Does God Make Us Sin?
by Timothy McCabe
If God made everything, does He make us sin?
Recognized as one of the most critical aspects of the philosophical question known as “the problem of evil”, responses to this question from Christians have been both incredibly diverse and strenuously adamant.
And often, horrifically contradictory.
He Cannot Deny Himself
The God of the Bible is not contradictory. He is who He is, He thinks what He thinks, and He does what He does. His identity directly corresponds to His identity, as He makes clear when He speaks to Moses from the burning bush in Exodus 3:14, saying “I am who I am” (NKJV). There has never been and will never be a situation where God is what He is not, or where God thinks what He does not think, or where God does something that He does not do. The scriptures tell us this as well in 2 Timothy 2:13, where Paul informs us that “He cannot deny Himself”.
Because God cannot deny Himself, if He creates something, it is created. If He causes something, it is caused. If He commands something, it is commanded. We can only be confident that reality itself is coherent and understandable because God Himself is consistently non-contradictory.
In other words, God’s nature or essence is the foundation for rational thought.
Because God doesn’t contradict Himself, His creation is only what He made it to be. Otherwise, His creation would not be His creation!
Therefore, the world around us is not contradictory either. Nothing can both be, and not be, at the same time and in the same way. So, if we find a definite contradiction, we must reject it on Biblical grounds.
Didn’t God Give Us Free-Will?
“God gave us free-will” is a very common response from Christians as a solution to the question “does God make us sin?” God created us in such a way, free-will advocates suggest, that we can freely choose to obey Him and not sin, or else we can freely choose to disobey Him and sin. This free-choice that we make is not in any sense caused by God — if it were, they say, it would not be a real choice! Clearly, when we choose to sin we do in fact make a choice, therefore God certainly does not cause it.
The “free-will” solution intends to lay the blame for our behavior directly on our own shoulders and remove any suggestion whatsoever that we are not responsible for our own sins due to the pathetically lame excuse of “God made me do it”. Certainly appearing to be a noble endeavor, the “free-will” solution has drawn in a large number of Christ-followers.
But what does it really mean? What exactly is “free-will”, if we do have it? What can it do and where does it come from? What power does it have and from where does it’s power come?
When it is claimed that “God gave us free-will”, what exactly is being said? It seems to me that this particular claim can be accurately rewritten in the following manner:
God caused to exist in us (or “gave us”) a free-will.
Proponents of free-will as an explanation for human sin seem to be asserting that the “giving us” in the proposition is equivalent to the concept of “causing to exist in us”. Our free-will, they seem to believe, is essentially a created thing that God placed within each of us when He created us. We are created, and our “free-will” is also created. It is created, or caused to exist, within us. It is an inherent part of our created nature as human beings.
But again, what is meant by “free-will” itself? It seems to me, after many discussions with many advocates of human free-will, that what is meant by the concept of “the will” in their minds is our preferences, our interests, our desires, our motivations, and our inclinations. These are, after all, the things that bring about our sinful choices. These seem to constitute “our will”.
Now keep in mind that for the will to be “free” in the sense intended, our sinful desires and motivations (which bring about our sinful choices) cannot be caused by God. Thus, we can rewrite the supposed solution in the following manner:
God caused to exist in us uncaused preferences, interests, desires, motivations, and inclinations.
Now to point out the problem more explicitly:
God caused the uncaused.
Not only is this free-will “solution” actually just meaningless nonsense, not only does it not resolve the problem of evil in any sense, not only does it deny the possibility of rational thought by eliminating all distinction between assertions and their negations, not only is it opposed to God’s revelation to us about His own perfectly consistent nature or essence, but in addition to all of that…
The idea of human free-will is absolutely nowhere in scripture.
A Biblical Response
If the notion of human free-will is not in the Bible, what does the Bible have to say with regard to whether or not God makes us sin? From a Biblical perspective, there can be absolutely no doubt that God actively causes, and doesn’t just passively allow, humans to sin. We have numerous explicit examples where the Bible tells us this directly.
The apostle Peter claims that God Himself caused the sinful execution of Jesus:
“For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.”
— Acts 4
One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls explains to the elder John that God Himself is causing kings to give their kingdoms to the beast:
“For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled.”
— Revelation 17
The narrator of 1 Samuel claims that God Himself caused the disobedience of Eli’s sons:
“[The sons of Eli] did not heed the voice of their father, because the LORD desired to kill them.”
— 1 Samuel 2
The narrator of 2 Samuel insists that God Himself caused David to take a census of Israel, for which God later condemned David and punished Israel:
Again the anger of the LORD was aroused against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”
…and David’s heart condemned him after he had numbered the people. So David said to the LORD, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done; but now, I pray, O LORD, take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly.”
…so the LORD sent a plague upon Israel from the morning till the appointed time. From Dan to Beersheba seventy thousand men of the people died.
— 2 Samuel 24
In addition to these passages above, Job claims that when the Sabeans and the Chaldeans murdered Job’s servants and stole his livestock, that it was in fact God Himself who took those things from him (Job 1:13-22). God Himself caused Sihon King of Heshbon to oppose the journey of the Israelites (Deuteronomy 2:30). God Himself actively caused the feasts He Himself commanded to be practiced to not be practiced by those responsible for practicing them (Lamentations 2:6).
The examples abound.
The Objection of Contradiction of “Wants”
But, comes an objection, isn’t this also contradictory? If God wants His feasts to be practiced, and He causes them to not be practiced, that means that He doesn’t want them to be practiced. So, in this view, detractors claim, God wants what He doesn’t want!
However, when pressed, even those who begin by insisting that this is a contradiction will acknowledge that the word “want” does not mean in the first sense what it means in the second sense, thereby making this only an apparent contradiction and not a true contradiction. In the first sense, that of what God “wants”, we are referring to what God commands. In the second sense, that of what God “doesn’t want”, we are referring to what God causes. Causes and commands are not the same thing. If causing and commanding were identical, then the free-will advocate would be defeating his own view by claiming that when God commands something to be obeyed, He causes it to be obeyed. Since they are not identical, even in the mind of the free-will advocate, there is no contradiction in claiming that one is true and the other false.
The Objection of James 1
But, comes another objection, if God does in fact cause people to sin, as the Bible so clearly insists, what are we to make of the following passage from James?
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.
— James 1
In response, note that “tempting” and “causing” are again definitely not the same thing. To “tempt” someone, in the sense in which it appears to be used here, is to attempt to make them do something sinful. The attempt may be successful, as when we sin, or it may be unsuccessful, as when Christ was tempted by Satan (Matthew 4).
A “cause”, however, is always successful.
James, therefore, by asserting that God does not “tempt”, is not denying what is clearly asserted elsewhere in scripture, that God does in fact “cause” humans to sin, and his topic is therefore certainly different than ours. Thus, yet again, this is not a contradiction.
The Objection of Unjust Judgment
But, comes one final objection, how can God be good and just if He punishes us for the things He causes us to do? Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?
The Apostle Paul’s clear teaching on this same subject raised this exact objection. Here was Paul’s response, which shall suffice for my own:
“But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?”
— Romans 9
God does cause us to sin.
As Christians, let us always be as Biblical as possible in our outlook, as Christ Himself was. Let us use the non-contradictory essence of God as a basis for reasoning about both Him and about His creation.
Let us recognize that God Himself claims that He Himself has caused everything that has ever come into existence:
“All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.”
— John 1
“For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever.”
— Romans 11
“In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will…”
— Ephesians 1
Indeed, if God had not caused all of creation, we would have no reason to believe that creation is non-contradictory, since the only reason we have for believing in the reliability of the law of noncontradiction is that our universe is wholly and completely created by our perfectly consistent God.
As Christians, we should acknowledge that God makes it clear that even human choices are caused by Him.
“It is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”
— Philippians 2
“The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, Like the rivers of water; He turns it wherever He wishes.”
— Proverbs 21
He Himself also claims that He Himself has specifically caused sinful human choices, and further, that He Himself created the wicked and caused the wicked to be as they are for His own purposes.
“For God has committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all.”
— Romans 11
“The LORD has made all for Himself, Yes, even the wicked for the day of doom.”
— Proverbs 16
None of this is problematic in any sense, because we are God’s creation and therefore, according to Paul, God can, and does, do whatever He likes with us.
But make no mistake, while God is the one ultimately behind everything that happens, He commands all humans to repent (Acts 17:30). If any of us do not, we can hope for nothing beyond a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation, which will devour God’s adversaries (Hebrews 10:27). Praise God that He has provided us a way out of eternal punishment, if we will but place our trust in His Son, Jesus!
“…if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says, ‘Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For ‘whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.’”
— Romans 10