Surely, no other question can have a more precarious nature that this one before us. And no other question that could be asked us is more philosophical and theological and yet at the same time more practical for a Christian. In times of suffering and loss even the most pious Christian will utter the timeless words: “WHY, LORD!?!” This question is at the very heart of ministry. Long before any church congregant will ask a young minister to explain the extent and nature of the Atonement; the mysteries of the Trinity; the Incarnation or who the “Israel of God” might be, will first face the daunting words of a grieving mother’s cry, “why, pastor, why?!?” Therefore, lest we think this question and any possible explanations of it are a bit to abstract for any practical purposes, we should think again, as even our own hearts cry the same thing from time to time.
It should also be noted that no other question in the history of theology has been more subject to crass speculation and conjecture as this one. In seeking to answer this, one walks a very narrow ridge of orthodoxy with the slippery slopes of heretical mire on both sides. Thus, the guard rails of Deut 29:29 are a most fitting place to begin, here the Word says to us: “the secret things belong to the Yahweh our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever...” This verse is telling us that there are things that lie only within the secret counsel of God, things that would be dangerous, if not wicked, to try to pry into. Nevertheless, the verse also promises some answers. And I believe that God has revealed much toward answering the question before us. Thus, we must accept an answer given by God in the scriptures or remain anxiously mystified in a cloud of ignorance or worse, impious guesswork.
Therefore, I wish to (I) restate the question in its traditional philosophical/theological formulation. Then look briefly at what God has revealed about (II) himself and (III) at least one of the purposes for sin offered by the scriptures; all in keeping with the implicit warning of Deut 29:29.
I. THE QUESTION IN ITS TRADITIONAL FORMULATION
The following form of our question is perhaps one of the most cogent objections asserted by unbelievers toward the falsity of biblical Christianity. It is claimed that the following syllogism generates a good and necessary conclusion that negates the existence of the revealed God of Christianity; thus, at this foundational level Christianity allegedly hangs on a logical contradiction and is therefore refuted. Let us see how this would look.
A. The Traditional Argument:
(1) If God where all-powerful (omnipotent), he would be able to eliminate sin. (2) If God where all-good (omnibenevolent), he would desire to eliminate sin. Nevertheless, (3) sin is a reality in the created order. We must therefore conclude that (4) the all-powerful, all-good God revealed in the Bible does not exist.
Now, it may appear that the Christian has been presented with an insurmountable logical conundrum. However, refuting the Christian God is not going to be that simple. First, the unbeliever, having concluded that God does not exist, must now attempt to identify and define “sin” (or “evil” as in most philosophical discussions) apart from the existence of the Christian’s Ultimate moral reference point—the holy and righteous God of the Bible. Without the God of the Bible nothing can be called “sinful” or “evil” with any degree of cogency and rationality, for without him there is no real difference between “good-righteousness” and “evil-sin.” Thus, the only way for the unbeliever to thrust the “problem of sin-evil” upon the Christian is to first assume the correctness of the Christian’s position; namely, that this God does in fact exist, for only if he does is there really a “problem” with sin/evil.
The unbeliever may reply however, “OK, I may not be able to call anything ‘sin,’ but you Christian’s do, so the problem remains, even if only within your own worldview or theology. Therefore, you must provide an answer that would avoid a logical contradiction, even if only in the confines of your own theology!” To this we respond, fine.
Simply adding a prejudicially precluded premise to the above syllogism--one that is quite consistent with Christian doctrine--will destroy the logical “sting” of the argument and expose the true nature of the problem; the psychological reason for the objection.
B. The Re-formulation:
As Christians we need not object to any of the premises in the above argument (1, 2, and 3), it is the conclusion (4) that cannot not stand. The elimination of the unbeliever’s conclusion (4) is quite easily achieved by adding a forth premise, one which flows naturally out of premise (2). The Christian must insist that (5) God must necessarily have then a morally sufficient reason for the sin and evil present in his created world. Therefore, (6) it is not the case that the God of the Bible does not exist. It can be seen from this reformulation that, in truth, the Christian does not hold to a logical contradiction between a belief in the True God as revealed in the Bible over and against the reality of sin and evil in the world that this all-good, all-powerful God created.
Although this does away with the logical problem of sin and evil, given human nature, it evokes a psychological problem not altogether different, it is our nature to ask: “what then is that ‘morally sufficient reason’ that God has?!?”
C. Toward an Answer:
It would seem that I have just spent this time begging our question full circle, returning back where it began. If in keeping with Deut 29:29 I thought that God had not “revealed” enough data to inform at least one “reason” for sin then, yes, the conversation must end where it began; however, I don’t feel this to be the case. Rather, God has revealed quite enough to safely conclude something toward an answer to the question. I also recognize that when the solution I shall offer is presented it itself is able to generate further “whys,” and it is at this point God’s words to the waves are no less appropriate to human reason, to which he says, “Thus far shall you come, and no further, and here shall your proud waves be stayed” (Job 38:11 ESV). The only resource with which we may find answers begins at Gen 1:1 and ends at Rev 22:21. Beyond this we are constrained to sing with Paul, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Rom 11:33 ESV).
II. NECESSARY ATTRIBUTES OF GOD REVEALED IN SCRIPTURE
I will now set forth nine attributes of God that are necessarily integral to him being the God he has revealed himself to be, they are: 1) power; 2) wrath; 3) patience; 4) glory; 5) just; 6) true; 7) holy; 8) mercy, and 9) righteous. Each of these is imbedded within the five corollary scripture texts I will argue my position from. The reason for including this list of attributes will hopefully become clear in the following section.
III. ONE POSSIBLE MORALLY SUFFICIENT REASON FOR SIN
There are five passages that I find teaching us one, if not the only morally sufficient reason and purpose for God allowing sin. This list of texts begin with Rom 9:14—23. In this passage Paul rhetorically asks “What if God...” (v. 22). I believe this clause is best taken as a first class conditional; that is to say, Paul assumes the certain truth of the “what if” clause for sake of argument; simply a rhetoric device implying “because.” This is buttressed by reason of the preceding verses and their illustrating the point of the argument with an actual, historical, scriptural case, being personified in lives of Moses and Pharaoh (vv. 15—17). In our search for a “purpose” in sin there is another notable mark in this passage, it is found at the beginning of v. 23. The Greek word here is ίνα (hina), and this, the NASB has best: “in order that.” This clause not only indicates the result of God’s righteous “wrath” and “power” and “patience” demonstrated against sin in v. 22, but also states its purpose, that of making known his “glory” and “mercy” toward his redeemed “vessels of mercy” in v. 23.
Thus, if these observations are sound, Paul’s argument may stand as such: God raises up vessels (e.g. Pharaoh and Egypt, v. 17) and in much patience, through their own willful sin, they fit themselves to be objects or vessels of God’s righteous wrath, judgment and destruction; for the purpose of and with the result being God’s glory in mercy being revealed in his redeemed vessels (e.g. Moses and Israel, v. 15), that his name might be greatly glorified in all the earth.
This same concept found in Rom 9 explodes into a full scale eschatological reality in four other passages in Revelation (Rev 11:16—18; 15:3—4; 16:5—7; 19:1—5; cf. Is 63). In each of these texts God’s holiness, righteousness, justice, power, truth, and final wrath are being displayed in the judgment of sin and become the very reasons for songs of praise, worship and thanksgiving from the mouths of the redeemed and the elect angels.
In chapter 11 the twenty four elders “give thanks” to the Almighty because he has taken his great power and in wrath destroyed the raging nations. In chapter 15 there is the direct reference to Moses (v. 3, cf. Rom 9:14—23) and the remix of his song from Ex 15:1ff; now know as "the song of Moses...and the song of the Lamb." And again the same theme and end presented in the Rom 9 passage comes out: God is glorified by the redeemed in his judgment of sin; his name is glorified, and in all the earth (v. 4; cf. Rom 9:17b). The same theme is true with the other two passages in Revelation (16:5—7, and 19:1—5).
SUMMERY AND CONCLUSION
Now I will summarize the argument and offer a concluding statement. As we have seen: (1) the reality and presence of sin in the world in no way precludes the God of the Christian worldview; but rather, one must assume his existence to even talk intelligibly about sin and evil. Thus, (2) sin does not cause any logical problems for the Christian, because he knows that God has a morally sufficient reason for sin being present in the world. Also noted was that (3) the God of the Bible reveals himself as a Self-sufficient, Self-enclosed being with certain attributes which are immutable and absolute. Some of which can only be demonstrated in the face and judgment of sin (i.e. Sect. II; #’s 2 & 8; “wrath” and “mercy”), while the others are merely magnified in their brilliance and glory in the same. (4) The scriptures offer no less than five passages (+ Is. 63) that indicate that at least one, if not the only, morally sufficient reason and /or purpose for sin being present in the world is that God may demonstrate his nature and glorify his name “in all the earth.”
Therefore, given the validity and soundness of the foregone premises, one may conclude that the presence of sin in the world was an ordained means of God to the end that he and he alone may be glorified as Holy Judge and Merciful Redeemer. Hence, God allows sin to thereby glorify himself.
One could go on from this conclusion to ask further, “Why did God ordain it as such?” I believe this is the end at which “the proud waves must stop.” To go any further moves from the “things revealed” into “the secret things,” thus violating the mandate of Deut 29:29—where God stately says, “NO TRESSPASSING-KEEP OUT!”
The answer I have proposed often finds psychological objections in our mind; we are tempted to respond with “that’s not very fair,” then assuming that what God has said in his word about this topic is not morally sufficient and moreover kind of a selfish motive (see: Rom 9:19—21). With this notion, one would do well to survey Gen 3, since those types of questions are precisely what thrust sin into our world in the first place. Thus, to question further is not to seek an answer concerning the sin problem, but to recapitulate it in our own minds.
I call upon You, Lord, God of Abraham and God of Isaac and God of Jacob and Israel, You who are the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God who, through the abundance of your mercy, was well-pleased towards us so that we may know You, who made heaven and earth, who rules over all, You who are the one and the true God, above whom there is no other God; You who, by our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit, give to every one who reads this writing to know You, that You alone are God, to be strengthened in You, and to avoid every heretical and godless and impious teaching.
St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4
St Irenaeus of Lyons, Against the Heresies 3:6:4