From The Chalcedon Position Paper No. 78, September 1986
The Freedom to Sin
Some many years ago, a man asked me a rhetorical question, “What would you do if you were God?” he demanded, and then proceeded to answer it himself. “I know what I would do.” He continued to tell us what he as god would do, and most of the men agreed. His conclusion was this: because God did not do these to him so obviously good things, and God is supposed to be all good, God does not exist.
The essence of all that he said was very simple: he felt that a good God could not allow men to sin, to make mistakes, to wrong themselves and others, and so on and on. In brief, man should not have the freedom to sin. The Garden of Eden was for him no paradise, because at its very center there was a tree to tempt man and destroy him. All our lives, no matter how well-intentioned we are, and no matter how “good,” we are prey to ugly consequences from simple mistakes. For this man, Darwin’s struggle for survival and the survival of the fittest was at least an accurate description of life and the world. The human endeavor, he believed, should be to eliminate the problems which frustrate and trip up man by means of intelligent social planning and control. Only so could man create the world which the Biblical God refused to create.
At the heart of this man’s argument was the desire to play god and to prevent man from sinning. It was implicit to his argument that mankind through the state should strive to create the great world community which God refused to create. Naturally, for him sin was not the problem: it was and is the ugly circumstances and environment which man faces.
Humanistic man has tried to save man and the world by works of statist law. I discussed the approaches used in the Chalcedon Report, issues 161–163, January–March 1979.(1) As I pointed out then, the first step was law as a means of reformation, the salvation of man and society by law. A basic step in this plan was the introduction of the prison system, reformatories wherein men were to be reformed and made into useful citizens.
The second step was regulation, laws used to so control men as to make sinning impossible. In such a social order, all men are controlled by various state agencies in order to prevent any outbreak of evil. Prohibition was a major step towards this goal; gun control is another. Regulating agencies to police capital, labor, farming, medical practice, and all other spheres of activity are now commonplace attempts to abolish sin.
The third step is now in process, law as a means of redistribution, and the Internal Revenue Service is important towards this goal. The “evils” of inequality of wealth and opportunity must be equalized, it is held, by the compulsion of taxation, confiscation, and various forms of legalized expropriation. The redistributive state wants a world beyond good and evil, beyond criticism and judgment, a world of total equality — except for the elite rulers.
By eliminating the freedom to sin, the modern state becomes progressively more coercive, and brutally so. The “Gulag Archipelago” is the logical conclusion of every attempt by man to play god and to eliminate the freedom of sinning. At root, our political and related problems have their source in man’s desire to have a new Garden of Eden without any possible source of temptation and fall. Many of the child-rearing problems which confront modern parents have a like origin. Parents want to spare their children the necessity of being tried and tested, which means that the parents believe in indulgence, not true freedom. True freedom necessitates risks, trials, and temptations. It necessitates the possibility of failure, but it also makes success possible. A risk-free, failure-free world is a world doomed to die.
What God’s permission for us to sin means is that we quickly learn that we are not gods, and that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). We rebel against this knowledge, and many suppress it, but we are not usable to the Lord until, by His grace, we accept the fact of what we are and what we must become in Christ.
I was a young man when I first read a line from the concluding portion of James Russell Lowell’s poem “Under the Willows.” Lowell spoke of men as, “We, who by shipwreck only find the shores Of divine wisdom.” He was right. It is not our works nor our self-righteousness that saves us. God shipwrecks us to makes us ready for His grace.
We live now in an age of judgment which will soon break over us. Scripture makes it clear that judgment and salvation go together; the cross is the supreme example of their coincidence. It is the symbol of God’s judgment upon us, and His grace unto salvation. Without judgment, we would have no hope. The world would then proceed systematically into hell.
The freedom to sin in Eden, and in the world, is God’s purpose. By our sins, we know ourselves to be but men, however proud and angry, by our sinning. By His grace, we know ourselves to be His creatures, called to be His dominion men, priests, kings, and prophets in His everlasting Kingdom.
A medieval popular song thanked God for the fall of Adam, concluding thus:
Blessed be the time that apple taken was!
Therefore we may singen Deo gracias.
1. See “Law as Revolution” (January 1979), “Law as Regulation” (February 1979), and “Law as Redistribution” (March 1979) -editor.
I have always insisted that humans have the God-given right to go to Hell.
I strongly advise against it, though.
For one thing, it was never designed for men to inhabit.
That is not where we belong.
And if we don’t belong in Hell, we definitely need to NOT GO to the Lake of Fire!