by Dave Hunt
The Berean Call
(republished with permission)
Not only skeptics and atheists but also many who call themselves Christians often complain, “Why didn’t God make a perfect world without sin, suffering, or death? If He is all-powerful, surely He could have done that if He had so desired!” This common protest rests upon a very simple misunderstanding: the failure to recognize that God has given to all mankind the power of choice. It is self-evident that without this universal ability we could neither love God, nor one another, nor receive love -- and compared with faith and hope, love is the “greatest” (1 Cor 13:13).
Nor is it a question of God’s power. Love is a choice that must come from the heart; therefore, even God, with His infinite power, cannot force anyone to love Him or it would not be love. Choosing to love self and this world, instead of the God of infinite love who created us, is clearly the cause of all evil. Yet many Christians offer no answer to this diatribe against their Creator. They hide behind God’s sovereignty and imagine they are pleasing Him when they attribute to Him loveless attitudes and actions totally contrary to their God-given conscience and to His character as revealed in His Word. Such misguided capitulation to irrationality by intelligent, morally accountable beings is dishonoring to God and is rightly scorned by sincere skeptics. “Sovereignty” is neither reason nor excuse for failure to love, much less for creating suffering and death that need not have been. How many evil tyrants have used this same excuse!
Could God have made a world inhabited by beings with the power to choose good or evil, to love or to hate, in which no one would ever have made the wrong choice and no one would have been hateful or vindictive, but unfailingly loving and kind? Obviously not, if they were truly free to choose for self instead of for Him and others. Could He have created a universe in which beings who are less than Himself would never make a choice that was less than God-like or in which beings who could do what they wanted to do would never rebel against Him? No, that would be impossible. Beings who were less than God (as are all created beings) could not live up to God’s perfection -- and to sin, for those made in God’s image (Gn 1:27), is to come “short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). Obviously, if God could have made moral creatures capable of loving Him yet never sinning, but did not do so, He would be to blame for creating a world vulnerable to evil, pain, sorrow, and death. No such world, however, could exist from an original creation. God is blameless for the evil that man has wrought upon earth. Yet how often has a grieving wife, husband, mother, father, grandparent, or child lashed out in anger to blame God for the death of a loved one? Blame Eve and Satan who deceived her, and Adam for going along, though he knew better (1 Tm 2:14), but don’t blame God.
It was inevitable that Adam and Eve would sin by a misguided selfish choice that could not be blamed upon their Creator. If they were to be able to love and be loved, this is the way it had to be. God did not cause them to sin, but He knew they would. Therefore, even before the universe was created, God’s Son, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father, was prepared to come to earth as a man through a virgin birth and in love to die in man’s place in order to pay the full penalty for the sins of every person who would ever live.
It is beyond our comprehension, but inescapably true, that from all eternity Christ looked forward to the Cross, which He would one day endure “for the joy that was set before him” (Heb 12:2).
Significantly, the book that decides the fate of the damned is called the book of life “of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rv 13:8). In the unthinkable but inevitable horror of man’s murder of God’s Son, the real face of evil was unmasked, the true heart of man -- “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer 17:9) -- was laid bare, and God’s eternal justice and love were demonstrated beyond dispute for all eternity to ponder. In the crime of all ages, man despised, rejected, humiliated, scourged, and nailed his Creator to a cross. Thus the rebellion of self hidden in the human heart -- the raw passion to tear God from His throne if possible -- was revealed, and God’s loving response silenced all legitimate complaint.
When mankind, incredibly, was venting its full hatred upon its Creator, God responded in love and forgiveness, submitting not only to the unjust treatment man imposed but also to the punishment of infinite justice against the sins of the world, interceding even for those who mocked and crucified Him: “Father, forgive them . . . they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). Only by the full payment being made to satisfy God’s justice could God “be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus” (Rom 3:26). We cannot doubt God’s wisdom, nor can we fault His love. Therefore, we know that this is the way it had to be.
It is self-evident that without the God-given power of choice, no one could be held morally accountable for anything and the very terms “right” or “wrong” would be meaningless. Nor could anyone experience God’s love, or love Him or other human beings. Thus, no creature incapable of moral choice could possibly know God himself, for “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8). Believers who have responded to God’s love through the gospel are likened to a “bride” that will be married to and become Christ’s wife (Eph 5:22-32; Rev. 19:7-9), having from their hearts said “I do” to Him for eternity.
Christians who try to escape intelligent discussion of this most vital issue have forgotten, if they ever knew, that God welcomes sincere questions and has given us all the answers in His Holy Word. He invites all mankind, “Come now, and let us reason together” (Is 1:18); and He has commanded those who know Him to “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh . . . a reason” for the eternal hope we have in Christ (1 Pt 3:15).
Every parent knows that each child is a unique individual with a mind of its own, who cannot be forced to behave in a certain manner but will inevitably, sooner or later, make free choices for its own selfish reasons. No one can live another’s life. Each person is morally accountable to choose good or evil -- an inescapable responsibility that Eve imposed upon all of her descendants by disobeying God and eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Nor can imperfect beings always make the morally good choice. Most tragic of all is the fact that even though a child has been well taught and knows right from wrong, it may still self-destruct, and there is nothing that could have been done to prevent that from happening.
What mother or father whose child dies of an overdose of drugs, or in a wreck caused by excessive speed under the influence of alcohol, or in the electric chair for murder, or is confined to prison for life (or even a day) wanted that to happen? Nor does God “take pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezk 33:11), but wants “all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tm 2:4). He cannot, however, force Himself upon us any more than a parent can force a child to willingly make the right choice.
The God who created this world and mankind to live in it no more desires anyone’s doom than parents desire the suffering and untimely deaths that so many children bring upon themselves. Listen to God’s lament as He pours out His heart over disobedient Israel, His chosen people, as a father would weep for his children: “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider. Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward. Why should ye be stricken any more? Ye will revolt more and more . . . “ (Is 1:2-4).
Every thinking person knows that God cannot honestly be blamed for the evil rampant in the world. It exists because of choices that its victims themselves have made -- choices that in many cases parents faithfully warned against and as their children grew older pleaded with them to avoid. Yet Martin Luther wrote an entire book, The Bondage of the Will, denying that anyone has the power of choice. John Calvin, too, in his zeal for God’s sovereignty, also denied this essential human ability. Even many of today’s most popular Christian leaders deny free will to mankind -- including the ability to make the most important choice of all: whether to believe the gospel, which alone saves the soul. Thus, in their view, God is ultimately to blame for everything, although they attempt to deny the obvious conclusion to which this unbiblical theory leads.
It is patently simple that to deny man free choice exonerates him from moral accountability and makes God the cause of evil. No matter how we try, we can never escape the fact that we each make genuine choices of our own free will when we decide to do or not to do this or that. This includes choosing whether to submit to God’s will or to take our own way, and whether to receive Christ as Savior or not. We all know this to be true; we choose of our own free will between conflicting options many times each day -- and God can be blamed for none of these choices or their consequences.
When He made man, God knew that He would have a world of rebels on His hands, billions of little egomaniacs who would each want to willfully take his own way -- billions who would need to be redeemed and who would each have to choose between self and God. When Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (Jn 14:6), He was explaining the entire situation from eternity past to eternity in the endless future. Jesus alone could be the way back to God. This is the way it had to be.
God knew from the very beginning what was going to happen. He was not taking a risk by creating beings with the power of choice -- He knew they would rebel against Him. And He knew that there was only one way for them to be redeemed from the penalty they would bring upon themselves: His “only begotten Son” (Jn 3:16), the Son of His love, must come to this earth as a man and die in their place, paying the full penalty that infinite Justice would exact against sin. And from all eternity, the Son knew that as well. It had to be.
We can’t imagine what it really means that the Son always knew that He would be born into this world as a babe, would live a perfect, sinless life as only He could, be hated without cause, be rejected and despised by His own people, the Jews, to whom He would come as one of them, and that they, with the willing cooperation of the Roman Empire, would crucify Him. Of course, the truth of our redemption goes far beyond our capacity to comprehend. We are told that “by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many” (Is 53:11). That seems a cryptic statement.
What could knowledge have to do with paying the penalty for our sins? Obviously, without full knowledge of every detail (including motivation) of every shameful, violent, appalling sin that would ever be committed from all eternity -- without full knowledge of the penalty His own justice required-- God’s “righteous servant” could not pay the full debt that mankind owed for its wickedness and thereby “justify” all who would believe on Him. Indeed, He would be punished as though He were sin itself: “for he [God] hath made him [Christ] to be sin for us, [he] who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Cor 5:21). What love, what mercy, what grace!
Christ’s triumphant cry on the Cross, “It is finished!” takes on greater significance when we understand that He had eternally anticipated that moment: “This man [Christ], after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God . . . for by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified . . . .Now . . . there is no more offering for sin” (Heb 10:12, 14, 18). At last, it was all behind Him-- the penalty paid once-for-all and in full for all mankind!
And how clearly and blasphemously does the Roman Catholic “Sacrifice of the Mass” deny Christ’s triumphant cry, “It is finished!” Its priesthood claims to turn bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ and to “immolate” Him millions of times on Catholic altars to be ingested into the stomachs of those who believe the lie that they are actually eating Christ. In fact, He is now in heaven in His resurrected, glorified body, exalted at the Father’s right hand! The sins of the redeemed have now been forgotten, no longer to be remembered again (Heb 8:12, 10:17). Yes, books in which every sin is recorded will be opened at the Great White Throne judgment -- but that is for those who rejected Christ and the pardon He obtained for their sins. At the final judgment, all who refused to accept Christ’s payment for their sins will be cast into the Lake of Fire to be tormented eternally by a conscience that can no longer hide behind the excuses with which it had deluded itself while on earth. The pain will include not only the full realization of the horror that their sins have wrought for themselves and others, but also the crushing load of audacious evil that they nourished in their rebellion against the God who created them. Sadly, not the least of the torment will be the eternally haunting realization that they could have been forgiven and in heaven had they not rejected Christ and the payment He made in infinite love for their sins.