. This is not the case with God, as He has no limitations to His knowledge or power, and He is the Unique God, there are no other gods beside Him, so He does not need to coexist or share His dominion or glory with anyone.
Thus, God had the absolute right to accomplish creation, and being holy the work of His hands (which He does not despise! Job 10:3) creation was sinless and innocent in its original state, with God being solely responsible for its original innocence. The fall of moral agents into sin due to their own actions was their own responsibility, and not in any way blamed on God or chargeable to God in a way that is similar (again in a very limited and imperfect fashion) to how the waywardness of children is not blamed on their righteous parents. (As an example, consider that the prophet Samuel’s children did not walk in his path, a fact that was never blamed on Samuel by scripture. Also, even the fact that the priest Eli’s sons were wicked were not blamed on Eli. Instead, God only charged Eli for failing to attempt to restrain – that is discipline – his evil sons!) So, the issue is God’s knowing that His moral agents – if left to their own devices – would fall. However, there is a great difference between knowing that something will happen and being responsible for it happening. People who claim that God’s knowing that created moral agents would fail is the same as causing moral agents to fail are simply looking for an excuse to accuse God so that they may justify their own sins. Amazingly, certain Christians – responding to an argument that is false and dishonest on its face – attempt to claim that God did not know that His moral agents would fail and simply reacted when they did. Not only does this notion deny God’s omniscience, but it goes further, implying that God would somehow be unaware of the effects of the limitations of man and angels until He saw these limitations in action. This is the (increasingly popular) heresy of open theism.
Some argue that God’s failure to universally prevent His limited creation from corruption as He does with elect angels (and as He will with His elect humans in heaven) makes Him responsible for evil. Again, that is denial of the true meaning of responsibility and moral agency, a position taken by sinful man to justify his own evil. Proof that this position is sinful is that it was the first excuse made by Adam after the fall! When God asked Adam the reason for his sin, Adam replied in Genesis 3:12 “And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat.” In other words, Adam attempted to claim that God caused or at least tempted him to commit evil by giving him Eve, so therefore God was either responsible or shared in the responsibility by giving him Eve to begin with. God did not so much as dignify Adam’s accusation with a response, and neither should we dignify those who claim that God caused the fall of mankind and angels by not using a policy of universal election. Instead, it is well within the prerogative of a sovereign God to elect and predestine according to his own desires. Those who are not elected do not perish because of God’s being the cause of their evil state, for God made creation in a state of original innocency. Instead, those who are not elected perish because of their own sin. God does not predestine people to wrath. Quite the contrary, and against the error of double predestination advocated by Theodore Beza and similar, it is not God’s will that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9). Instead, what happens is that those whom God does not intervene on their behalf fall into sin of their own accord. As Romans 1:18-32 states, God gives such people up to their own evil, and they are without excuse. Were God to be blamed in any way for not practicing universal election, Romans 1:18-32 would be demonstrably false, and moreover God would have been compelled to respect Adam’s accusation against Him in the Garden of Eden with “You know, you are right. You will go unpunished.” God forbid that this should be so! Instead, rather than charging God with unfairness for not practicing universal election, it is totally, thoroughly the work of wholly unmerited grace from God that any part of creation is saved at all. (Please note: this is not some Pelagian denial of original sin which states that man is condemned not through Adam but instead is condemned upon the commission of the first sin. Incidentally, that is what some forms of hyper-Arminianism and hyper-Wesleyanism holds, but such positions deny the epistle to Romans and similar. Instead, this only explains why the sin of Adam was inevitable, and God’s placing Adam in a perfect environment and giving him only a single command for which he had no reason whatsoever to break is proof of this.)
An imperfect but still workable illustration of this is given by Will Metzger in his book on evangelism Tell The Truth. Suppose that a baker were to make a batch of cookies that for whatever reason were flawed: too much or too little sugar, overcooked, flawed ingredients, etc. Are you to blame for making the cookies in the first place? Of course not, it is your kitchen, you can make whatever you want in it. Are you obligated to save or use all of the cookies? Of course not, they’re your cookies. You made them with your own labor in your own kitchen with your own ingredients. The cookies have no case against you and no say concerning their fate, and – being the only cook – no one else has any say either. You did nothing wrong in making the cookies, you do nothing wrong by discarding them on account of the cookies being flawed. But what if you decide to keep some of the cookies? If they aren’t sweet enough, you put icing on them. If they are burned, you scrape the bottom and the edges off. How many? Its your decision. Which? Again, your decision. Are you wrong or unfair for keeping only some and not sparing all? Says who? Again, you own these cookies and you get to decide that happens to them, and saving any of a batch of bad cookies shows your patience and willingness to overlook faults as a cook. (As well as being someone who REALLY likes cookies.) Again, claiming that the cook is unrighteous for baking in the first place or for saving some of the cookies but not all would be considered absurd. After all, the chef’s prerogative, right? So why do we deny this same prerogative to God? It is true, humans are more valuable than cookies. But it is equally true that God is more valuable than human chefs! Now of course this illustration is imperfect, for our sins are not due to such things as using flawed ingredients or leaving us in the oven too long; were any such thing the case it would be possible to state that God is the author of evil. Instead, this illustration only explains why God cannot be charged with evil because of performing creation and of not practicing universal election.
Thus, it was because of inherent limitations that sin was inevitable for man and angels. And it is only because of the loving grace of our Sovereign Creator God who lacks such limitations (and therefore is in a position and has the ability and prerogative to dispense such grace) that any humans and angels are spared eternal destruction. Praise and glory be to our righteous and loving God for He is worthy to be praised! Honor Him and give Him glory, for His rule is over all and shall last forever!