God’s infinity in relation to His creation
- Can a God of absolute goodness create a fallible humanity?
There are many puzzling questions, many of which remain unanswered. Some however are the products of unbelief, questions to which the faithful are sure of the answers. One example is the confusion rife over the origin of the universe. Ever since humanity deserted God, the origin of life becomes a mind-boggling and burning issue. Speculative answers are conjured up to satisfy the fallen minds. They range from the existence by chance to the theory of evolution, but all these ideas were ironically ‘created’ to exclude creationism.
To all genuine Christians, the answer is plain and simple. Life originated from God. ‘By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible’ (Heb 11:3). Faith is what we need, to know that it is the Lord Jesus, the Creator, who fashioned the universe into existence. This is the perimeter set for us. To probe by mere conjecture beyond it, such as the process of creation – from nothingness to perfection in creation – would possibly raise doubts of a higher degree, overshadowing the trust in God.
Recently, the question that has troubled theologians and Christians alike for the past one or two millennia is being raised in our community of faith: ‘How could God with perfect goodness create a fallible humanity?’ This issue when pursued throws up more perplexing questions and issues. They include the following (just to state a few):
1. Why did God create the forbidden tree?
2. How could Satan gain free access to the Garden of Eden?
3. The origin of Sheol or Hades.
4. The two dimensional will of God
5. The origin of Satan
How can we defend the truth?
Maybe, it is a truthful quest in search for a deeper understanding, to assign greater meaning to the work of God’s creation, make sense of His work in relation to His redemption and be spiritually perceptive of Satan’s destructive schemes. To some, these questions if left unanswered would inflict a hole in their faith, which would not be readily or easily repairable. However, trying to answer them contrary to the traditional beliefs of the church has resulted in many more problems, questioning every teaching on the attributes of God and re-explaining valuable biblical concepts, which the Lord has given to the church through His inspiration to the early workers.
To continue in pursuit of the latter is mightily dangerous. It causes a drift in understanding, forming barriers and different schools of thoughts amongst workers. The truth of the Bible is that we must endeavour with great diligence to attain to and preserve the unity that the Spirit has bestowed in the church (Eph 4:3). To justify differences in the community of faith, an easy wrap-up is to state that it is fine to hold on to various views to a biblical matter, with historical and existing examples quoted. It is true that there have been variant views even amongst early workers on biblical issues. However, they have not stressed to such an extent that theirs was the inspired truth alone. Nor did they go around perpetuating their views as the one and only right direction for the church in search for the truth. They had also not claimed that in the next one or two generations, the whole church would surely adopt and embrace their views with open arms.
In order to bridge the divide, which should not have been instigated in the first place, another idea is generated: ‘old and new truths’ are one and the same. This is designed to calm any nerve that the ‘new revelation’ has stirred up, to say mildly. To state the worst scenario, this view may become the reason and justification for tolerating so-called ‘ground-breaking’ inspirations, deviating from the foundation of the truth upon which the church is built. The Gospels’ sense of ‘old and new’ is never the same (cf Mt 9:17). In fact, ‘old’ is always associated with sins, wrongs and corruption (cf Rm 6:6).
In combining the two, the consequence is devastating; opening up the floodgate for untried and personal views to flood the church. The boundary of the truth or the pattern of the sound words is surely blurred and even erased. Every Bible reading has to be done so with an ‘open mind for new inspirations different from what the church has received’. How do we account for Paul asking the younger workers to ponder over what he said, using his words as the foundation of their work and teachings (2 Tim 2:7; 2 Thess 2:15)? Never once did Paul tell the younger workers to elaborate on his teachings with foundation-shifting contradicting variations. Instead he gave specific instructions and teachings to them. The three Pastoral Epistles are good examples.
How can we defend the truth if such a practice is made prevalent in the church? As it is a matter of fact that the truth is far exceeding the scope of the doctrines, the pattern of God’s word cannot just be limited to the doctrines. The entire Bible is joined and inter-related. For example, to assume that Satan is self-existing would naturally lead to him having the same power of God to create his own allies, the demons. It is an unnecessary assumption, which the Bible does not talk about.
To persist on going down this route creates fractious groupings in the community of faith over the globe, generating tensions amongst them. Suspicion and speculation are intensified in any worship session especially when related subjects, such as God’s omniscience and omnipresence, are discussed. This worship setting can have two far-reaching harmful effects on the church. First, the element of worshipping God in spirit and in truth is fast vanishing, when these two camps of believers, who hold opposite views to one another, are gathered together in service. Second, in some churches, to prevent backlash, speakers will avoid talking about ‘these man-created biblically sensitive issues’, which in the first place could be spoken freely in the past. With the passing of time, it becomes unnatural and a burden even to mention them. The danger of forgetting or losing them is grave. The new converts and younger generations would suffer as a result.
Is God’s creation only for destroying Satan’s works?
So, in view of the danger of omission, we should all the more talk about God’s infinity in greater urgency and clarity, to provide a concrete guideline for our church and believers. First we look at it from the perspective of His creation. The conclusion God gave to His own creation on each day is ‘He saw that it was good’ (Gen 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25). The finale to the conclusion of His work is ‘it was very good’ (Gen 1:31).
These are the word that proceeded forth from God’s mouth. Being truly righteous, He would not twist His word. He truly meant what He said on what He had created. On this basis, we can safely say that His creation is perfect. However, this simple belief is being challenged fiercely, even to the extreme: ‘How could a perfect creation of God become fallible when exposed to the temptation of Satan’? The weight of the question can throw off a person’s simplicity in Christ Jesus. The gravity of the challenge, it seems, is well supported biblically. The Eden Tragedy is used to advance it.
This seemingly irrefutable idea now generates a school of thought, which detaches itself from the traditional teaching, claiming that God created the universe with no other intention than to destroy the works of Satan. That is the sole reason for the existence of the universe - the universe provides a battleground between good and evil. The new theory implies that Satan has been hooked up onto a perfect trick of God, which will lead to his downfall when he tries to destroy God’s creation. It is thought that this is the most profound part of His wisdom in rooting out evil in totality. When the job of demolition is finished, there remains no need for the physical realm to exist further. Hence its rolling away and the springing up into existence of the new heavens and new earth.
The storyline is an interesting work of imagination but remains just that because it lacks any biblical support. Our beliefs are on the foundation of the prophets, apostles and Jesus Christ, which add up to the entire Scriptures, and conspicuously, none of them has given even a remote indication that this storyline is valid. If they have not spoken about it, let us be honest with ourselves, do we think we are more advanced than them, which includes our God Jesus, in biblical interpretation? Even Jesus restricted Himself to speak only what the Father had told Him while He was on earth (Jn 8:26, 28).
In answering the challenge, first note that when God said ‘it was good’, it means truly so. Looking through the dealing of God with His creation, in particular His chosen, we see that the relationship between God and man becomes inseparable when human submission to divine authority is at the forefront and foremost of life. In fact, the existence of the universe depends entirely on the order God has set for it. A slight transgression against it would result in a catastrophic consequence beyond imagination.
The incarnation of Jesus supports this very idea. He is the best example to us. He was complete in the eyes of God. He came into this world as a sinless (good) man. However, His sinless state has to be maintained with His submission to the Father in full, to become a perfect man. Here is a process. His being good must be fully developed to the level of perfection by being obedient to the will of the Father. ‘Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things He suffered, and having been perfected he became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him’ (Heb 5:8-9).
Obviously, some would say the essence of Jesus in the flesh differs quite substantially from the physical Adam. However, a careful reading of Romans tells us that the first Adam (of course this is before he sinned) is a type of Him (Jesus) who was to come (Rm 5:14). If there is a fundamental difference in physical essence, then there is no ground for comparison. The word ‘type’ can be translated ‘figure’ or ‘example’. Jesus has taken on the figure of Adam, meaning in the very physical nature prior to the temptation. Before Adam sinned, he was called the son of God (Lk 3:38), a title that is shared by Jesus.
While being on earth, Jesus had the will to think circumstantially in favour of His physical need. One example is His prayers right before His crucifixion (Lk 22:39-46). His initial desire is to opt for the removal of the bitter cup away from Him. With more earnest prayer, He overcame His urge to go against the divine directive. In Luke’s account, He was strengthened, making Him perfect to see through the mission He was asked to carry out. Had Jesus succumbed to the temptation of Satan, He would have been a sinful man, failing to accomplish the work of God.
If it is insistently assumed that the physical Jesus is of a nature not susceptible to sin, then how can He bear the sin of man? The significance of bearing human sins is thus out of the scope of human sufferings and the purpose of existence. How could He say He could sympathise with us, as having being tempted in all points (Heb 4:15)? After all, He would not have fallen into temptation, anyway. If His physical essence is different from Adam’s, then how could he have died for our sins and tasted death for us? The only possible explanation, which has to be a twisted one, is that His death is radically different from the death we know of. Paul would have grievously mistaken the truth by saying that ‘on account of sin: He (Jesus) condemned sin in the flesh’ (Rm 8:3). Can we not see how far off from the right track and this important truth this teaching has gone?
The Bible does not in any way indicate that Jesus’ victory over sin is the result of Him being different in manhood. Rather it is wrought through by His obedience (Rm 5:19). This is one part that man has to play to become and stay perfect in God. The fall of Adam is a case of disobedience (Rm 5:19a). Surely, the fall of the ‘good man’ Adam is not due to the physical essence that he possessed, the ‘programmed creation’ or the ‘incomplete creation’ of God.
Otherwise, the Lord would be considered a ruthless manipulator to achieve His own ends. In the light of God’s righteousness, we know that He would have no reason to punish Adam for sinning against Him if He had in the first place programmed him so. In fact, Adam had all the ability to keep himself in God and all he had to do was not to listen, through Eve, to the words of the Serpent (Ps 91:10; 1 Jn 5:18). He had been given the will to resist but he acted contrary to it – being disobedient is the real reason for the fall.
Is Christ’s incarnation solely for destroying the works of Satan?
We now turn to explain the incarnation of Christ to destroy the works of Satan (1 Jn 3:8), as the recent interpretation of this phrase seems to be a key plank in the new belief. First, the claim to back up this new teaching is that the existence of Satan has nothing to do with God. There is an underlying internal contradiction in this belief. If there is nothing between the two self-existing beings, then why should there be an on-going war between them. If they had co-existed in the eternal past, then is there a need to rid off one another? Most seriously, is that what the Bible teaches?
Looking at the statement of John carefully, we see that he has not written of things or works beyond the scope of human existence. The focus of the passage is the need to be rid of sin in man’s relationship with God, with a reference to what had happened to Satan serving as a warning to us not to tread on his path: ‘Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him. Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Whoever has been born of God does not sin, for His seed remains in him; and he cannot sin, because he has been born of God’ (1 Jn 3:4-9).
Here, John is talking about two modes of existence. One is of God and the other Satan. He teaches that to sin is to be disobedient to God (i.e. God’s law), which is one key message of the passage. In this context, the works of Satan are those that cause humankind to sin, works beginning with the Tragic Event in the Garden of Eden. It takes a wild stretch of the imagination to read that John was writing about the works of Satan against God before the existence of the universe simply by linking with the phrase ‘the devil has sinned from the beginning’. The idea of Christ having manifested does not occur in v 8 alone. It is first stated in v 5, which qualifies and sets the perimeter for the explaining of v 8. Undoubtedly, the works are concerned with those that trap us to sin, and these Satan has devised. God’s incarnation is intended to take away sins (works of Satan). If Christ had not come, then there would not have been salvation for us.
The advice John gives is that we can be victors over sins. He is saying that we can do it for we are given the capacity to remain good in Jesus Christ, if we submissively allow His seed (word) to remain in us (1 Jn 3:9). Truly, unlike Satan, with the practice of righteousness, we can make a gaping difference. John says Satan sinned from the beginning, meaning at one point in the expanse of the beginning (Gen. 1:1), he chose to deviate from the path of righteousness, the order that God had set for all beings in both the physical and spiritual realms. Satan was the first one to go against God.
In his pride, Satan overestimates himself and always thinks that he can get the better of God. Satan is utterly wicked and self-deceived. The first lie he told was to himself – that he was better than God: ‘You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks of his own resources for he is a liar, and the father of it’ (Jn 8:44). Here, John not only speaks of the stubborn rebellion of the Jews, he also most crucially exposes the works of Satan to deceive human beings with lies, which have drawn them away from listening to God (Jn 8:45-47). With regard to human beings, this is what Satan has been doing since the creation of the Garden of Eden. Jesus does not in any sense imply Satan is self-existent.
Is God’s creation intended to defeat Satan?
The deviation is probably the result of not being satisfied with the church’s belief concerning the origin of evil. The traditional belief may well be incomplete, but this is in a sense of being unable to fully explain all facets of the conundrum and certainly not in a sense that the truth is compromised. The question is should one adopt an approach of discarding what the church has first received? It seems to some who have tested the existing belief of the origin of evil that this view has painted God as one who is unable to distinguish between good and evil. How could He allow the evil that is under His control to go on perpetrating sins to corrupt the world in such a horrendous scale? If He had full control over Satan, He could have just eradicated him at will instantaneously.
These then reject the church’s existing belief of the origin of evil. However, they have taken a mild approach recently, which is a change of tone. They say that the early workers have received what God has given to them and though it was limited, it was sufficient for them then. As the church progresses toward perfection in knowing God’s will, more truth, which has not been told before, is being unfolded. To comment on this approach mildly, we can see that this is to pave a way for what is more radically unacceptable to come. To paint the real scenario, if we are not careful, this is the beginning for heresies, divisions and confusion to cloud the church to the demise of many precious souls, whom our Lord Jesus has purchased with His precious blood.
For this reason, we should scrutinise the above theory. Otherwise, when we finally wake up to its complication, devastation and hostility, we can suffer the greatest shock in our religious life. By the time we realise it, our faith could have been ruined altogether, if we are into it. The theory is the worst ever conception against the very nature of God. It denies completely His very fundamental nature, i.e, of love. It paints a picture of God being a ruthless perpetrator to achieve His personal objective, at the loss of countless souls that He had created, since, as the theory goes, human existence has been brought in to defeat Satan. In addition, many of those whom He came to save likewise perish as well, as they have fallen into temptations.
As the theory has proposed, the universe is the battleground, a meeting point between good and evil. The crime framed upon God could not have been greater. Since He is the creator, He has to create or to programme man in His likeness to sin. This, it seems, is inevitable. Otherwise, there would not have been the coming of Christ to die for our sins, ultimately to destroy Satan and his works. The theory leads to an inconceivable conclusion: God, though absolutely good as the Bible teaches, has now become a God who planned to allow Satan to infiltrate His creation. He has directly conceived and manipulated it to be so.
Where is the love of God? How could He say He loved the world so much that He sent His only begotten Son to the world (Jn 3:16)? How could Paul say that God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rm 5:8)? His death is nothing more than a show, crocodile tears. This makes God to be one with ill predetermination to achieve what He has in mind at all costs. How can man, in particular those who have been called, be valued important in His eyes? So, what the Bible teaches about how mindful He is toward us (Ps 8:4; 115:12; 144:3; Heb 2:6) is nothing but a heap of lies.
To exemplify the erroneousness of this damning proposition, we can use an example here. Imagine a demanding father crossing a bridge with his innocent son. Halfway across, the father’s watch falls into the water. The next thing we realise is that the son has been forced by the demanding father to jump into the river to recover it. The son however now gets into difficulties and is drowning. Should the father call himself a hero or saviour before the son, if he later on rescues him? Frankly we have to ask: ‘Have we been kept in the dark all along for not knowing exactly what God has been doing or who God really is’?
If that is the case then where is God’s righteousness? He has planned for corruption to occur in human existence. Without which He cannot defeat Satan. Why does He call Himself a holy God? The contradiction continues in a more scary degree, if we look at His command, which He, through the Bible, repeatedly instructs us to stay clear of sin, to live a righteous life, making it a must for one to have a share in His Kingdom. What is the point of doing that? Most sadly of all, why should He judge us, when we fail to live up to His expectation, something that He has planned for? This is shocking.
Human responsibility cannot be made accountable, as to a certain extent it has been pre-determined: a fixed direction has been programmed in man so that corruption could creep in somehow sooner or later. Does it not appear nonsensical and hypocritical for God to prepare a skin garment each for Adam and Eve? Our existence is reduced to nothing more than a tool God has introduced to defeat Satan only. Should it break in the process, He can use another. Once broken, the condemnation here is eternal. How can we possibly perceive the justice and righteousness of God in the entire episode of heaven and earth? Is this the God whom we want to believe in?
Now, we should come back to the love of God that the Bible teaches. His love is unconditional and pure. There is no ulterior motive in it. His love is never manipulative. His love is sacrificial. He takes the daunting first step to love us (1 Jn 4:19). The manifestation of His Son is to demonstrate this very love He has for us (1 Jn 4:9-10), and in the process He has eliminated the works of Satan, so that we might live through Him.
He loves us because He desires to save us from sin. This sin has nothing to do with him at all be it directly or indirectly. Man’s sin is solely because of disobedience (Rm 5). This is where our faith must come into play. The teachings with regard to sins should not be probed beyond the boundary of obedience and disobedience. This includes the fact that Satan sinned from the beginning and the explanation that it obviously must have been because of disobedience to God. He surely must have violated the heavenly rules.
The truth in the Bible is plain and simple. Righteousness is the intrinsic nature of God. Right and wrong are clearly distinct in His eyes. It is wholly unimaginable to believe that in the core of His righteousness is embedded the sole will of destroying evil at the horrific expense of innumerable lives that He has created. He can only be truly righteous when He judges us on the premise of having given us instructions, and that He has nothing to do with any wrongs that we have done (Eccl 11:9-10). This is when he places back human responsibility squarely on our shoulders.
This concept is finely in line with the spirit of the entire Bible, which teaches us that from the very beginning Adam and Eve were responsible for their own well-being both physically and spiritually. That is why a command was given to Adam, and he was responsible to tend the Garden of Eden. In addition, he was granted great wisdom to name all the animals God had created. Clearly, God judges us if we are disobedient.
The Two Theories
It is not about being unable to accept what is new, cocooning ourselves away from the wider perspective of God’s will. It is not about not letting go the burden of tradition either. The difference between the two theories is so huge and the two are mutually exclusive, so one of them has to go. But if one were to throw away our traditional belief and embrace the new one, let the same open his eyes to this fact: many other traditional beliefs will have to go. The new theory affects every facet of the church’s beliefs and our understanding we have of God. To accept it is to throw the once clear will and work of God into doubt and contradict almost every teaching in the Bible.
Theories in Comparison and Contrast
The New View (NV)
The Traditional View (TV)
Satan is self-existent – there is not a single biblical account, which confirms it to be so. This is purely speculative on a premise of deduction.
Satan is a fallen angel – John says satan sinned from the beginning (1 Jn 3:8), enough for us to know that he was the first being to have violated God’s rules.
The universe has been brought into existence to destroy the works of Satan and Satan himself – this view portrays God to be a ruthless fighter.
The universe is to express God’s glory (Ps 19) and in particular for His chosen (Isa 51:16). It tells us that whatever God has created is good.
(NV) redefines the infinity of God, belittling His power in the process. Examples include He does not know about an evil before it occurs. It even states that it doesn’t make any sense for God to know that there will be two ants fighting in a moment or so.
(TV) proposes God knows all things be they good or bad and prior or after their occurrences. If God could effortlessly number all our hairs, then will it not appear to us that He has more than enough power to know all things under the sun before they happen (Mt 10:30; Lk 12:7)?
(NV) denies the righteousness of God, making Him a God who has planned for corruption to occur, in order to defeat Satan by creating a battleground, i.e. the heaven and earth.
(TV) proposes God is righteous. He judges the ruler of the world (Jn 16:11). Satan is judged meaning that he must have violated the rule of God; as a result he is to be destroyed.
(NV) pictures God as a ruthless perpetrator to advance His sole idea of defeating Satan, even at the cost of His own creation and those whom he has saved.
(TV) teaches God is love. He first loved us while we were still sinners. He has taken the first total sacrificial step to die for our sins. This is the essence of our biblical teachings.
(NV) replaces human responsibility. If Satan can strike at will at His chosen, to make them stumble, then there is no ground for God to judge them.
(TV) places responsibility on us. We are responsible for what we do, and there is always a consequence of every single deed we do, especially after we have been given instructions.
(NV) gives the idea that after having critically analysed it, human disobedience is not stated as the main reason for Satan to cause havoc in human existence.
(TV) teaches that human obedience has all to do with God’s protection on man. Satan does not touch us if we remain in God, unless He permits (Ps 91:10; 1 Jn 5:18).
Simplicity (purity) in Christ
The greatest fear that the church has is the confusion of the truth. No one in his or her right frame of mind (I mean the workers of God) wishes to see this take place in the church. Every sincere worker desires the truth to be explained more clearly than ever before, and thus to be made known more effectively to the unbelieving world, as well as the community of faith. However, the challenge facing us is greater than it has been in the past. Believers, being exposed to a world, which is always questioning God’s power, have piled on more queries. This is not to mention those who are not in the faith. Many genuinely have the urge to know more about the truth in greater depth and clarity.
Apart from searching into the Bible with greater diligence and veneration for God, keeping simple in what we have received is a powerful means to move forward. With a simple faith coupled with our trust in God, we can break down every stronghold with our obedience to God (2 Cor 10:4-5) – believing in the word of God. This simplicity is vital for us and perhaps has to be looked at carefully once again. Paul talks about the simplicity in Christ to the saints at Corinth: ‘But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ’ (2 Cor 11:2). He fears that this simple faith is corrupted by deception, which draws the deceived away from God and trusting in His words. The example used is the Fall Incident.
To understand this better, we trace the deception back to the Garden of Eden. The command of the Lord to Adam and Eve was plain simple. ‘And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’ (Gen 2:16-17). They were to accept the command as it was. This is the simplicity in God. And it was corrupted when Satan came with an appealing proposition: ‘You will not surely die’ (Gen 3:4).
This contradictory statement by itself could not have done any harm to the first ancestors. They fell because they accepted the words from Satan which the Lord had never spoken to them: ‘For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’ (Gen 3:5). Their simplicity became corrupted when they subscribed to the drive to find out more about being like God and knowing good and evil.
Probing into the origin of evil has never been the intention of God for His people. The entire Bible is silent about it, aside from telling us that Satan sinned from the beginning. How exactly did he sin? Again, no account is given in the Bible. We have known what is good and evil with the enlightenment from the words of God. This is all we need to know. And to stay clear of evil is what we have to do. Though we may have the best desire to unravel the origin of evil, it is beyond any reasonable doubt that such an attempt not only puts our faith in great jeopardy, but also brings in crippling confusion to the church and her growth.
In a desperate search for an answer, we can become lost in the course, losing sight of the initial faith that we have in Jesus Christ. And, if we are not careful, we can be deceived. In view of this, maintaining our simplicity in Christ should form the foundation of us searching for greater understanding of His word. Let’s all pray specially for the unity in truth in the church. May God guide His church and in particular all His workers into all truths, with a simple faith in Him. Amen.