Why did God allow sin at all?
Nam N. from Vietnam writes:
Can you explain to me, if there’s free will in heaven without sin, could God have created such a world rather than a world with free will and sin? Could God have given us free will without giving us the desire to sin?
CMI’s Shaun Doyle responds:
Why trust God despite evil?
Before providing some thoughts on your question directly, it’s important to point out that we can know three things, regardless of how we might solve your question:
- Evil exists.
- God is morally perfect.
- God created and sustains the world.
The first is obvious to us. Evil is everywhere.
But, perhaps surprisingly, the first statement is also evidence for the second. If evil exists, then objective morals exist. But only a morally perfect God can ground objective morals. Therefore, a morally perfect God exists. See Can we be good without God? for more information.
And we can provide good arguments for the third statement. Scripture says God made the world (e.g. Genesis 1:1, Psalm 102:25, John 1:1–3. See Process theism and Did God create time?), and various cosmological arguments (like the Kalam and Contingency arguments) are consistent with God creating the world. These give us good reason to believe God created the world. Biblical teaching (e.g. Psalm 104, Matthew 10:29–30, Colossians 1:17, Hebrews 1:3), and the manifest care God shows for His creation in Jesus (for which Jesus’ divine claims and resurrection are powerful evidence), provide strong evidence that God also sustains the world.
Now, can your question undermine our warrant for any of these statements, given the way I’ve made the case for them? I don’t think so.
Since I used the first statement as evidence for the second, it diffuses any argument against God from the so-called ‘problem of evil’ (see Why would a loving God allow death and suffering?). Evil isn’t evidence against God; it’s evidence for a premise in an argument for God. And the evidence for God as creator is completely unaffected by your question.
The only question, then, is whether the Bible and Jesus make a strong enough case that God sustains the world. Well, Jesus not only provides evidence for God’s care of the world, but also for the truth of the Bible (see Jesus Christ on the infallibility of Scripture), which says that God sustains the world. So, even if Jesus isn’t enough to justify directly the claim that God sustains the world (even though He teaches that God sustains the world: Matthew 10:29–30), He justifies it indirectly, since He gives us good reason to believe the Bible is true, which teaches that God sustains the world. And of course, if you’re already convinced that the Bible is God’s word, then that should be enough by itself to convince you that God sustains the world.
So, why go through all that before providing some direct responses to your question? If we have good reason to believe God is sovereign and good despite the existence of evil, and your question doesn’t change that, then is your question a good reason to doubt God? Hopefully you can see that it’s not. Rather, your question becomes merely an interesting topic to speculate about without giving us a reason to doubt God. After all, questions like this only become scary if we’re not already well-grounded in our trust of God’s sovereign goodness. So, if this question was bothering you, or causing you to doubt, hopefully the above discussion will help allay some of those concerns.
Could God have created a sinless world with free creatures?
Now, to your question directly. There are two options to this. The first is that God could not have created a world with free creatures who never sinned. This is a simple solution, but it comes at a price: does it show that God is less than perfectly powerful? Many would say ‘yes’, and I think they have a point. Nowhere does Scripture say such a world would be impossible for God to create. But, say that in every possibility free creatures would inevitably sin. If that’s true, then a world of free creatures where none of them ever sin is simply not possible.
The second option is that God could’ve created a world with free creatures who never sinned. If so, the natural question arises: why didn’t He?
First, we know He didn’t. And since, as I argued above, we still have good reason to trust God, it’s safe to presume God had good reasons for not doing so, even if we can’t know what they all are.
Nonetheless, we can offer some tentative thoughts for why God preferred a world with sin. First, would Jesus have needed to die in a world without sin? Obviously not, right? But think about this: in a world without sin, could God have shown the depths of his love and grace for us as He has done in Jesus’ death for us (Romans 5:8,10)? I don’t think so. It’s hard to imagine what could be a greater display of love and grace than God sending His divine Son to die for His enemies. But without enemies, i.e. sinners, there is nobody to whom this sort of love could be displayed. On the other hand, every display of love God could show in a world without sin He could likewise show in the New Earth in the future. Thus, permitting sin in the world provides a context for God to show depths of His love He simply couldn’t show in a world without sin.
Moreover, could there be value for creatures to see and experience (rather than just knowing theoretically) the contrast between the sin’s destructiveness and God’s goodness? In a world without sin, sin’s destructiveness could only ever be known theoretically. However, experiencing the contrast creates a greater appreciation for the contrast. As such, seeing the destructiveness of sin now could arguably create a better experience of God in eternity than possible in a world completely without sin.
Someone might respond: “But what about the condemned sinners? Surely their experience in eternity will not be pleasant!” And that’s true. But might that not underscore even more the value of God’s goodness? Objectively, the bedroom light shines as brightly during the day and the night, but it’s easier to see at night than during the day. Likewise, God doesn’t need the presence of sin to be good, but the presence of sin shows Him to be good in ways its absence cannot. Hell will stand as the night to God’s moral light, since we all deserve to be in Hell.
Another reason is that experiencing sin and suffering before eternity may make the righteous better reflect God’s goodness in eternity. Many of the biblical reasons for suffering are applicable to this idea. What better way to learn patience than by tolerating difficult people or circumstances? Is there a better way to learn faithfulness than in the face of temptation to walk away? Is there a better way to learn empathy than to go through the suffering others go through? Sin created suffering, and suffering can make us better equipped to serve others. Even the Son of God was not above living by this principle (Mark 10:45, Hebrews 5:8–9). And for that reason, He has become the exemplar of that principle which we are to reflect (Philippians 2:3–8, Hebrews 12:1–4).
None of these possible reasons for allowing sin (and they are by no means exhaustive) take away the tragedy of sin, or the tragedy of the suffering that has resulted from it (The Fall: a cosmic catastrophe). Sin is still bad, and we should avoid it at all costs. Nor should these reasons be read apart from the case for God’s goodness and sovereignty laid out above, since apart from that context they could easily seem much less likely. And we should never forget that we cannot fathom God’s reasons—a full account of ‘why evil?’ is among the secret things that belong to God (Deuteronomy 29:29), as Job eventually learned (Job 42). But we should still trust Him, since we have plenty of good reason to. Nonetheless, a world marred by sin creates many opportunities for God to show His goodness that are not possible in a sinless world, and it can make both the righteous and the experience of God in eternity better than possible in a world without sin.