Is Sin an “Unintended Consequence” of Creation? (Part 2 of 2)

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”  — Proverbs 27:17 (NIV)

Previously, I introduced “Darryl” and his idea that “sin is ultimately a consequence of Creation… albeit, an unintended consequence.” In fact, in an effort to exculpate God from all responsibility for sin, he hypothesized that perhaps “God sovereignly created a ‘Law of Unintended Consequences,’ of which sin is one….” While I appreciate the intent (hah!), the concept didn’t sit right with me, so I challenged him on it. Here is the latter half of our discussion on God’s sovereignty, Man’s free will, and sin as “unintended consequence”:

artist's conception representing The Holy TrinityDarryl: Thanks, Chris. I read everything you sent. Please correct me if I’m misunderstanding you. In your view of God’s sovereignty, are you saying that God can only be a “communal/relational entity” if He is deliberately inspiring and orchestrating sinful acts through humans? My issue here is not with “marring the freedom” of the human free agent, but with marring the character and ways of God as revealed in the Scripture.

Me: Of course not. The three Persons of the Trinity were communal/relational amongst themselves before God/They created anything. But, my reference to this attribute of God was in relation (pun intended) to His desiring to be in relationship with and commune with us, the (co-)instruments — along with the central Atonement Work of Christ, of course — in accomplishing His plan. A hands-off, deistic program, perhaps involving robotic (i.e., non-free) agents doesn’t seem to be in line with that part of His nature. Nor would it accomplish anything redemptive, since that requires free-will agents recognizing (even subconsciously) their sinful natures and deciding whether or not to commit to the One who provides a substitutionary atonement for reconciliation with the Father.

I am uncomfortable with your phrasing: “deliberately inspiring and orchestrating sinful acts through humans”. As I’ve said, the potential for sin was inherent as soon as God created moral free agents — angels first, humans later. He wouldn’t have to be omniscient to know they would eventually sin. And it doesn’t make God any less Holy, Good, Righteous, etc. You are very concerned with making sure God’s character is not slighted or diminished, and I certainly agree with the sentiment. It is not my intent to do so, and I do not believe that I have.

Now, you agreed earlier that God’s omniscience precludes the possibility of His being “caught by surprise”. And, you’ve stated that “sin is ultimately a consequence of Creation”. So, how could He have purposed to accomplish something, designed & implemented the best plan to do it, and have anything be, ultimately, “unintended”? That implies that He didn’t realize that something could or would happen, once the plan was set in motion. This… does… not… compute.

A few questions for you: Doesn’t God have the “right” to do as He pleases with His creation? (Everyone who is not part of the elect is born to eternal damnation, after all. And they serve God’s purposes.) Does He not use pain & suffering in our lives for our own benefit and to further His purposes, to His glory? Does He not work out all things for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28)?

Darryl: Chris… 1) So, are you saying that God deliberately created the “potential” for sin, but He does not deliberately inspire and orchestrate the “acts” of sin? If so, how did God define that “potential” when He created it? 2) To your question, you raise a separate issue here with respect to the theological “problem of pain and suffering.” It’s an important issue, but it’s a separate one from the question of, “Did God deliberately inspire and orchestrate the sins that you and I committed this week?”

Me: Darryl… 1) Yes. I’m not sure I understand your question about God defining the potential for sin, though. If you are asking how He decided what would be called “sin” and the boundaries thereof, how should I know (beyond what He says in Scripture, of course)? All I’m saying is that a moral free agent by nature has the (cap)ability to decide to do something against the *moral* will (not sovereign will) of God — even Adam & Eve, who did not have the “excuse” of inheriting a “sin nature”. Surely you understand and agree with that, right? 2) You make a fair point. However, since pain & suffering are often tied to sin, either practically or theologically, they are related issues. That paragraph, though, was to demonstrate more generally how God often uses “bad” stuff to accomplish his purposes. 3) You totally ignored my 3rd paragraph, where I demonstrated the apparent incoherence of your position. Nice duck, buddy! ;> Now, care to clarify?

Darryl: Chris… So, you believe that the moral will of God is separate from the sovereign will of God? In other words, God’s moral will is not always accomplished in the lives of people, because of free will? I agree! That’s why I’m suggesting that God sovereignly established a “law of unintended consequences” as part of His sovereign will…which is why people make moral choices that God did not intend. 2) Yes, pain and suffering are related to original sin, but we’re discussing the “origin of original sin” rather than the ramifications of original sin. 3) In response to your “third paragraph,” these “unintended consequences of Creation” are nonetheless “consequences of Creation,” as I stated earlier. Agreed?

Every act of sin (not just the potential for sin) was either an “intended” (inspired & orchestrated) or “unintended” consequence of Creation. Which one?

Bible, glasses, pen and paperMe: Hey, I’m glad we agree on something! But, I don’t see the scriptural support for your suggested “law of unintended consequences”. Plus, it is essentially saying that God, whose sovereignty implies that He is ultimately in control of everything and whose transcendence implies that He is not subject to any “laws” within His Creation, has instituted in His Creation some law/phenomenon that limits His omniscience and somehow allows things to happen that He cannot control. (This is, of course, different than the Son’s limiting access to His own power & knowledge while incarnated as Jesus on Earth.) Does this really make sense to you?

It seems that much of our disagreement may stem from a combination of differing definitions of terms, as well as the degree to which we think God exercises His control in human affairs (particularly regarding sin), which gets back to the issue of proximate, mediate, and ultimate causes. For example, you speak of what God did or did not *intend*, by which you mean “inspire and orchestrate”. To me, “intend” means to plan or purpose something to happen. Because God is Sovereign, that which He decrees *will* be done. No one and nothing can impede His plans. I believe that, while it is God’s moral will and preference that we obey Him, it is His sovereign will that people sin against Him, so that some of them may then (re)turn to Him to be redeemed, thereby helping to conquer evil and bring Him glory. That’s the “Big Picture”, eternal Plan. But, I do not believe that this requires God to be “deliberately inspiring and orchestrating sinful acts through humans”. However, an argument could be made that in a few, select cases (e.g., surrounding the Crucifixion), God orchestrated *events* to facilitate (e.g., ensure proper timing of) parts of His plan of Redemption. In fact, all of history has been “orchestrated” to some degree. But, God personally “inspir(ing)” people to commit specific, sinful acts? That doesn’t sound right. God may have created the environment and conditions, but His creatures screw up just fine on their/our own. 🙁

And, yes, that which you call “unintended consequences of Creation” (i.e., free-will acts of disobedience to God, aka “sin”) are, obviously, “consequences of Creation”. How does this clarify your seemingly incoherent position?”

It occurred to me while reviewing & preparing this exchange for the blog that the idea of God intentionally instituting a “law of unintended consequences” may even be a sort of self-refuting concept and, thus, logically impossible. A “law” indicates some sort of regularity, yet for sinful acts to be truly “unintended”, don’t they need to be unanticipated and, thus, irregular? (Or, maybe I’m misunderstanding how such a law would work.) Plus, Darryl’s purpose in positing this “law” seems to be to get God off the hook for the existence of sin in His creation. But, if God made (or “put in place”) such a “law” as part of the (moral) structure of His creation, doesn’t that mean God is still ultimately “at fault”? So, it doesn’t really do what Darryl wants it to do.

Regrettably, Darryl never responded to my last comments/challenge above, so the conversation came to a close. Did he simply decide he was bored and had had enough of the topic? Did he decide I was hopelessly mislead/misinformed and give up on me? Did he get sidetracked and forget about it before he could put together a response? Or, did he realize he had no good response? Who knows…? These things happen. (A lot, come to think of it. Hmmmm.) But, I think the conversation challenged us both and forced us to think through some interesting, theological issues. All in all, a good (and very civil) exchange.

P.S.  A brief but helpful article on the doctrine of Original Sin can be found here: “Augustine on Adam’s Fall”.

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