And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.
And there was evening and there was morning, a sixth day.
Genesis 1, 31
I believe it’s safe to assume that all Christians believe God is sovereign over all things, and that the fall of Adam and Eve didn’t catch God by surprise. Nor did Satan in the form of a serpent deceive God by any means. Yet Catholics and many non-Catholic Christians radically differ over how it was God wasn’t taken by surprise by our primordial parents and duped by the serpent. Without sounding negative or trying to be polemical, I wish to simply explain how it was neither Satan nor Adam and Eve fell from God’s grace by no free will of their own. Lucifer’s expulsion from heaven and Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden weren’t intentionally prearranged or determined by God only so that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ could come into the world strictly for the glory of God. Yet, there are countless Reformed and Evangelical Protestants who believe that’s how it was. Certainly, there’s nothing good about that.
Protestants who adhere to the false teaching of double-predestination often cite Ephesians 1:5 that reads, “[God] predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.” They believe that God predetermined some people to be destined to glory and other people to be destined to eternal damnation since no human soul is worthy of being saved by any natural merit of their own or even supernatural merit in the system of grace. However, the verb “predestined” is taken from the Greek word προορίζω (proorizó) which means “to know or declare in advance” by God’s foreknowledge. What God has known in advance is that faithful Christians shall be called to be adopted children of God through Jesus Christ but not necessarily to the preclusion of their free will.
Indeed, St. Peter refers to “the elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father” when speaking of faithful Christians who are sanctified or justified by the working of the Holy Spirit who prompts and strengthens them to be obedient to Christ to the point of having to endure persecution and face death because of their faith (1 Pet 1:2). St. Paul and St. Peter are referring to predestination to grace, not to eternal glory, which has been foreseen by God since before the creation of the world and humanity.
Yet we believe that the martyrs of the faith must have been destined to glory, though no human creature can know with absolute certainty whether they belong to the elect who are destined to glory. This is something only God can know from all eternity outside of time. But, unfortunately, some non-Catholics confuse the meaning of predestination (God’s foreknowledge of what we choose to do in faith by becoming Christians) and predetermination (the erroneous belief that God determines what we will do without any will of our own). Just because God knows what we will do, it doesn’t mean that He determines what we do. Of course, if God knows that we will do something, then we will do it, but only because God knows everything. Nothing escapes his foreknowledge. In our finite humanity, we can infer that it will rain by looking up at dark, threatening rain clouds that have covered the entire sky. Should it happen to rain, it won’t be because we looked up at the sky and declared it will or might rain.
God isn’t the author of evil. We choose good or evil by our own free will. We choose to be baptized and/or live up to our baptismal commitment upon reaching maturity. The early martyrs chose to become Christians and be faithful to Christ by suffering and dying in union with the Lord because of their love for him. They weren’t sentient machines designed to walk into the Roman Coliseum so that God could be merely glorified in Christ and Christ in God. God is forbearing toward us, not wishing that any should perish, but that everyone should reach repentance. God desires all to be saved, but our salvation depends on whether we choose to repent and receive God’s grace by His prompting in the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 3:9).
He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just.
A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.
Deuteronomy 32, 4
No one, when tempted, should say, ‘I am being tempted by God’;
for God cannot be tempted by evil and he himself tempts no one.
James 1, 13
It certainly wasn’t God’s plan before the creation of the world that all humanity must die in Adam so that all could be made alive in Christ. God didn’t create sinners for the sake of making them need Jesus to spare them from God’s justice. Such reasoning does in a sense place the cart before the mule. True, the fall of humanity didn’t catch God by surprise since He is omniscient. However, God didn’t preordain or decree that Adam and Eve’s fall from grace should happen. If God did act on a whim in this way, He would surely have to take full moral responsibility for their sins. And if this were the case, there couldn’t be such a thing as sin at all or the need for a savior.
Catholics, on the other hand, believe God simply permitted the fall to happen, though it wasn’t something He desired. And God did allow the fall to happen for the sake of a greater good or else it wouldn’t have happened. But it wasn’t for the greater good that God directly and intentionally caused the fall of humanity either. God might be the physical cause of our transgressions since He knew that by creating Adam and Eve all their descendants would fall along with them short of His glory (Rom 3:23). But our sovereign Creator certainly isn’t morally responsible for the sins of humanity. We must also consider the serpent which has freely played a part in this drama by initially tempting Eve. It wouldn’t have tempted Eve in the first place if she and her husband had no free will. The truth is we are morally culpable for our own sins, or else we couldn’t be justly rewarded or punished by the Lord. God has given us the freedom to choose between right and wrong, obedience and disobedience, life and death (Deut 30:19).
Hence, Jesus came into the world because of sin. Sin didn’t enter the world because of Jesus. God did not create the world so that we should sin to allow Him to flaunt His divine mercy. If God permitted the fall of humanity, it was because He knew Jesus would come into the world and gain for us a life immeasurably more glorious than the preternatural life in the original paradise. In His justice, God has always loved us and has desired our spiritual well-being even before He created Adam. His omnipotence and sovereignty don’t negate His mercy and justice. All of God’s essential attributes co-exist harmoniously.
Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get
a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel?
For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord.
Repent and live!
God is not the author of confusion, but of peace.
1 Corinthians 14, 33
In Thomistic Catholic theology, there is a marked difference between what God desires and what God decrees. What God desires is His antecedent will, and what God decrees is His consequent will. God desires that everyone be saved (Ezek 18:23; 1 Tim 2:4; 1 John 2:2, etc.), but He decrees that unrepentant souls must be cast into the everlasting fire of Hell in eternal expiation for their grave sins (Matt 25:41; Lk 13:3, etc.). And so, what God did intend, according to what He desired, was to create a world in which each human being would be free to respond to his grace as a sign of their love for Him. There can be no true love without human free will and liberty. The fall of Adam and Eve was a consequence of their moral freedom which God in His goodness and justice decreed they should possess in order to truly love Him and make their abode with Him (cf. Jn 14:23). It was because of their inordinate love of self that Adam and Eve were deceived by the serpent and consequently disobeyed God.
Because of the fall, which God foresaw when He created the world, it was His predestined (not predetermined) plan and His grace that went before Him to give us the chance to be saved once we had fallen from His grace. Therefore, a person must willfully reject God’s ‘predestined’ plan for his salvation in order to be eternally damned. God has intended that a soul be saved this way: by not rejecting His word and resisting His grace. In consequence of the reprobate’s act, God has predestined him to eternal damnation by His consequent will. With this, we perceive God as not being self-contradictory – willing two different things at once – but as completely faithful to Himself. God does desire that everyone come to repentance and be saved, but He is also a just God who doesn’t tolerate sin and will punish those who refuse to repent. ‘The soul who sins is the one who will die’ (Ezek. 18:4).
Thus, what God hasn’t intended is to predetermine the eternal destiny of souls either way (double predestination) which is why He appeals to us to obey His commands and co-operate with His saving grace (2 Cor 7: 1; Eph 6:11-13, etc.). If God were, in fact, the author of confusion rather than peace, He wouldn’t implore us to renounce our carnal ways and receive His Spirit in our hearts so that we should be reconciled to Him and have eternal life with God.
And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel
of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him.
And the LORD said unto Satan, The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan;
even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand
plucked out of the fire?
Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands
you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.
James 4, 7
If God has intentionally created evil over and against the good that He desires, then God can’t be good. And if God weren’t good, then there could be nothing good at all in His creation (cf. Gen 1:31). Obviously, if we know the difference between right and wrong, we can freely decide how to act – for good or for evil, for or against God who is absolute goodness in His divine essence. Meanwhile, God in His goodness and mercy has made sure that it shouldn’t be impossible for us to resist evil temptations by giving us sufficient grace which operatively enables us to direct our will to what is good and pleasing to Him.
Moreover, we couldn’t perceive anything as evil unless we first knew what is good in its proper measure according to our conscience. There would be no point in even having a conscience if we had no free will and moral responsibility. Nor would God have given us a conscience if, in fact, He were the author of evil. Love is good, and thus it originates from God who is love because He is good, but inordinate self-love isn’t good. Selfishness is an evil that freely arises out of a vacuum from within our natural selves. God expects us to love ourselves, but in proper measure, and He expects us to renounce our selfish desires which often lead to sins against Him and our neighbor. Certainly, we cannot hold God morally culpable for our own innate selfishness or inordinate love of self which original sin basically is. Human beings are the moral cause of entertaining dark thoughts and committing wicked deeds regardless of who created them physically. They have the moral liberty and capability to renounce their selfish desires.
Temptations arise within the order of creation, which Satan has been granted to a certain limit to exploit. It’s because of the devil’s involvement in human affairs that our temptations are more difficult to overcome. Indeed, God blamed the serpent for having wrought what had tragically transpired in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:14). Nevertheless, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin by choosing to act on the serpent’s words which appealed to them in their inordinate self-love. They were morally responsible for their own actions. Instead of remaining in friendship with God, our primordial parents decided to draw away from Him by trying to be like God but apart from God and against His will. Satan didn’t face much resistance from Eve when he attempted to deceive her. This is why he succeeded. The thing that appealed to her more than her Creator was what He had created.
Thus, in His goodness and kindness towards us, God desires that we renounce our pride and inordinate love of self which are the root of sin and humble ourselves before Him so that He will exalt us by helping us prevail over the false allurements of evil in our short-sightedness (1 Pet 5:6). It’s up to us to allow God to persuade us from succumbing to temptation with insufficient resistance because of our inclination to please ourselves with things that really aren’t good and enslave us.
A clean heart create for me, God;
renew within me a steadfast spirit.
Do not drive me from before your face,
nor take from me your holy spirit.
Restore to me the gladness of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Psalm 51, 12-14
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things
that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on
earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.
When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with
him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: immorality,
impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
On account of these the wrath of God is coming.
Colossians 3, 1-6
St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that perfection in this world amounts to someone or something achieving its purpose. Human perfection lies in us achieving our proper end, viz., our intellectual capacities of understanding God and directing our will towards God by conforming it to His will. As I see it, Adam and Eve were created perfect in this way, but they were not created absolutely perfect. It’s a dogma of the Catholic Church that only God is absolutely perfect. According to the Angelic Doctor of the Church, God is absolutely perfect because He is entirely actual with no potential. All beings and things are perfect in proportion to their actuality. Adam and Eve were created perfect, but not absolutely, since they had the potential to freely fall short of achieving their purpose, which was to be good and in friendship with God by aligning their will with His. If God were responsible – though not morally responsible – for anything, it would be because of His wise decision to create an imperfect and free world in which we may choose or reject God. God desires that we want to be with Him in Heaven more than anything else to be there.
Ontologically, absolute perfection or immutability is an attribute of God as a composition of His divine essence which binds all His other attributes together. God’s faithfulness and justice, for instance, stem from His non-moral attribute of immutability which presupposes God cannot do any wrong by contradicting Himself. So, God can never be better or worse than He essentially is. Absolute perfection cannot be improved upon. His righteousness and justice are immutable. In His essence, God cannot ever be less righteous and just or unrighteous and unjust as we human beings can be. Nor can He be more righteous or just. God told Moses, “I am who I am. (Ex 3:14). God cannot be more or less than who He is. Thus, if God had directly caused or pre-programmed Adam and Eve to sin, He would have acted or sinned against Himself by acting unjustly, and so there would be mutability in God. No Christian in their right mind can profess belief in a just and loving God while believing God caused Adam and Eve to sin against their will so that we would need a savior. An immutable God couldn’t possibly act on a whim to His own discredit.
As we noted above, there could be no reason for God to reward the righteous and punish the wicked if He determined how they should behave without any will of their own. By nature, in comparison with His creatures, God is perfect. In His essence, God is absolute perfection, just as He is absolute love, righteousness, and justice. There is no such thing as less-than-perfect perfection or a less-than-perfect God, one who deliberately damns people for no fault of their own or rewards people who don’t merit being rewarded. What we have here is a contradiction in terms: A god who can’t possibly be God.
In guilt I was born; a sinner was I conceived.
Psalm 51, 5
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want,
but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I
agree that the law is good. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin
which dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me,
that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do
not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.
Romans 7, 15-19
Catholics believe original sin (a state) is proper to each human being; that we all have inherited Adam’s moral weakness in our humanity. But original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of us. Adam’s personal guilt is something no human being has incurred. I suppose, since we are all inclined to sin and do, in fact, sin we are guilty by association and thereby must often repent of our personal sins. Our human nature must be genetically transferred by our original ancestors. As soon as we are conceived in the womb, we acquire a nature that has the potential to draw us away from being good or godly and thereby less perfect. We do things that we don’t really want to do or hate doing, or we don’t do things that we know we are supposed to do and want to do it – signs of our original goodness impaired by our moral faults and weaknesses effected by the stain of original sin. At some point in our lives, once we’ve morally matured, we commit our first sin. This is inevitable, since we haven’t been created absolutely perfect. Our imperfect world is a moral testing ground which God has permitted us to inhabit so that we may show our love to be worthy of making our eternal abode with Him.
Hence, we are deprived of the original state of sanctity and justice because of this potentiality to sin against God. Original human goodness is manifested in our natural inclination towards what is good and comes from God. We all have the ability to direct our will towards what is good and is sustained by God’s sufficient grace since God is good and we have been created in the divine image. Yet, because of the fall, we possess a wounded nature that prompts us to choose what isn’t good and pleasing to God despite our knowledge of good and evil. Pride comes before the fall. Adam and Eve do in fact live inside each one of us. We all have inherited their selfishness which lies in the natural fabric of our being, so we are in daily need of conversion and being restored to God’s grace. However, the shame we might feel because of our sins reveals that human beings are still essentially good, having been created in the divine image, which Adam didn’t forfeit for his descendants (Gen 1:26). It’s just a matter of our living up to it, which isn’t an insurmountable feat and is necessary for our salvation (1 Jn 1:5-7).
Early Sacred Tradition
“Seeing, therefore, that we are the portion of the Holy One, let us do all those things
which pertain to holiness, avoiding all evil-speaking, all abominable and impure
embraces, together with all drunkenness, seeking after change, all abominable lusts,
detestable adultery, and execrable pride. ‘For God,’ saith [the Scripture], ‘resisteth the
proud, but giveth grace to the humble.’ Let us cleave, then, to those to whom grace has
been given by God. Let us clothe ourselves with concord and humility, ever exercising
self-control, standing far off from all whispering and evil-speaking, being justified by
our works, and not our words.”
Clement of Rome, Epistle to the Corinthians, 30
“I do not mean to say that there are two different human natures, but all humanity is
made the same, sometimes belonging to God and sometimes to the devil. If anyone is
truly spiritual they are a person of God; but if they are irreligious and not spiritual
then they are a person of the devil, made such not by nature, but by their own choice.”
Ignatius of Antioch, To the Ephesians
(c. A.D. 107)
“But neither do we affirm that it is by fate that men do what they do, or suffer what
they suffer, but that each man by free choice acts rightly or wrongly…The stoics, not
observing this, maintained that all things take place according to the necessity of fate.
But since God, in the beginning made the race of men and angels with free will they
will justly suffer in eternal fire the punishment of whatever sins they have committed,
and this is the nature of all that is made, to be capable of vice and virtue.”
Justin Martyr, Apologia 2
[c. A.D. 160]
“The wicked man is justly punished, having become depraved of himself;
and the just man is worthy of praise for his honest deeds, since it was in his
free choice that he did not transgress the will of God.”
Tatian the Syrian, Address to the Greeks 7
“So likewise men, if they do truly progress by faith towards better things, and receive
the Spirit of God, and bring forth the fruit thereof, shall be spiritual, as being planted
in the paradise of God. But if they cast out the Spirit, and remain in their former
condition, desirous of being of the flesh rather than of the Spirit, then it is very justly
said with regard to men of this stamp, ‘That flesh and blood shall not inherit the
kingdom of God;’ just as if any one were to say that the wild olive is not received into
the paradise of God.”
Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 5:10,1
“You are mistaken, and are deceived, whosoever you are, that think yourself rich in this
world. Listen to the voice of your Lord in the Apocalypse, rebuking men of your stamp
with righteous reproaches: ‘Thou sayest,’ says He, ‘I am rich, and increased with goods,
and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and
poor, and blind, and naked. I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou
mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of
thy nakedness may not appear in thee; and anoint thine eyes with eye-salve, that thou
mayest see.’ You therefore, who are rich and wealthy, buy for yourself of Christ gold
tried by fire; that you may be pure gold, with your filth burnt out as if by fire, if you
are purged by almsgiving and righteous works. Buy for yourself white raiment, that
you who had been naked according to Adam, and were before frightful and unseemly,
may be clothed with the white garment of Christ. And you who are a wealthy and rich
matron in Christ’s Church, anoint your eyes, not with the collyrium of the devil, but
with Christ’s eye-salve, that you may be able to attain to see God, by deserving well of
God, both by good works and character.”
Cyprian of Carthage, On Works and Alms, 14
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Matthew 5, 48