One of those questions I get asked a lot is why did God permit the Fall? Surely, God being God could have stopped Adam and Eve from falling into sin. Surely God could have made Adam and Eve in such a way that they would not be tempted to sin. Surely God could have interceded right then and there and stopped Eve from having the conversation with the Serpent. He could have made the Fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil look putrid and gross or he could have had a big bird fly by and pluck it from her hand. Have there not been times in your life when God providentially stopped you from engaging in a sin you had your heart set on? Perhaps he gave you a flat tire, a last-minute call to pull an extra shift at work, or something similar to that? Certainly he has for me. So, why did God permit Adam and Eve to Fall and then bring into this world all of the horrors that accompany living in a sinful world — most prominently, death?
Across church history, theologians have proposed a number of answers to this question. Probably the one that frustrates me the most is what theologians call the “Free Will Defense.” In other words, if God was going to give us a will that is truly and utterly free, he had to leave Adam and Eve to their own devices when it came to this first temptation — he had his hands tied, as it were, because he wanted to see if they would really love and obey them. This line of reasoning has problems on a number of levels, the most obvious one being that it does not line up with the Scriptures. The Scriptures never depict the will of man as being autonomous, but instead, under the sovereign reign of God. Thus, we see the Scriptures talking about God calling some to faith and God hardening the hearts of others. So, for example, Solomon writes that even though the heart of man plans things, it is God who lays forth his steps (Proverbs 16:9) and that God is sovereign even over the most minute and seemingly random events (Proverbs 16:33). In light of this, James states, that whenever we make plans, we ought to prefix our statement with “Lord willing” (James 4:15).
The other glaring problem with the “Freewill Defense” is that it presumes that for the will of man to truly be free, it must be free to sin and disobey. Yet, sin binds our wills. Disobedience is lawlessness and recklessness and not freedom. In fact, it is rightly said that the place and time when our will will be most free will be in the new creation when all is redeemed. And in the new creation, we will no longer be able to sin even if we wanted to (though understand, we will not want to either). Our affections will be set on God and upon His glory alone, the filth of sin will not even enter into the equation.
So, if this is not the answer to the question, what is? When I am asked this question, it is to Augustine’s answer that I appeal — that without the Fall we would not know the extent of the love of Christ for his elect. Without the Fall, there would have been no sin. Without the Fall, then, there would need be no redemption for sin. We would not know of God the Son’s willingness to suffer and die on behalf of the elect. We would not know the power of grace expressed through Christ’s substitutionary atonement. Augustine, on this matter, argued that it is better to bring good out of evil than to forbid evil from existing in the first place. Theologically this view is typically referred to as the Felix Culpa or the “Blessed Fall.”
Thus, despite the fact that Adam and Eve were created without fault and perfectly capable of fellowshipping and worshipping God without fault and with great joy (something Jude anticipates in glory — Jude 24), God decided that it was wise to permit that man and woman would fall by ordaining that Satan enter into the world in the form of a Serpent and to test man and woman. Satan did exactly what he wanted, Adam and Eve did exactly what they wanted, but all of their actions were perfectly aligned with God’s plan and design from eternity past — all so that we, the Elect, might know the unsurpassed depth of the love of God for us in Christ.
And so, sin and death entered the world. And from that point forward, all of the descendants of Adam and Eve (the whole human race) have become corrupted in our nature that our natural bent is toward sin. Not even one part of our being, body or soul or actions, is free from the effects of the Fall. We are wicked in our very nature. But praise be to God that in coming face to faith with our wickedness, God shows us the immensity of his grace. And beloved, that ought always draw us to worship.