Why Did God Permit Sin?

Man in thought

This question is often asked by the skeptic and frequently found without reply in the mind even of the believer in Christ. How immensely important to possess clearly an answer to this stupendous question—one that will leave the unbeliever without excuse and at the same time will settle firmly in divine truth the minds of those who believe. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12).

The first part of this important verse confines the entrance of sin to this world, and the second limits the passing of the consequent sentence of death on man, without noticing either the possible entrance of sin into other spheres or death’s passing upon other than the human family.

Let us now turn to Genesis, chapters one and two, where we have the account of the creation of man. “And God said, Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them” (verses 26, 27).

There are two distinct words used here by God, very different in their signification: they are “image” and “likeness.” How accurately this usage is maintained throughout the Word of God is among the wonders of its perfection. The word “image” is sometimes used, in human language, to signify the likeness in one for another. One might say, “Such an one is the very image of his father”—meaning that he is an exact likeness. But this is not the way it is used in general in the Scripture. There it is used rather in speaking of that which represents another, without having any reference to its being like or unlike, in features or otherwise, to the person represented.

We read of Christ being the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), and man being “the image and glory of God” (1 Corinthians 11:7). In these and other scriptures the word “image” is used as fully representing another, as the image of Jupiter or of Caesar.

Now “likeness” is different from this. Its meaning is simple and readily understood as describing a person being like another, that is, having the same traits of character and features.

The man was created, then, in both these ways. He was set as the great center of an immense system, fully to represent God as His image. The dominion of the vast system was his. All intelligences, his wife included, were to look up to him as God’s representative in that sphere. God alone was over him, all else being subject to man. But he was also in the likeness of God. He was pure as his Creator made him; he was “very good”; he was sinless, too, absolutely without evil. He was from God to be for God and thus like Him and fit, therefore, to be His image. He was to represent Him and to be the center to which all should look up. He had also an intelligent will and his choice was free.

But why did God leave moral evil a possibility? Or why did He permit the entrance of sin? Could He not have created a being which could not fall, one who could only do what was good and right?

The answer is plain. If He would create a glorious creature—man, after His own image and in His likeness, free to choose either good or evil, and not a creature governed by a mere chain of instinct as the birds and beasts around him—He must leave to him a possibility of the entrance of evil, though not a necessity. If man, as God created him, could not choose evil, then he had no choice at all. He would be no more virtuous in doing good than the mere animal which follows the instincts of its nature. And because in such a case he must do good, he would be no more virtuous in doing so than they.

Either God must refrain—we write the words with reverence—from creating such a being of this high and glorious order of existence with a free choice and will, or He must leave the question of evil a possibility to him. Alas! for the result, of which a fallen race speaks with such terrible reality. He chose the evil and refused the good. The moment he exercised this choice he became a sinner. Man, created in the image of God, fell from that pinnacle of eminence, never to be restored to it again (except as God’s plans and counsels will be fulfilled in Christ—the second man, the last Adam). Fallen Adam begets a son in his own likeness, after his image (Genesis 5:3), while unfallen Adam had been created “in the likeness of God” (Genesis 5:1).

Observe in all this that there was no thought of man being holy; nor could it have been said of him, as afterward of the “new man,” that he of God was “created in righteousness and true holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). God is holy—absolutely so. But holiness is relative, inasmuch as it supposes evil to exist and implies absolute separation from it. This could not be said of man as God created him. He was pure and perfectly good, but evil was not for him in existence until he chose evil when presented in the form of a temptation. Thus he threw aside the authority and will of God who had given it to him.

Everything in the sinner now depends on his will in having to do with God; his salvation and all depends upon the surrender of his will to Him. “Ye will not come to Me, that ye might have life” (John 5:40). “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).Now Christ is said to be the “image of the invisible God,” and the “image of God” Himself (2 Corinthians 4:4). This is because He fully represents God, but He is never said to be in His “likeness,” simply because He is God Himself, therefore not merely like Him. But it is also said that He came in the “likeness of sinful flesh,” and rightly so, because He was not sinful flesh at all (see Romans 8:3).

He too had His own perfect will, and, while tested to the uttermost in life and in death, it was always His will to do the Father’s will. “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work” (John 4:34).This obedience and subjection found its perfection fully in death. He “became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8). Notice that He was not subject to death, as the first man was through his sin. With the first man it was the penalty of disobedience. But it was there that the perfection of Christ’s surrender of a perfect will in obedience shone out most fully. May we not say that it showed the perfect blending of a perfect will in Him, as a man, with that of God, in obedience unto death itself.

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