We’ve been grappling with this question this week at Creek Road as we think about the events described in Genesis 3 – the Fall – that moment of betrayal, treason, when Adam and Eve rejected God, turning their backs on his goodness and introducing sin into God’s good world. But if the Bible is God’s story – a story all about Jesus – was this God’s plan from the beginning? Did God intend sin? By intend we mean something like the dictionary definition – “design or destine something for a particular purpose” – we’re asking was sin part of God’s purpose for the world, and as such, did God create sin?
This question, or various versions of it, have vexed smarter people than us for thousands of years. It’s a good question. It’s a particularly difficult question to answer for those of us who have a very big view of God, a view of God that sees God as infinitely present, and infinitely powerful, while also being infinitely good.
This is the God we believe in. Infinitely powerful, infinitely in control.
The short version of our answer is that God could not create or intend sin because the character, intentions, and actions of God define goodness in the universe he created.
God created a good world (not a perfect world) to be redeemed and perfected by Jesus, intending the defeat of sin and any possibility of its hold on humanity.
There’s an important distinction, that people have made when answering this question in the past, between God, in his infinite power, intending or creating sin and God permitting others to sin in order to achieve his purpose – the perfection of the world and humanity through Jesus.
You’ll have to keep reading to see how we get to this answer.
How powerful is God?
The God of the Bible was not surprised by sin, and he is not defeated by sin. He wins. But we’ll see that this does not mean he creates sin himself.
When the Apostle Paul talks about God to a bunch of Greek philosophical types (you can read the story in Acts 17) he says the Christian God, as opposed to the gods these philosophers worship, is very big and not able to be kept in a container (unlike their idol statues). He says that everything that is alive lives ‘in him’ – there is no container bigger than God. God cannot be contained by us, instead – he contains us.
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill.” – Acts 17:24-29
People confronted with this picture of God often have questions about how this God matches up with the world we live in. Questions like:
- How can such a God allow sin, or evil?
- How can such a God create a world where sin, or anything bad or broken exists?
- And if that doesn’t seem possible, then did God create or intend sin, evil, or badness?
These are good questions, but often they rely on a particularly modern and western way of grappling with truth. We’re not particularly comfortable with ideas that seem to compete with each other, or contradict each other. We want clarity, and resolution, not paradoxes or tensions. But one of the things about being an infinite God is that you are able to create paradoxes. There are plenty of paradoxes at the heart of Christianity – the Trinity (God being one God in three persons), the simultaneous full humanity and full divinity of Jesus, the simultaneous full human and divine authorship of the Bible. This is one more paradox.
A Paradox: God’s will and our will
There’s a paradox here that we need to wrestle with – a paradox is where two things are true but seem to contradict each other, and while our modern tendency is to try to resolve paradoxes, one of the cool things about a truly omnipotent God is that he is able to create things that appear to be paradoxes to our finite minds. The paradox here is – if God is infinitely good, and infinitely in control, and sin happens, why are Adam and Eve held responsible for the introduction of sin and death into his world, not God?
“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” – Romans 5:12
“For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” – 1 Corinthians 15:21-22
In the story of Genesis, Adam and Eve definitely made a conscious decision to reject God, creating sin. But did the infinitely powerful God intend this to happen? And, as such, did God create sin?
Part of sitting with this paradox is understanding that there’s a difference between God creating sin, and God knowing that sin will happen and permitting sin (in order to use it to achieve his intentions for the world). This is a distinction the Westminster Confession – a document that outlines our approach to the story of the Bible – makes clear.
“Adam and Eve, the parents of the human race, were deceived by the subtlety of Satan and sinned by eating the forbidden fruit. It pleased God, according to his wise and holy plan, to permit this sin of theirs, since he had purposed to direct it to his own glory.” – Westminster Confession of Faith 6.1
The Westminster Confession has a couple of other relevant bits to add to this discussion.
“God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.”– Westminster Confession of Faith 3.1
“The almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God so far manifest themselves in His providence, that it extends itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men; and that not by a bare permission, but such as has joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, and otherwise ordering, and governing of them, in a manifold dispensation, to His own holy ends; yet so, as the sinfulness thereof proceeds only from the creature, and not from God, who, being most holy and righteous, neither is nor can be the author or approver of sin.”– Westminster Confession of Faith 5.4
Hopefully the rest of this piece will help us explore these ideas and see how they fit with the story of the Bible.
God is good
People who question God’s goodness, or power, because sin, or evil, exist often start with interesting definitions of God, and of ‘goodness.’
As humans, we tend to try to design and define God according to our standards – making gods in our image (like the Greeks from Acts 17). We think of good in terms of “good for people” and we project these standards of good into the universe expecting that what is good for people is the universal standard of good, and then we take this standard and use it to measure God’s goodness.
But if God created us, and God is infinitely powerful and knowledgeable and we are finitely powerful and knowledgeable, then it should be God’s standards that define what good is.
God’s nature defines ‘goodness’ – that’s part of what being the God who creates the universe entails. It’s part of being God. If good is defined by something or someone outside of God then God is not the Supreme Being in the universe, he is, instead, able to be held to account against this other concept of good. God needs to define what good is, or he is not God.
God defines good, not by writing down a list of right and wrong (that would make God something like Santa Claus), but by being the source of any definition of, or understanding of what good is. He made a good world by his good word. He spoke good words to humanity that we find in the pages of our Bible. And his good word became human, Jesus. In Jesus the good God provides us with the ultimate living example of the perfectly good, sinless, life. In Jesus, God demonstrates sacrificial love, to the point of giving up his own life, in order to ultimately defeat evil.
The Bible says heaps about God’s relationship to goodness. Some points of interest are when a guy approaches Jesus (Mark 10) because he thinks Jesus is a good teacher (but just a man) and that he (the guy) is a good person. Jesus responds to this bloke in a way that helps us understand that he is both good, and God, that those qualities go together.
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.” – Mark 10:9
Other than the example of Jesus, one of the best places for us to look to understand God’s goodness is in the Psalms (which also help us to understand how good Jesus is). Many of the Psalms rely on understanding God as the source of goodness as the basis for receiving his love, mercy, and justice – or the good things that flow out of a good God. So we read things like:
- “according to your love remember me,for you, Lord, are good. Good and upright is the Lord.” (Psalm 25:7-8)
- “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” (Psalm 34:8)
- “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” (Psalm 106:1)
- “You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees.” (Psalm 119:68)
God’s character defines everything he creates and intends. God does not create things that aren’t consistent with his character. We see this in the Bible’s description of the creation of the world – where over and over again God calls the things he has made “good.” God reveals this goodness in what he does – in the good world that he made, and ultimately in the person of Jesus.
And what is good for us to do, as humans, as creatures made by the good creator, won’t always be defined by what God does as God. We aren’t God. When we’re defining what is good for us we define it from our perspective as finite people. We can’t run around behaving as though we are infinitely powerful. We don’t have a ‘smite’ button on our keyboard. We can’t send plagues on people who disobey us. Nor should we. From a human perspective, it is possible to be good without God – to do good things for other people, but when God is part of the picture we have of the world, he has to define what is truly, and eternally, ‘objectively’ good.
Luckily, God tells us what is good, and he doesn’t just tell us. He provides us with the perfect human template to work off, the perfect example, Jesus. Jesus, in his full humanity, provides the model of human goodness. And we see that especially in the way he loves others at cost to himself. Goodness is cross-shaped.
The cross is the ultimate demonstration of God’s character. It’s the pinnacle moment of him revealing himself, and the definition of goodness, to humanity.
This is a slight tangent from the question we’re answering – but hopefully these threads will come together. God is good by his nature of being God. What is good is what is aligned with God’s character. There is no good that is properly defined by something outside of God. There is no universal moral rule that does not come from the God who made the universe. A God who is subject to a definition of good outside of himself is not a God, but is a subject to that definition.
Our definitions of good are all too small and insignificant if they don’t start with the infinite God who creates and sustains the universe (just as our definitions of any good qualities like love, and joy, and beauty are missing something if we don’t start with God), and our definitions of good are far too small if they don’t include the example of Jesus.
Sin is ‘not good’ so ‘not of God’
If God by his very nature creates and defines ‘good,’ then it is not possible for God to create sin. Instead. Sin, or evil, is what we call things that are “not good” or not of God.
Sin is to Godliness what death is to life. God creates life, and goodness. Sin and death are what result when people turn their backs on God’s goodness. The perverted flipside of the good things God creates.
God’s infinite nature means he breaks that old rule you might have learned in physics, Newton’s Third Law, which often gets exported into other types of thought (like karma), that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. God creates good, and his goodness is eternal. We create evil, and our evil is finite. Evil isn’t the equal and opposite reaction to good. Those who oppose God are never equal with him, in power or presence.
So our meagre human attempts at defining good for ourselves, apart from how God defines them, will always fail. And sin – stuff that is not from God, stuff that humans create – because it is finite, has a limit, and can be defeated. It ends. Unlike goodness that will last for eternity because God is eternal. We’ll see below this has been God’s plan from the beginning.
Good wins. God wins. God wins, defeating sin and death, at the cross of Jesus. This is where good ultimately triumphs over evil, where God’s intention for the world and for sin, culminates in the beginning of the end of sin.
As we’ll see below, God did not create or intend sin so much as he intended the defeat of sin and the perfection of his creation – including the perfection of humanity. When we turn to follow Jesus, when God’s Holy Spirit starts transforming us to be more like Jesus we start doing things that are much closer to good for the first time. We are recreated. Something in our nature shifts as we become more like God, not because we become godlike or divine, but because we become more like Jesus, the perfect human.
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
When we try to live apart from God, good is impossible, it is only when God lives in us, by his Spirit, that we are able to do good at all.
Did God create sin?
God did not ‘create’ sin, because he cannot, because sin is the very opposite of God’s character. God is infinitely perfect and good, and, by definition Sin is a negative – the absence of good – it is “not good” and “not of God,” because as we’ll see below, God defines goodness.
God is infinitely perfect and good. Sin can only exist when God chooses to create something else, something other than him. Something finite. Something finite that then rejects his goodness, moving away from God, choosing to do “not good.” Sin exists because God did create something – he created the world, and he created humanity. Humans who were not infinite, who did not share God’s essence (while owing our existence to him, and existing in his world), and who turned our backs on God, trying to live as though we are God (and as though we define good for ourselves). In doing this we introduced evil, and sin, and death – the opposites of God’s good creation.
“When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” – James 1:13-15
Creating the environment in which sin occurred, and even giving life, and breath, and ‘being’ to everyone in the world does not make God culpable for creating sin, because the very definition of sin is not being Godly.
God creates good, he can’t possibly be the creator of evil. Even though he does not create sin – God uses human sin – broken things that we do – to achieve this purposes. When God touches sin and brokenness, it is transformed. Both in the lead up…
“But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” – Genesis 50:19-21
And when it comes to the climax of the story – the crucifixion of Jesus.
“Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. – Acts 2:22-24
Did God intend sin? It’s all about Jesus.
God did not create sin, he did not intend sin, he was not surprised by sin, but his plan from before the foundation of the world was to create and redeem a perfect inheritance for Jesus via the defeat of sin.
“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” – Colossians 1:15-20
This is the story of the Bible. This is how the Bible brings together God’s goodness and the existence of sin and death. God intended the defeat of sin (and death), from before the creation of the world. Before humans sinned. God intended that defeat of sin and death to be Jesus’ crowing moment. God intended this victory to be good. To be cross-shaped. And he intended this victory, and its fruits, to be something that a newly perfected humanity will enjoy forever if we follow Jesus, his son, as our king.
The Bible consistently tells us that God has a plan, a plan for the world, a plan for Jesus, a plan for humanity, and a plan that was set in place before he made the world
Remember the former things, those of long ago;
I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is none like me.
I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.’
From the east I summon a bird of prey;
from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose.
What I have said, that I will bring about;
what I have planned, that I will do.
Listen to me, you stubborn-hearted,
you who are now far from my righteousness.
I am bringing my righteousness near,
it is not far away;
and my salvation will not be delayed.
I will grant salvation to Zion,
my splendor to Israel. – Isaiah 46:9-13
Revelation (which we’ll be looking at in Term 4) makes it clear that God’s plans involved “the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world.” (Revelation 13:8).
He was slain to redeem us – and this was also planned before the creation of the world.
“ For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” – 1 Peter 1:18-20
This redemption that Jesus wins for us – his victory over sin and death – involves us. And it involves us being treated as perfectly good – holy and blameless. Because of Jesus and his perfect goodness.
”No, we declare God’s wisdom, a mystery that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.” – 1 Corinthians 2:7
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love hepredestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ” – Ephesians 1:3-5
Our series this term is all about this story – it’s all about God’s plan for his world. It’s all about Jesus. The answer to the question about God’s relationship to sin is also all about Jesus. The world God made is all about Jesus. God created a good world, knowing that sin would happen, without creating sin. God intended the defeat of sin and the redemption and perfection of his world – including the people who become part of his family. This redemption and perfection is what makes the world all about Jesus. That is what God intended.