I received an email the other day from a reader with the following question:
How would a Calvinist explain the fall of man to someone who does not understand the story?
First, let me give the straightforward answer to this question.
A Calvinist would explain the fall no differently than any other Christian who believes in the authenticity and authority of scripture.
Most orthodox Christians believe in the literalness of the story. It is not a fable, a myth or an allegory. The story of the fall is all fact, and all truth. Reject a literal interpretation of the fall and the mystery of man’s corrupt state remains unanswered. The story of Christ and his redemption would not make sense unless the story were true. Jesus is called the second Adam. Where Adam caused humanity to fall into sin, Christ redeemed humanity from sin.
For those not familiar with the account of the fall, here are the basic facts:
- God created Adam on the sixth day of creation
- God set Adam in the Garden of Eden to work it and care for it
- God commanded that he could eat of any tree in the garden except for the tree of knowledge of good and evil that stood in the midst of the garden, lest he die.
- God created woman from man’s rib to be a help-mate
- The serpent tempted Eve to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, saying “You shall not surely die, for God knows that in the day you eat of it, then your eyes shall be opened, and you shall be as God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:4-5)
- Eve partakes of the fruit, sharing it with Adam.
- They are immediately ashamed of their nakedness.
- God is angry, pronouncing judgment on Adam, Eve and the serpent.
- Death came into the world that day just as God said it would; spiritual, eternal and eventually physical death.
- Man is driven from the garden.
- Man is separated from God by his sin.
There you go. Question answered!
Good job ol’ boy! (pats self on back)
Do I detect an underlying inquiry beneath the surface of the first question? A question, that like a shadow looms large and foreboding over the first. A question so frightening in its implications that no one dares ask it aloud?
Yes, I can hear it plainly reverberating in my ears. It is a question I believe everyone who has wrestled with the issue of God’s sovereignty has asked themselves at one time or another.
If God is sovereign, omniscient and omnipotent over all things, as Calvinists insist, working all things after the counsel of His own will, why did he allow or even decree the fall of man in the garden of Eden?
The question demands an answer from both Calvinists and Non-Calvinists. Neither side questions God’s foreknowledge of future events. No one questions the degree and scope of His power. Scripture abundantly shows that God declares the end from the beginning. He knows his people even before they are formed in the womb. God undeniably had foreknowledge of the fall of man. He planned our salvation before the foundation of the world!
The question of why God did not intervene, thwarting the serpent’s efforts, preventing the greatest catastrophe in history remains one that not only Calvinists must face, but also Arminians and persons of any other theological persuasions.
So, why did God allow the fall if he knew it would happen? Why did God allow the serpent into the garden to tempt Adam and Eve?
The quick, but not so easy answer is this:
God did not will to prevent the fall, but decreed that it should happen just as it did.
I’ll let that sink in for a moment. I know, it is abhorrent to the natural mind to believe God would purpose these things to be. However, shocking as this conclusion may be, the alternative answer is yet more disturbing. If God did not decree the fall then He became a helpless spectator, watching in horror as man made his fateful decision.
The implications of this theology are staggering. If God, not willing for man to perish could do nothing to prevent it from happening, then the future fate of the world and our salvation remains uncertain. We can never be sure that God can save us, preserve us and see us through to the end. Every prophecy, decree and plan God has ever made will be subject to chance or on the whims of depraved man.
I shudder at the thought of a powerless God who has let control of the universe slip from His hand.
No! Almighty God is sovereign over every molecule in the universe. Nothing happens by mere chance. If every hair on our heads are counted, if a little sparrow does not fall without God’s knowledge, then we must admit to His sovereign rule. He must have, in some way decreed the temptation and fall of humanity in the garden.
We may never know the full answer to that question this side of eternity. The secret things belong to the Lord. Scripture may provide clues into God’s wisdom in allowing it to happen. In a future post I will explore scripture evidences explaining why God decreed the fall.
Other questions curl about our brains, demanding a satisfactory answer, but we must be careful. Man is in no position to cast moral judgments against the Almighty. God is above reproach. Anytime an accusation is hurled at Him, He is quick to rebuke in anger and set man in his rightful place. God is not responsible for man’s fall in the garden. He is not the author of sin. A careful reading of the Genesis account shows man was not coerced against his will to commit sin. The important fact to remember is man sinned willingly. He chose for himself to either obey God or his own aroused passions. He was tempted, of course, but at the time his will was not bound.
Accountability for every act or decision always rests on the will of the person committing the deed. The will is governed by desire. Desire is birthed in the heart. All form of corruption springs from man’s heart. It is separation from God’s goodness, cutoff at the fall, that results in the heart’s corrupt and deceitful state. God is not to blame! In fact, because man willingly rebels against his Creator, the judgment of eternal hell is just in the eyes of a holy God.
We must never call into question God’s character. God is holy. He is righteous. He is all light, goodness and purity. He is gracious, merciful and compassionate. There is no darkness in Him. We must trust in His wisdom to decree what He has willed to accomplish. In the end it is for God’s glory and for our good. From that basis, we should rest our head in His bosom, trusting in the knowledge that He works all things for good for those that love Him.
In summary, Calvinists appeal to God’s unquestionable sovereignty in the fall. Arminians appeal to the sovereignty of man’s free will in the fall. Arminians believe in some unsubstantiated universal law that man’s free will cannot be violated. They believe it is unrighteous and unjust for God to ever violate man’s freedom of choice. Of course, Calvinists do not dispute man freely chose to eat the fruit. They say in doing so, it fulfilled God’s foreordained plan. Arminians claim the fall occurred contrary to God’s will. This would make man’s will sovereign.
On a side note: if violating free will is a sin, than God is indeed a sinner, because I’m certain no one will enter the lake of burning sulphur, where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched, of their own free will.
God’s decrees and judgments are just, rest assured. His ultimate purpose is to bring glory to His name. This is man’s chief aim as well. Believers bring Him glory by magnifying his attributes of love, mercy and compassion. In contrast, unbelievers bring glory to His name by magnifying His attributes of justice, wrath and righteous judgment. These are solemn truths. We should meditate on them through God’s word so we may fully understand God in all His fullness and glory.
Soli Deo Gloria