The world is filled with sin. There is absolutely no denying sin’s presence on every channel and in every selfie. We know sin is here, but where did sin begin? This is a difficult question. “Man proceeded spotless from God’s hand; therefore, he may not shift the blame for his sins to the Creator” (Calvin, Institutes). Sin is the desire for something less than God the ultimate good or a perversion of good. God made mankind and all his creation good, but creation was still creation and not divine. Being less than God, sin was a possibility. So God “made man upright, but they have sought out many inventions” (Eccl. 7:29).
Sin did not begin in the Garden of Eden. Before there was ever sin in the Garden, there was sin in Heaven. This does not make our search for the origin of sin any easier at all, so we will just have to embrace the mystery and recognize what we have been told in Scripture which is our only sure guide.
God has revealed that angels sinned in Heaven. 2 Peter 2:4 says, “God didn’t spare the angels who sinned but cast them into hell and delivered them in chains of utter darkness to be kept for judgment.” Jude 6 teaches, “the angels who did not keep their own position but abandoned their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains in deep darkness for the judgment on the great day.” Perhaps the Devil first sinned because of his own pride and that pride is why we are warned that elders should not be installed while they are young in the faith lest they “fall into the same condemnation as the Devil” (1 Tim. 3:6).
God has not told us what led Satan and the angels who followed him to sin. We can know that God was not responsible for sin then and is not responsible for sin now.
Scripture vindicates God and presents a continuous theodicy when it proclaims and maintains that God is in no way the cause of sin. He, Scripture says, is righteous, holy, far from wickedness (Deut. 32:4; Job 34:10; Ps. 92:15; Isa. 6:3; Hab. 1:13), a light in whom there is no darkness (1 John 1:5); he tempts no one (James 1:13), is an overflowing fountain of all that is good, immaculate, and pure (Ps. 36:9; James 1:17). He prohibits sin in his law (Exod. 20) and in the conscience of every human (Rom. 2:14–15), does not delight in wickedness (Ps. 5:4), but hates it and demonstrates his wrath against it (Ps. 45:7; Rom. 1:18). He judges it and atones for it in Christ (Rom. 3:24–26), cleanses his people from it by forgiveness and sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30) and, in the event of continued disobedience, wills to punish it with both temporal and eternal penalties (Rom. 1:18; 2:8).
God cannot be tempted with evil and cannot tempt us with evil. God did not tempt the angels to sin. We do not know why they sinned. This will continue to be a mystery which we must accept. We do know that they did sin and the consequence for that sin was to be cast out of God’s garden temple.
We are much more familiar with sin’s human origin story. The story of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin is a real event and one of the most important and most popular stories ever told. The history of mankind began as God spoke every physical reality into existence and declared that it was all very good (Gen. 1:31). God’s creation was not evil. God’s creation was not sinful. God’s creation was not bad. It was from God and God himself said it was good. The perfection of God and the goodness of creation sets us up for the next step in history.
Things were good, but then things were not. Where there was peace, strife entered. The warm and open fellowship with God was replaced was people who were naked and afraid. Satan entered the Garden and began his tragic career as the tempter of God’s people. He accuses God’s people (Rev. 12:10). He is “a liar and the father of lies” (Jn. 8:44).
Satan’s use of the serpent led all serpents to be “cursed above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life” (Gen. 3:14). There was an enmity placed between Satan and the woman (Gen. 3:15a). There was also the promise “he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15c). Women have multiplied pain in childbearing and their desire is for or contrary to their husbands and their husbands have an increased rule over them (Gen. 3:16). Work is increasingly difficult and often futile (Gen. 3:17-19).
We know the twofold origin of this sin in the Garden. The first sin originated in the Tempter’s allurement and the human ability to do evil. “In his deceptive speech, Lucifer makes himself sound like he is more interested in their welfare than God, but his ultimate aim is to make them his image-bearers rather than God’s.” Satan challenged God’s word when he asked, “Did God really say” (3:1). He challenged God’s promise when he said, “You will certainly not die” (3:4). He challenged God’s character when he said, “God knows that when you eat it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (3:5).
The first problem was that Adam did not immediately kick Satan out of the Garden as soon as he was detected. “The commission given to Adam and Eve above all else was to “work” and “keep” the sanctuary (Ge 2:15; the same verbs used in the commission given to the priests in the Jerusalem temple). Instead of cleansing God’s temple-garden as God’s faithful servant and son, Adam entertained Satan himself and failed to protect Eve from his influence.”What an incredible lesson for us. All those direct temptations could have been avoided if Satan was directly kicked out of the Garden. We must forever be killing sin or sin will be killing us.
There is nothing new under the sun or with Satan’s schemes of which we are not ignorant. We are continually attacked with the same questions first posed to Grandmother Eve. “In every subplot of the Bible we discover echoes of this trial of the covenant servant in the cosmic courtroom.” As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:
“Did God say?”, that plainly is the godless question. “Did God say,” that he is love, that he wishes to forgive our sins, that we need only believe him, that we need no works, that Christ has died and has been raised for us, that we shall have eternal life in his kingdom, that we are no longer alone but upheld by God’s grace, that one day all sorrow and wailing shall have an end? “Did God say,” thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not bear false witness … did he really say it to me? Perhaps it does not apply in my particular case? “Did God say,” that he is a God who is wrathful towards those who do not keep his commandments? Did he demand the sacrifice of Christ? I know better that he is the infinitely good, the all-loving father. This is the question that appears innocuous but through it evil wins power in us, through it we become disobedient to God … Man is expected to be judge of God’s word instead of simply hearing and doing it.
Paul wrote, “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). Satan has attacked the inspiration and authority of Scripture—Did God really say?; Satan challenges God’s promises—will we really die? Will we really live?; do we get to determine right and wrong or is that God’s sole prerogative? Adam and Eve were immediately aware of the sentence of death which was upon them (Gen. 2:17). Christians are aware of Jesus who is both Savior (Jn. 3:16) and Judge (Jn. 5:22).
Mankind was created good, but people are easily influenced to sin. Ecclesiastes 7:29 says, “God created mankind upright, but they have gone in search of many schemes.” Sin is able to arise because of mankind’s ability to sin. Calvin said, “Adam could have stood if he wished, seeing that he fell solely by his own will. But it was because his will was capable of being bent to one side or the other, and was not given the constancy to persevere, that he fell so easily.” Because he is perfect in every possible good way, God cannot sin (Js. 1:13). This leads to interesting discussions on whether or not Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, could have sinned on earth. His human nature could have felt temptation, but his deity, joined in the one person (hypostasis) of Christ, would not have allowed the temptation. Angels can sin, and many have sinned. Humans, as we know, are able to sin and have always been able to sin. Since humans are not perfect, humans will always have the ability to sin.
Adam was, apparently, created with moral knowledge as God’s image bearer and ruler over the creation. With this moral ability, there comes moral responsibility. Before the first sin in the Garden, Adam and Eve, unlike God, were already able to sin. Adam and Eve initiated the pattern found in James 1:14-15, “But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.”
Why would God allow sin to take place? This is the most mysterious question, but we should embrace the mystery and trust in God’s goodness. The secret things yet belong to him. However, we can know that God created mankind with the ability to choose.
Therefore God provided man’s soul with a mind, by which to distinguish good from evil, right from wrong; and, with the light of reason as guide, to distinguish what should be followed from what should be avoided. For this reason, the philosophers called this directing part τὸ ἡγεμονικόν. To this he joined the will, under whose control is choice. Man in his first condition excelled in these pre-eminent endowments, so that his reason, understanding, prudence, and judgment not only sufficed for the direction of his earthly life, but by them men mounted up even to God and eternal bliss. Then was choice added, to direct the appetites and control all the organic motions, and thus make the will completely amenable to the guidance of the reason.
Since mankind was created with the ability to choose, mankind’s choice to submit to God or to rebel against God seems to be that forefront of why God would allow sin to exist. God has made the universe a place where he may either be chosen or rejected.
The responsibility for sin remains with humans. God does not lead people to sin. God cannot sin. His perfect nature will not allow it. Creatures, however, are not perfect and are able to sin. Augustine said, “there is no unchangeable good but the one, true, blessed God; that the things which He made are indeed good because from Him, yet mutable because made not out of Him, but out of nothing.” Humans often choose sin rather than God. This choice of a lower good or the perversion of good, rather than God who is the ultimate and perfect good, is sin. Augusine said, “not to adhere to God, is manifestly a fault.” The universe is, as John Keats said, something like “a vale of soul making.” If we could modify this a bit, we might say that the universe is a theater in which God is glorified through the salvation of sinners in the vale of soul making. This great theater of decision is part of God’s purpose and design for the universe.
God created the universe in such a way that his image bearers would either choose or reject him. The possibility of sin was a necessary ingredient to God’s plan for humanity. God created the universe in such a way that sin could emerge, but God is never responsible for sin. Bavinck wrote:
When it comes to the origin of sin, Scripture always points us in the direction of the creature. For that reason, however, it is never isolated from God’s government nor excluded from his counsel. On the contrary: it is God himself who, according to his special revelation, created the possibility of sin. Not only did he make humanity in such a way that it could fall, but he also planted the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden, confronted Adam with a moral option by means of the probationary command, whose decision had the greatest significance for himself and all his posterity, and, finally, even permitted the temptation of the woman by the serpent. It was God’s decision to take humanity on the perilous path of freedom rather than elevating it by a single act of power above the possibility of sin and death.
As uncomfortable as it may make us, we must acknowledge that God designed the creation so that sin could occur although he did not cause sin to occur. We can find comfort in knowing that God must have had good reasons for making the universe this way because he is good and cannot lead us into temptation. The great mystery of human freedom, sovereign grace, and human responsibility should, ultimately, lead us all to trust in God’s goodness and grace.
Perhaps God’s purpose for allowing sin can be seen in the dilemma which sin creates—will the creation trust and submit to the Creator or seek to be god themselves? The was the great question posed by God when he placed the forbidden tree with reach of his beloved and good creation—will they obey or will they rebel? Will they trust or will they try to make life on their own? The “why” is seen in the nature of good and evil itself.
The nature of the knowledge of good and evil in view here is characterized by the fact that humans would be like God as a result of it (Gen. 3:5, 22). By violating the command of God and eating of the tree, they would make themselves like God in the sense that they would position themselves outside and above the law and, like God, determine and judge for themselves what good and evil was. The knowledge of good and evil is not the knowledge of the useful and the harmful, of the world and how to control it, but (as in 2 Sam. 19:36; Isa. 7:16) the right and capacity to distinguish good and evil on one’s own. The issue in Genesis is indeed whether humanity will want to develop in dependence on God, whether it will want to have dominion over the earth and seek its salvation in submission to God’s commandment; or whether, violating that commandment and withdrawing from God’s authority and law, it will want to stand on its own feet, go its own way, and try its own “luck.” When humanity fell, it got what it wanted; it made itself like God, “knowing good and evil” by its own insight and judgment. Genesis 3:22 is in dead earnest. This emancipation from God, however, did not lead and cannot lead to true happiness. For that reason, God by the probationary command forbade this drive to freedom, this thirst for independence. But humanity voluntarily and deliberately opted for its own way, thereby failing the test.
Adam and Eve’s experience forces each of us to decide what path we will take. Will we trust and obey? Will we doubt and go our own way? Will we die or live?
Another grand purpose we might detect in God allowing sin is the way in which sin highlights mankind’s need for God and dependence on his grace funneled through his Son. One purpose of the Law was to confine everyone under sin so that salvation would be by grace. Galatians 3:22 says, “the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” In Romans 11:32-33 Paul wrote, “For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all. Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” As odd as it may seem, we can be thankful that sin allows us to see God’s glory and God’s love highlighted as he saves us.
WHERE DOES SIN TAKE US?
We have studied where sin originated, but where does sin take us? If we remain outside of Christ, our sin will lead us to Hell. “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Lk. 13:3, 5). If we are in Christ, then our sin has already been covered—“He himself is our atoning sacrifice” (1 Jn. 2:2), and our sin has already been taken away—“as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgression from us” (Ps. 103:12). This is possible because our sins were laid on Christ and paid for by Christ. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree; so that, having died to sins, we might live for righteousness” (1 Pet. 2:24). “He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed” (Is. 53:5).
Have your sins been paid for by Christ? Are you saved? Are you killing sin’s influence in your life? Ambrose wrote:
So you find Adam concealing himself, when he knew that God was present, and wishing to be hidden when called by God with that voice which wounded the soul of him who was hiding: “Adam, where art thou?” That is to say, Wherefore hidest thou thyself? Why art thou concealed? Why dost thou avoid Him, Whom thou once didst long to see? A guilty conscience is so burdensome that it punishes itself without a judge, and wishes for covering, and yet is bare before God.
Does your conscience now condemn you? The Savior can yet save you.