As a dad, there are easy questions and there are hard questions. Easy questions include those like this:
- Where’s the remote? (Clamped tightly in my fist, where it will remain for the duration of this program.)
- Can you put batteries in this? (Yes, but I’m not looking forward to the noise it will make when I do.)
- Is it ok if I go bungee jumping with my friends? (No.)
- How does a microwave work? (Electromagnetic waves cause water molecules to resonate, imparting thermal energy into the food.)
Hard questions aren’t so simple to answer – but sometimes not because I don’t know the answer.
- Why is that bird just laying there on the ground?
- Why doesn’t my friend have a dad (or a mom)?
- Why are the people in that city / country / region trying to kill one the people in the next city / country / region?
My 10-year old son asked a question in church today1, which would qualify as a hard question:
Why did God let Satan put sin into the world?
Let me share what I have found, so that I can – in turn – share it with my son. At the same time, I’ll share it with you, and welcome your comments.
Of course, many have studied this in far more depth than me2, and – if you are serious about understanding the answer to this question – I invite you to read their work. Be advised, though: this is an important topic, but there is not a simple or quick answer. If you want to understand it fully, you’ll need to dig into it in some depth.
Up-front, we know that God does not tempt us. The serpent (who I’m interpreting as Satan, based on Revelation 12:9, 20:2; although there may be other interpretations) was the source of temptation, but Adam and Eve still made the choices for themselves (see Genesis 3:1-5; 2 Corinthians 11:3). They chose selfishness, doing what they wanted (maybe because of the attractiveness of the fruit) over doing the right thing. They bought into their pride, on the lie that they would become like God. They decided not to trust God, perhaps believing that God was holding out on them (keeping knowledge of good and evil from them), when God was actually protecting them with His command (His one instruction in the Garden of Eden).
So, God didn’t create sin. That’s our doing, as humankind. But why didn’t He just eliminate the possibility that we would do anything except the right thing?
In fact, I think that He did design much of His creation without the possibility of sin. Created beings without a soul – like animals – have no choice but to glorify God. They do what they were created for, which points back to their Creator. (As for “inanimate” objects, see Psalm 19:1.) Pests and germs followed the curse on the earth because of humankind’s sin; however, this reminds us that we broke things, and that a world reeling from people’s sinful choices is not the way things were meant to be.
However, unlike the rest of Creation, God seeks a relationship with us. The Bible regularly uses a family metaphor for our participation in this relationship (see Galatians 3:26, Romans 8:14, Romans 8:29). We are given the opportunity – the choice – to love God, to give Him the glory, and to spend our lives with Him.
This brings us to the key point in almost every discussion on this topic: Without free will, there is no love. Without choice, there is no meaning to a relationship. Without a decision, no trust can be expressed. Without the ability to not glorify God, worship would be replaced by duty.
Given this reality, we may wonder why God didn’t just make everyone choose the right path in life. If we insist that this should be the case (despite the fact that we’re not God), we are essentially saying that we wish that we were like the animals – beings without the ability to choose anything except self-preservation, natural reactions to stimuli, and immediate gratification3.
If we abdicate our privilege of free will, we also have to give up our uniqueness in the universe. In fact, this is a common belief in circles that reject God – the idea that humans are just more advanced, evolved animals. In that case, our logical goal becomes just trying to be “top dog”, rather than “created in God’s image”.
Remember, God did not “pick” right and wrong. His very nature defines what is good and right. He is perfectly holy, and this attribute causes him to be loving, just, and righteous. To choose actions that are different from His nature results in being sinful, wrong, and unrighteous.
So, out of all God’s creation in this universe, we – human beings – are uniquely able to worship God. We get the choice to love Him, to glorify Him, and to be part of His family.
However, a consequence of having free will means that we can decide to not align ourselves with Him. God won’t stop us if that’s our choice. He did provide the most selfless means of restoring our relationship with Him when we go the wrong way, but He will not drag us back into the family if we choose to not be a part of it. God actively seeks us out in order to bring us back (Luke 10:19; Luke 15; 2 Peter 3:9), but if we decide that we want nothing to do with Him, He gives us the autonomy to stay there.
We can sit in the muck and the slop (see Luke 15:15-16) our entire lives, if we want. In the eternal scheme of things, there is forgiveness for the repentant (even if they continue to fall short), but there is no reward for bad behavior. God calls us to something better; however, He lets us stay where we are if we insist on doing so. I hope that the better choice is clear to you; if not, ask God to show you.
My son also asked another, related question that morning. Let’s look at that in the second part of this article.
- By “today”, I mean when this article was started. Typically, I work on these in parallel over the course of days or weeks, and schedule them a few months in advance. ↩
- I suggest The Case for Christ, by Lee Strobel; Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis; and Evidence that Demands a Verdict, by Josh McDowell. In particular, the first two were written by intellectual people who had encountered evil, suffering, and other consequences of sin. While they were atheists at the start of their investigation, their research and study of the reality of the world produced answers that required God, and showed why God allowed people to make their own choices, and helped them understand why He didn’t immediately remove the consequences of humanity’s poor decision-making. You don’t have to agree with everything in these books, but they will give you some things to think about. ↩
- I’m not saying that your pet – dog, cat, horse, or otherwise – can’t have a great relationship with you. Even if we love them, though, there are elements of the image of God that are uniquely imparted to human beings. That doesn’t mean you have to give up your relationship with your pet. I’m sure that God knew what He was doing when He created them, too! ↩