Written By Leslie Koh
After spending a number of years in the media, Leslie finally decided to move from working with bad news to good news. He believes in the power of words (especially when they’re funny). He works as an editor in Our Daily Bread Ministries.
This introduction that you’re reading now is really my third. Twice, I wrote a few paragraphs, only to remove them after finding that they were going nowhere.
Despite having spent a couple of hours coming up with the first two versions, it wasn’t really difficult to click on “delete”. I mean, why continue something that is flawed?
Which makes me wonder, why didn’t God do the same thing with creation? When God created the heavens, the earth and everything else, it was all perfect. Seven times, Genesis 1 observes that God saw that “it was good”. Then everything went wrong (thanks, Adam and Eve), and here we are, living in a far-from-perfect world that is pretty much destined for destruction.
Now we know God is omniscient ie. He is all-seeing and all-knowing, of everything as well as of what will happen in the past, present, and future. That means He would surely have known that Adam and Eve would, at some point, decide to disobey Him. He would have known that this sin would condemn not just the duo, but succeeding generations of mankind, along with the earth.
So why didn’t He “delete” the earth and start all over again? After all, another six days’ work wouldn’t have been too difficult, would it? Of course, you could argue that knowing man, Creation 2.0 would probably have gone down the same route, anyway. So the question is, why did God bother at all? Why did God create this world if He knew it was going to go wrong eventually?
First, a disclaimer…
I’m not going to pretend that this is an insightful question of mine; it’s probably one of the most-often asked questions among Christians. And I’m not going to give the impression that it led me to study the Bible carefully and come up with biblically, logically and theologically sound explanations. To be honest, all I did was to read a bit to see what has been discussed about this question, and to try to re-frame it so I could understand it better myself.
I also wasn’t looking for a watertight answer that even the staunchest atheist or strongest cynic couldn’t refute. (So, yes, please feel free to disagree.) No, I was just looking for some possible answers—a new perspective, if you will, on the question. After all, the Bible doesn’t say explicitly why God decided to continue putting up with the flawed humans that were corrupting His creation, or why He created the world even though He knew it would go wrong.
Before going into why God decided to proceed with Creation, however, I figured that it would help to narrow the scope of the discussion by considering (and dismissing) several alternative options to explain what happened. As a believer, I kept to the basic assumption that God is good and that He is perfect.
So what happened? Three options
One, God made creation perfect, but somehow it went wrong, and He had to get His Son to do a quick rescue job. On the surface, this might seem plausible. Genesis 1 doesn’t tell us that God anticipated any problems; you can even imagine Him nodding satisfactorily at the end of each of the first six days, saying, “That’s good”, then sighing sadly days later when Adam and Eve take those fatal bites into the forbidden fruit.
But to say that creation didn’t quite turn out as expected suggests that God had lost control of His product. Keeping the assumption that God is sovereign, all-powerful and all-knowing, I felt I had to dismiss this option. If God wasn’t in full control . . . then everything I believe would come apart. Next!
Two, God made creation such that this would happen, so He could send His Son to earth to show His glory. This idea might seem to fit in with why God made creation (“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands”— Psalm 19:1). It suggests that like a director of a dramatic movie, God somehow arranged it all such that man would sin, and He would send His Son down to show His mercy and love.
Except that . . . this would be tantamount to saying that God created sin; that He made everything good, then deliberately arranged for things to fall apart, just so that He could show His mercy and grace. And that would make God seem a little manipulative. The Bible, however, makes it clear that God is good (Psalm 107:1, 1 Timothy 4:4, James 1:17), so let’s dismiss this option too.
Three, God made creation knowing that it would rebel against Him one day—but He made it anyway. This third option keeps to the assumption that God is good and perfect; it’s like having a good parent who raises a child perfectly, only to see this child become a rebel. Of course, this option leads us back to the original question: Since God knew that the world would turn against Him, why did He bother creating it?
You could have endless discussions (and arguments) over this, and it would be hard to come to a definitive conclusion that would be acceptable to most. But a little reading threw up the following three points which I felt appealed to my sense of logic and reasonable-ness, and most importantly, were also consistent with what we know about God. They aren’t necessarily answers to the difficult question; I saw them more as perspectives that helped me address the question. You be the judge.
Because it shows God’s glory, love, mercy, and grace.
This sounds a bit like option 2 above, but with one difference: God didn’t make the Fall of Man happen (because that would suggest He made man sin), though He knew it would. But He allowed to happen so that we could see His glory and experience His grace and mercy. The Bible tells us that God’s ultimate purpose in everything is to have Christ the Son rule over everything, so that the Father is glorified. “With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ” (Ephesians 1:8-10).
It would be hard to fully define what God’s glory means, but it includes His greatness and all His attributes, such as holiness, justice, love, mercy, and grace—all of which were manifested through the story of Creation. Through the creation of the world, we see God’s greatness and power. Through His judgment of sin, we see His justice and holiness. And through Christ’s redeeming work on the cross, we see the Father’s love, mercy, and grace.
So you could say that allowing mankind to make that choice to obey or rebel against Him served God’s purpose. Of course, that might beg the questions: Could God’s glory have been manifested if He had not allowed the world to rebel against Him? Couldn’t He have been glorified in another way? In other words, did God need the world to fall to show His glory?
Well, I believe this question is too hypothetical to come up with a satisfactory answer. We could become indignant and demand to know why God didn’t show His glory another way. But we’d also have to remember that He didn’t make man sin; it was Adam and Eve who chose to disobey God themselves. And because of it, and what happened later, we got to see and understand God’s holiness and justice, and experience His love and grace.
Because He wants a relationship with us.
If you think about it, God really didn’t have to create the world—or us. As a self-sufficient and complete God, He doesn’t need a world to support Him, nor anyone to keep Him in power. He isn’t even lonely; the Holy Trinity is, after all, made up of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Yet God made man because He wanted to have a relationship with us. He could have stopped at creating the universe, the earth, the plants, and the animals (and have a two-day weekend), but He went on to the sixth day to make man. How is man different? We are created “in his own image” (Genesis 1:27) ie. unlike His other creations, we have some of His attributes. That enables us to relate to Him in a way that other creations can’t. God doesn’t need us to keep Him company, but He wants to enjoy our company. In Genesis 1:31, after making man, God noted that “it was very good”—the previous days, it was merely “good”.
Why did God create the world even though He knew it would go south? Because He desired a loving relationship with man, and was ready to be patient, forgiving, and merciful when man failed. Compare that to a couple who have a child. They already have each other for company, but they desire the companionship of an addition to the family. And even though they know that this child will be naughty, flawed, and rebellious, the hope of the joy that this child brings is worth the heartbreak and the pain.
Of course, here’s where we could ask: So why didn’t God create human beings that couldn’t sin? Why did He give them the choice?
Because free will is needed for love
Why does a couple choose to have a child and not a robot? Easy—the robot won’t love back. A relationship is meaningful not only when it’s two-way, but also when either party chooses to stay in it. Love cannot be forced or controlled; otherwise it’s no better than slavery or forced loyalty.
Why was the father of the prodigal son in the well-known parable so overjoyed to see his son return (Luke 15:11-24)? Because the son had, of his own accord, chosen to repent and to return to his father. The latter had not forced nor bribed his son to come back; that was what made the young man’s repentance and love even more valuable to the father.
That’s why God calls us His children, and not His servants. If He had made man such that we had no choice but to obey Him, our “love” and “loyalty” would not mean much to Him. No, He wanted us to decide for ourselves if we wanted to love Him back. So He made us with a free will, the ability to choose whether to follow His instructions or not.
That may also explain why God put the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17) in the Garden of Eden in the first place. That’s one question I always had—why did God have to plant it there? Was He not tempting Adam and Eve? Did He not know they would eat from the very tree they weren’t supposed to? Some Bible teachers have posited that the tree represented the choice that God was giving to the first couple. It was as if He was telling them, “In case you complain that you have no choice but to obey Me, here’s an option you can take. I’m making it clear that you’re not to take it, but the decision is still yours.” The tree of knowledge of good and evil was thus a test.
(If we argue that God was being unfair in putting this temptation in the Garden, consider this thought: There must have been thousands (maybe even more) of fruit trees that Adam and Eve could eat from, but they had to eat from the one forbidden one.)
Christian writer Max Lucado, in his book In the Eye of the Storm, paints a beautiful portrait of the day God made man. He imagines God putting a “seed of choice” into a lump of clay that he will soon bring to life. A watching angel asks if this is wise, and God answers by showing the angel a glimpse of a future in which man will rebel and forget his Maker.
“Wouldn’t it be easier to not plant the seed? Wouldn’t it be easier to not give the choice?” the angel then asks. “It would,” God replies. “But to remove the choice is to remove the love.”
It Comes Down to Trusting in God’s Character
If you’re still not entirely convinced, I don’t blame you. It can be hard to wrap our heads around an issue that packs so many apparent contradictions in logic and invites even more “what-ifs”. Every answer is likely to lead to 10 other questions. After all, we’re talking about an issue that is beyond human comprehension.
Some would quote Deuteronomy 29:29—“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law”—to stress that it’s simply impossible to understand some of God’s actions and decisions. But I believe that these three perspectives do offer some measure of logic to understand why God still proceeded with Creation despite knowing what would happen. They may not link up like a mathematical equation, but they help us to see that what God did was entirely consistent with His purpose and character.
I suppose it’s a bit like trying to get to grips with a decision that a good friend has made, but which you simply don’t understand (say, like him taking an unusual job). You may not be fully convinced—at least for now—that he did the right thing, but what you can do is try to see the situation from his point of view and understand what prompted him to make his choice. And if you know him well, you will trust that the choice he made is consistent with his character, and that he knows what he’s doing.
In the case of Creation, it may come down to simply accepting that God’s action comes from His attributes of being good, loving, and perfect. Those are the assumptions I made in the beginning, and they are the same ones I continue to hold on to, no matter how humanly “illogical” some of His actions seem to be.
In an article on Apologetics Press, Christian apologist Kyle Butt sums up such debates rather nicely. There is no possible way, he notes, for our finite human minds to fully understand why God created humans. He concludes: “God’s attributes of omniscience, impartiality, and love provide the basis to conclude that only He would be in a position to determine which world would be the very best. When understood properly, the Bible presents a completely consistent picture of God’s moral perfection in regard to His choice to create humans.”