Chapter 3 - The Problem of Sin

The presence of moral evil in God’s universe is one of the great questions that has puzzled the mind of man. The Bible represents God as a being almighty in power, intrinsically good, and holy in all his works; nevertheless, we are confronted by the stupendous fact of sin in the world. Whence came it?

The Origin of Sin

The subject of the origin of moral evil and the reason for its existence naturally resolves itself into one of the three following positions, each of which has been earnestly maintained by many people: (1) that God is the direct author of sin and is alone responsible for it, man being but an irresponsible agent in carrying out His will; (2) that God has seen fit to employ sin as his method to bring about certain good results not otherwise obtainable—a view somewhat related to the first position; (3) that moral evil is in no sense according to God’s will and forms no part of his plans, his purposes, or his ways; that it originated in the finite and by apostasy from God, and that, therefore, God is not responsible for it, but all his relations to it are antagonistic and in the way of prevention, remedy, or punishment.
The first position—that God is the direct author of sin—is opposed to every revelation which God has made of himself in his Word. It is also irreconcilable with reason and the inner moral sense of mankind.
God is the author of what is termed “physical evil”; therefore we read, “I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things” (Isa. 45:7); “Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it?” (Amos 3:6). Such evil consists of temporal punishments or judgments that God brings upon men because of their sins (Jonah 3:10). God is not the author of moral evil, or sin; he is infinitely holy. One should not charge upon God, “that cannot lie” (Titus 1:2), all the falsehoods that have been uttered during the ages; nor state that the Holy One, who is “of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity” (Hab. 1:13), is, after all, its direct cause.
The second position—that sin is God’s choice of methods for bringing about the greatest good—has had a larger number of supporters. They assume that although sin is contrary to the nature of God it is nevertheless according to his will that men should sin in order that his glorious power may be manifested in bringing into effect the plan of redemption, so that the sinner can experience the exquisite delights and enjoyments of contrast by being saved from sin. But if all this be necessary in order to insure happiness to finite beings, the angels of heaven must be very miserable: for as far as we know they have never had the privilege of experiencing this blessedness of contrast!
The Bible nowhere introduces sin as God’s work or method. Can God consistently decree that we shall sin, and at the same time prohibit us from doing it and threaten us with the direst punishments if we do?
The third position harmonizes with the moral sense in man, with the plain teachings of the Word, and with all the known facts in the case. Moral evil is contrary to God’s nature, contrary to his plans, his purposes, and his ways. All his relations to it are antagonistic. It originated in the finite and by apostasy from God.
God being holy, he could no more make a sinful being than he could lie (which is declared to be impossible): for God is a power only in the direction of his own nature and attributes. But an intelligent being much like himself he could and did make. Intelligence, however, implies real cause, that the being so endowed possesses inherently the power of acting voluntarily. Without this element of freedom, this power of choice and determination of conduct, true intelligence and moral responsibility could not exist.
With man possessing within himself the principle of cause as truly as does his Maker, so that he must act voluntarily, we see at once that it is within his sphere also to act wrongly. In other words, the possibility of sin inheres in all finite moral beings; for manifestly it is impossible to do right voluntarily without possessing the ability also to do wrong. This is the gist of the whole argument. The problem of sin is a problem of moral government. The individual with a personal will possesses a method and purpose exclusively his own. God is in no wise responsible for it. God having created man intelligent, in His own image, His responsibility in this respect ceased. The universe as a physical unit was incomplete, but when peopled with moral beings capable of rendering intelligent, voluntary service to God, the plan was perfect; therefore, man stands out as the crowning work of God’s creative effort.

Sin and Predestination

The first chapters of Genesis give an account of how sin was introduced into this part of God’s moral universe. It occurred by the willful choice of our foreparents, and by this means they apostatized from God. Ever since that time God’s relations to evil have been antagonistic, in the way of prevention, remedy, and punishment. Even those individuals who have unconsciously fulfilled some part of God’s plan in his relations to sin have at the same time acted voluntarily.
These thoughts, carefully considered, explain what is one of the most difficult texts in the Bible pertaining to this subject—Acts 2:23: “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” Here the Apostle Peter charges the Jews with the most atrocious wickedness in crucifying the Son of God, and yet in the same verse teaches that it was according to God’s will that Christ should die. The purpose these men had in the act was evil, and they alone were responsible for it; therefore God, knowing their designs, simply delivered Christ into their hands, thus accomplishing his own purpose without violating in the least their free moral agency.
God claims no responsibility for men’s methods and action, except in his proper relations to them. (See Isa. 55:8.) Yet some would have us believe that everything that men do is in some secret and unexplainable manner according to the will of God. It is not true. Men’s methods may or may not be in accordance with the will of God. Through the exercise of an overruling Providence all things are made to “work together for good to them that love God” (Rom. 8:28), but even here the principle of free moral agency is respected, so that men’s moral actions result from their own voluntary desires.

The Nature of Sin

Two verses of Scripture give us a correct interpretation of sin. “Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law” (I John 3:4). “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin” (Jas. 4:17). Sin is therefore either the conscious, voluntary transgression of God’s law or else the willful failure to conform to its requirements. God’s law is an infinite law; therefore its violation becomes a serious offense, involving the soul in spiritual ruin, both in time and in eternity. “Is not thy wickedness great? and thine iniquities infinite?” (Job 22:5). The first transgression by our foreparents caused their banishment from Eden and the consequent train of sickness, pain, sorrow, and death.

The Universality of Sin

The consciousness of sin is universal, all men having fallen under its dismal and blighting sway. One of the main arguments of Paul in the Roman letter was to show that all men are sinners, in order that he might emphasize the truth of Christ’s mission as the universal Savior. Listen to his conclusion: “We have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin” (Rom. 3:9); “There is no difference: for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (vss. 22-23).

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