Tuesday, October 7, 2008
In our Gospel Tranformation study two weeks ago this difficult question arose: why did a good and sovereign God allow the Fall of man? I will answer this with an explanation from Jonathan Edwards. But then I would like to explore a follow up question that was asked: can this be explained to unbelievers?
First, why did a good and sovereign God allow the Fall of Man? Edwards writes,
It is a proper and excellent thing for infinite glory to shine forth; and for the same reason, it is proper that the shining forth of God's glory should be complete; that is, that all parts of his glory should shine forth, that every beauty should be proportionably effulgent, that the beholder may have a proper notion of God. It is not proper that one glory should be exceedingly manifested, and another not at all. . . .
Thus it is necessary, that God's awful majesty, his authority and dreadful greatness, justice, and holiness, should be manifested. But this could not be, unless sin and punishment had been decreed; so that the shining forth of God's glory would be very imperfect, both because these parts of divine glory would not shine forth as the others do, and also the glory of his goodness, love, and holiness would be faint without them; nay, they could scarcely shine forth at all.
If it were not right that God should decree and permit and punish sin, there could be no manifestation of God's holiness in hatred of sin, or in showing any preference, in his providence, of godliness before it. There would be no manifestation of God's grace or true goodness, if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from. How much happiness soever he bestowed, his goodness would not be so much prized and admired (from Concerning the Divine Decrees).
Edwards' stunning answer is that by allowing the Fall more of the glory God will be seen and known than if God had not allowed the Fall to take place. We will see more clearly God's hatred for sin, His justice and holiness. But we will also know in a greater way His mercy, His patience, His compassion which will shine that much brighter as we see how much God hates sin.
I know it is a lot to take in. However, it is well worth pondering and praying over.
What of the second question? Is this something that can be explained to unbelievers? Here is what I would say: if they ask we should be ready to respond as best as we are able. The problem with giving this answer to those who do not yet know God is that it sounds as if God is absolutely full of Himself. In the skeptic's ear it sounds as if God allowed all the suffering in history that sin has brought about so that He will look good. We get sin and suffering. He looks more glorious. It sounds atrocious! We suffer so that God looks good.
But it is not, if we can understand that seeing more of God's glory is what brings mankind true and lasting happiness. Edwards completes the above passage by saying:
So evil is necessary, in order to the highest happiness of the creature, and the completeness of that communication of God, for which he made the world; because the creature's happiness consists in the knowledge of God, and the sense of his love. And if the knowledge of him be imperfect, the happiness of the creature must be proportionably imperfect.
If Edwards is correct that man's highest happiness consists in the knowledge of God then we must bow before God's throne in wonder. God allowed the Fall that His glory might be seen and the joy of His people be made full.
Again, can a skeptic understand this? I think so. But a work of God's Spirit is needed to make this truth beautiful and compelling to the one who hears it.