A student recently asked me what the world would have looked like if Adam and Eve had never sinned. Of course, I have no idea what such a world would have looked like and I confessed as much. Another student then asked why God would make people who would choose to sin to begin with. The follow-up question betrays the real angst we feel whenever we come face-to-face with human failure, particularly our own human failure. “Why did God make me this way?”
The familiar story of the first human sin is recorded in Genesis 3. Theologians refer to it as “the fall” and it is familiar, not merely because we’ve heard it before, but because we have all lived it before. We have all failed God in the past and continue to fail him in the present. Indeed, if we live past the day, we will likely fail God again in the future! Like a forest of trees on the way to the paper mill, we are all felled creatures doomed for ruin. Therefore, in a very real sense, the failure of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3 is also the story of our failure. Let’s approach this account with my student’s very applicable “why?” question in mind and begin with a handful of observations from Genesis 3.
The all-knowing, all-powerful Creator gave Adam and Eve the ability to choose, placed the forbidden tree before them, and allowed the most crafty of animals to encourage them to make the wrong choice. Knowing full well how the story would play out, God apparently still believed that it should do just that.
Failure and Rebellion
Let us never make light of sin, for God considers it a weighty enough matter to die over. Neither let us blame God for our sin. While God certainly knew the choice our first parents would make, he did not make that choice for them. By their own free will they failed to trust God and were justly condemned for their rebellion.
The Necessity of Failure
The truth is that evil (and I mean real evil) is necessary so that we might understand God’s love. According to the Bible, “God is love” (1 John 4:8). That is, love is how we describe the character and nature of God. If then, God is love and he still allowed Adam and Eve to fail, then perhaps God’s love was part of his motivation for allowing their failure. In fact, our failure is a necessary condition which allows God to display who he truly is. Jesus himself declared, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13, English Standard Version). This, of course, assumes the necessity of such a sacrifice. In this sense we can say that God permitted the fall in order to provide humankind with the opportunity to experience the greatness of his love. God created a world where it would become necessary for him to lay down his life for us because that is precisely what he wanted to do. This doesn’t make sin God’s fault, of course, but it does explain why he allows it.
Not the End of the Story
First John 4:9 states, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.” In his magnificent wisdom, our loving God wants us to live through him. This is the very thing that is changed by the fall. Prior to this event, mankind lived under God (that is, under his authority) in peace and innocence, but they could not live with a complete appreciation for his loving nature. It is only when they failed that they could experience the sacrificial grace of God required to fully demonstrate his love. And it is only as we experience God’s demonstrated love that we can truly begin to live through him. Therefore, God’s love allows our failure so that God’s grace can be made manifest in order to bring us into new life in Christ. This is what it means for God to redeem our failures.
God Wants to Be Loved
In demonstrating his great love for us, our failure appears to be God’s “Plan A.” And his plan doesn’t stop with expressing his love for us; he also wants to experience our love in return. He wants us to actually, freely choose him, which requires that we understand how desperately we need him. To this end, God describes how all of creation has been spoiled by humankind’s failure, because if we are to truly understand the consequences of our personal sin, we must first understand the impact of sin more broadly. In his Sermon on the Mount Jesus went beyond agreeing with us that murder and adultery are wrong in a global sense. He challenged us to recognize that we ourselves are murderers and adulterers at heart. It is only when we are appalled by the evil of the world that we can begin to be appalled at the sin within ourselves. Accordingly, when I am confronted with the evil I see in the world around me, I am somehow forced to deal with the evil I begin to see within myself and understand how desperately I need (and therefore want) God.
Answering the Why?
Now we begin to understand why God would make people who would choose to sin to begin with; why he created a world where we would all “fall short” of our potential as image-bearers of God. In sort, we begin to answer the question, “Why did God make me this way?” Quite simply, God made us this way so that we could experience his great love, recognize our desperate need for him, and love him in return. God does not force himself upon us. Rather, he grants us the ability to continually reject him in order that we might actually, freely choose him. God’s redemption of our failures isn’t merely about what God can do with our sins, our mistakes, and our accidents; God’s redemption of our failures is about what God can do with us. We ourselves are the problem, but it is a necessary frailty which allows us to experience the greatness of God’s love.
Can you imagine what the world would have looked like if Adam and Eve had never sinned? I cannot, but I imagine it would have little room for someone like me. I know the evil I have chosen. Fortunately, such an imagined world is not the world we live in. Rather, we live in a fallen world, with all of its hardships, wrongs, and potential to be redeemed. And this, since I am part of that fallen world, means that my failures have the potential to be redeemed as well.
Bryan Brigham lives in North Texas with his wife, daughter, son, and dog. He is currently pursuing a PhD in Old Testament while working as an adjunct professor of Bible, Missions, and Christian Worldview.