Romans 8:22-25 "For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. 24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it."
In the last post we considered the following question: "Did God Know That Adam And Eve Were Going To Sin? If So, Why Did He Create Them?" After considering some scriptures and briefly expounding Romans 8:18-25, we arrived at the following answer: God did know that the fall was going to happen, and yet remained Sovereign.
In today's post we want to flesh out further a response to this question by noting five Biblical concepts that can aid us in navigating through what can be deep waters on this subject.
Key Ideas Can Aid In Understanding How God Could Create The World While Knowing The Fall Would Occur
Both scripture and the history of Christian thought aids us in fleshing out how God could include the fall in His ultimate purposes and plans for creation. The following terms and ideas help us discuss these matters.
a. God is Good
Throughout the centuries, theologians have rightly noted that God is not the author of evil and sin. Habakkuk 1:13 states - "Your eyes are too pure to approve evil, And You can not look on wickedness with favor.
Why do You look with favor On those who deal treacherously? Why are You silent when the wicked swallow up
Those more righteous than they?" God is a Holy God - meaning that He is by nature good in all He does and is (Exodus 33:17-18; 34:6-7; Psalm 136; Matthew 7:11; 19:17; James 1:17). God's goodness is necessarily good, meaning that God cannot be anything else other than the Good God.
b. God is Sovereign
Psalm 103:19 states most plainly the fact of God's Sovereignty, as well as the definition of the term "sovereignty": "The Lord has established His throne in the heavens, And His sovereignty rules over all." 1 Timothy 6:15 sets God's Sovereignty in the center of a redounding series of praises: "which He will bring about at the proper time—He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords." God's sovereignty has to do with His will and declaration of whatsoever will come to pass as informed by His omniscience and fore-ordination. Included in God's Sovereign plan are the activities of free-moral agents, whether good or sinful (see Isaiah 45:7; Acts 2:23-24; 4:27-28); the rising and falling of godly and ungodly nations and kings (2 Samuel 7:13-16; Psalm 110; Daniel 4:35; John 19:10-11) and the overall guidance of the course of history (Acts 14:17; Acts 17:24-25). The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 reminds us:
"God is all powerful and all knowing; and His perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures."
And once more:
"God as Father reigns with providential care over His universe, His creatures, and the flow of the stream of human history according to the purposes of His grace. He is all powerful, all knowing, all loving, and all wise."
c. God's Permissive Will
Whenever Christian thinkers discuss God's will, they are referring to God's overall decision-making and decreeing process for how He will carry-out His intentions, plans and desires. Ephesians 1:11 states - "also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will". Within God's will there are important distinctions. There is what we call God's unrevealed will and revealed will (Deuteronomy 29:29), which respectively refer to what God has chosen to not reveal to us and what He has chosen to make know to us by His Word and the Lord Jesus Christ. The third distinction is that of God's permissive will. James 4:15 states on this topic of God's permissive will: "Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.”
This important sub-heading of God's "permissive-will" includes God's choice to use secondary causes (like physical laws, historical events) and free-will agents (such as angels, demons, human beings) that carry out His purposes. God's permissive will is an important concept to keep in mind when discussing matters of salvation or the problem of evil and suffering. Theologian Michael Horton notes:
"Thus, God only permissively decrees evil in such a way that the same decree simultaneously determines the triumph of God's just and gracious purposes in Jesus Christ."
This concept of "permissive will" is vital to grasping what God "wills to permit" in terms of the choices made by free-moral agents, since such choices and actions done by human beings are part-and-parcel of His overall purpose.
d. Human Responsibility Or Free-will
We have looked at God's Goodness, Sovereignty and God's Permissive Will as key concepts in navigating through this question about His creation of the world despite the fact He knew that the fall would occur. Human free-will or responsibility is taught in the scripture along with the notion of God's Sovereignty. The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 notes:
"....and His (God's) perfect knowledge extends to all things, past, present, and future, including the future decisions of His free creatures."
and once more:
"By his free choice man sinned against God and brought sin into the human race."
The idea of God decreeing history and man being a free-moral agent are not contradictory notions. The Bible teaches both and both are presented in scripture. Various models drawn up by theologians and Christian philosophers attempt to explain "how God's Sovereignty and man's free will and both function in the same world without cancelling out one another.
We know for example that God is the one who works in bringing the sinner to their senses with the result of a genuine response to the Gospel - or what is called regeneration in saving faith (see John 3:3-5; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:23). Yet we find in these chapters that unless the sinner trusts in Christ with genuine faith and repentance, there can be no application of His saving benefits won for them on the cross (John 3:16; Acts 16:31; Romans 10:9).
We do know one thing for sure: man's free will operates upon that person's greatest desire and their nature. The will of a person is not neutral. Whatever a person deems to be the greatest good in their mind and in accords to their nature, the human-will follows suit. Thus, human beings freely reject God and knowingly so, since by nature, the sinner freely chooses to prefer sin over Christ and the Gospel, resulting in their blameworthiness (Acts 13:46; 18:6; 1 John 2:19).
Conversely, for those sinners responding to the Gospel do so as a result of God's grace, the Spirit's working in their hearts and their efforts of resisting the Spirit's promptings stopped by their own accord, with the full credit going to God for their salvation (Acts 16:14; 2 Corinthians 4:4-6; Titus 3:4-5).
Therefore when it comes to the matter of evil, all evil is chosen by the creature, whether Satan (Isaiah 14; Ezekiel 28; John 8:56); demons or Adam and his descendants. The matter of evil coming into our world is due to the creature concluding that creation, even good and unspoiled creation (including themselves) is preferable to God. God's will, with respect to His free-will creatures choosing to sin, is His permissive will. As theologian A.A Hodge notes:
"In the case of every free act of a moral agent, the act shall be perfectly spontaneous and free on the part of the agent."
e. God's Morally Sufficient Reasons
When we consider God's goodness, sovereignty and permissive will, we find that in discussion about these attributes, the notion of God's morally sufficient reasons comes into view. This concept of God's "morally-sufficient reasons" is crucial when discussing how it could be that He permits evil and suffering while being Sovereign. In scripture we can note four such morally-sufficient reasons:
a. The greater good for His glory. John 9:5; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
b. Character development. James 1:3-4
c. Opportunities where people can respond to the Gospel. Acts 8:1ff
d. Development of faith. 1 Peter 1:6-7
Helpful illustrations, such as cardiologist performing open-heart surgery by "breaking" the ribs to access a diseased heart or the case in which parents allow little-ones learning to walk to fall on their bottoms to encourage them to get up and try to walk can show the plausibility of "morally sufficient reasons" in real-life.
Conclusions for today
We introduced the reader to five key theological ideas that are derived from scripture and careful reflection on how to discuss God's creation of a world that included the fall, evil and human responsibility. Those five concepts were:
1. God is good
2. God is Sovereign
3. God's Permissive Will
4. Man's free-will or responsibility
5. God's Morally Sufficient Reasons
In the next post, we are going to attempt to put everything discussed in today's post and last post into a proposed model that summarizes this important but difficult discussion.