In reality, every worldview raises some questions its advocates can’t answer, so the mere existence of an unanswered (even unanswerable) question doesn’t necessarily count against a worldview. It may simply imply a lack of information, which, in the context of a Christian worldview, would mean a lack of divine revelation on that particular point.
It’s a question that puzzles new converts and terrifies Sunday school teachers. Indeed, it’s a conundrum most of us have wrestled with, and for good reason. The fall of Adam wasn’t merely the first human sin. It was an act that was calamitous for the world and the human race. Because of the fall, “All mankind . . . lost communion with God, are under his wrath and curse, and so made liable to all miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q19).
Why would God permit such a tragic event, such an act of flagrant rebellion, in full knowledge of its horrific consequences?
A friend of mine quipped, “I can answer that one in three words: I don’t know!” Joking aside, his response does raise an important issue. Would it be a big problem if we didn’t have a good answer to that question? Would our inability to answer it give us any reason to doubt Christianity?
Hardly. In reality, every worldview raises some questions its advocates can’t answer, so the mere existence of an unanswered (even unanswerable) question doesn’t necessarily count against a worldview. It may simply imply a lack of information, which, in the context of a Christian worldview, would mean a lack of divine revelation on that particular point. We might justifiably reason like this:
- God allowed the fall.
- God has good reasons for everything he does, including what he allows.
- Therefore, God had good reasons for allowing the fall, whether or not we can discern them.
Scripture doesn’t tell us directly why God permitted sin to enter the world. But it does provide us with materials from which we can construct a consistent and reasonable explanation.
One Bad Answer
One popular answer among Christians is superficial and deeply flawed. It says God allowed the fall because he wanted to make room for human free will. Free will is necessary for moral virtue and meaningful relationships, the argument goes, but it opened up the possibility we would choose evil rather than good.
This answer falls short for many reasons. I’ll mention three.
- Having free will does not necessarily entail the possibility of doing evil. God has free will, is morally virtuous, and can enter into meaningful relationships, yet it’s impossible for him to do evil. Couldn’t God have granted the same kind of non-evildoing freedom to us?
- Christians generally agree that God foreknew Adam would sin. But did God foreordain it? If we answer no, because we think human free choices are beyond God’s control, it makes little sense to ask why God permitted Adam’s sin. Any future event God foreknows must be already settled, such that not even God can change it. It’s “too late” for God to either prevent or permit it.
- The Bible makes clear that human free choices are not beyond God’s sovereign control (Gen. 50:20; Ezra 1:1; Prov. 21:1; Acts 4:27–28; Eph. 1:11). It was within God’s power to ensure that Adam freely obeyed rather than disobeyed. Hence, it was within God’s power to give Adam free will and to ensure that Adam did not fall, which means God must have had some other reason for allowing the fall than merely a desire to bestow free will on his creatures.