Dear Church Family,
The ‘problem of evil’ is something that all people wrestle with, not just philosophers. If God is sovereign and good, then why is there sin and calamity in the world? Often, the underlying assumption behind this question is that human beings are basically good. Therefore, as the reasoning goes, how could it be fair and just that a sovereign God permits evil and atrocities.
Though it would ultimately require much more discussion, the answer to the ‘problem of evil’ must begin with an understanding of origins and the basic human condition since the Fall of man into sin. As we saw last week, the Scriptures explain the origin of creation and the origin of man: God created all things “very good” (Genesis 1:31), and mankind was created in God’s image, innocent and righteous (Genesis 1:26-28; Ecclesiastes 7:29).
In chapter 6 of the Westminster Confession of Faith (as we examined this past week in the adult Sunday school class), we learn the details of another important element concerning man’s origins and the basic human condition: the Fall of Adam and Eve, the Fall of all humanity, and the punishment and pervasiveness of sin.
(WCF 6.1-2) The Fall of Adam and Eve
Though innocent and righteous, in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve had the possibility of sinning. This they did when they were tempted by Satan and disobeyed God by eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:1-24). As a result, Adam and Eve both lost some things and gained some things.
By sinning and disobeying God, Adam and Eve lost both their original righteousness and communion with God. The Scriptures describe this loss of righteousness in a peculiar way: their eyes were opened and they knew that they were naked (Genesis 3:7) and they became like God, knowing good and evil (Genesis 3:22). Of course, God knows good and evil – yet, He knows evil as one who is apart and above it. The problem for Adam and Eve was that they now knew evil as participants in it – they came to know evil experientially. Because of their sin, they also lost the intimate fellowship and communion that they had with God and He drove them out of the Garden (Genesis 3:24).
By sinning and disobeying God, Adam and Eve gained death and defilement. The curse of their disobeying God was a death sentence (Genesis 2:17). Having been made from the dust of the ground, man was now cursed to return to that same dust (Genesis 3:19). Defilement is just another way of describing ‘total depravity’: Adam and Eve became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body (WCF 6.2). Adam and Eve’s innocent nature became corrupted such that they suffered the consequences of physical and spiritual death and every intent of man’s thoughts in his heart became only evil continually (Genesis 6:5).
(WCF 6.3-4) The Fall of all humanity
As the representative head of all humanity, through his sin and disobedience the curse that Adam incurred was passed on to the rest of humanity descended from him. In Adam, all die (1 Corinthians 15:21-22); through him, sin entered the world and death spread to all men (Romans 5:12).
Not only has the sentence of death been passed on to all human beings, but so has Adam’s corrupted nature. Just as Adam and Eve became wholly defiled in all the parts and faculties of soul and body, all mankind has become defiled in the same way (Genesis 5:1-3; Romans 3:23).
The total depravity of all men is stark and pervasive: “we are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all good, and wholly inclined to all evil” (WCF 6.4). All mankind has been imprisoned in disobedience and sin (Romans 11:32; Galatians 3:22). In our natural condition, apart from God’s sovereign mercy, man does not have free will (the ability to obey and please God): we are by nature children of wrath, dead in our trespasses and sins, willingly pursuing the lusts and desires of our flesh (Ephesians 2:1-3). The mind set on the flesh is hostile to God (Romans 8:7); there are none who are righteous or who seek after God (Romans 3:10-12).
The notion that, since the Fall, man is born with free will is one that many people (even many Christians) falsely believe. They propose that man is basically born good, or at least has good in him such that he has the ability to seek after and obey God should he choose to do so. Certainly, the image of God is retained in man since the Fall, but it has become so corrupted and perverted by inherited and inherent sin that apart from the free and gracious gift of faith (Ephesians 2:8), it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).
(WCF 6.5-6) The pervasiveness and punishment of sin
The last two paragraphs of this chapter in the confession speak to two very important issues: the pervasiveness and punishment of sin. First, with respect to the pervasiveness of sin, the confession summarizes the teaching of the Bible concerning how those who are regenerated (or born again) still retain a corrupt nature; therefore, in this life they continue to sin (1 John 1:8-10; Romans 7:14-25). For those who have been born of God, their sins are forgiven and God keeps them safe from the evil one (Ephesians 1:7; 1 John 5:4, 18); and, those who belong to Christ Jesus are able to pursue the will of God in sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7). Yet, the Christian continues in a continual and irreconcilable war against his own sinful nature (Galatians 5:17; 1 Peter 2:11).
By acknowledging that believers are forgiven and being sanctified, yet still fail by sinning according the remnants of their corrupt nature, we are protected from falling into two errors. On the one hand, we are protected from falling into the error of ‘perfectionism’ – the idea that believers may attain perfect holiness (the absence of sin) such that, in this life, they may be completely within the will of God (the Bible clearly teaches against perfectionism, 1 John 1:10). On the other hand, we are protected from falling into the error of ‘wormology’ – the idea that believers are still controlled by their fallen nature such that they are still defined by their corruption (the Bible clearly teaches against wormology, Romans 6:6, 14).
The final paragraph of this chapter teaches how every sin deserves and brings the judgement and wrath of God (John 3:36; Ephesians 2:3) and the curse of death (Romans 6:23). There are some who deny the doctrine of eternal punishment in hell: annihilationists propose that those who have not been born again will be destroyed (cease to exist), and universalists believe that all human beings will be blessed in the life to come regardless of faith. Yet, consignment in hell for all eternity is a very real and horrifying reality.
Eternal punishment in hell is described as both ‘being away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power’ (2 Thessalonians 1:9) and ‘being tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb’ (Revelation 14:10). The eternal destiny of the devil and those who never repent of their sins and trust in Christ is a lake of fire and brimstone, a place of eternal torment (Revelation 20:10).
This portion of the Westminster Confession of Faith is full of ‘bad news’: all mankind is utterly lost and dead in sin. Considering the sinfulness and depravity of man with which we are all afflicted, it is enough to drive us to cry out with the Apostle Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24)
And so, with Paul, we also confess and rejoice in the ‘good news’ of the gospel:
Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)
Praise God for His glorious grace! Let all who are secure in Christ, rejoice! For God “rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins”! (Colossians 1:13-14)
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch