When I worked at Third Millennium Ministries, I received a question about how sin began in the Garden of Eden.
How did Lucifer get the evil idea to be like God, and how did the angels that fell with him choose to do evil also? And if Adam was created in the image of God (perfectly, with no sin to obscure it), why was he disobedient to God?
Here’s a slightly edited way that I answered that question many years ago. This still has elements of speculation and presuppositions that I’m not entirely sure are well founded. There is a great deal of mystery in this area of how sin began without God being the author of it.
Religious folks try to fix that problem in a variety of ways. If the question is “How did evil begin in the first place?” here’s some ways we have thought about this.
First, there is the free-will answer: Satan (and later in the Garden, humans) chose by his own free will to be evil. Evil exists, but God had nothing to do with it. Satan is the author of evil, not God. The problem with that is there is no sufficient cause for the effect. If Satan was perfect, then freedom is not a suitable cause for the effect of evil since it still remains outside his perfect nature. Having something like “free will” doesn’t make it possible to choose to do something outside your nature. A child may have free will, but he still can’t choose to dunk a basketball or grow roots and be a tree.
Second, you have the honorable St. Augustine who said that evil is not a thing, but the absence of a thing. It is the absence of good we see when we sense evil. So, God didn’t create evil — neither did man or Satan. It does not exist or at least is not a “thing” as we think of it. Problem: Evil sure does seem real to me! It may not exist like I do, like beings do; but does it exist on the same level as the number 12 or the color “white” (neither of which exist in a sense). Its effects are far too obvious to not exist in some form. Plus, Augustine said in other places that moral good is absent from all sorts of soulless objects like chairs or neckties, but that absence of good does not instantly make them evil. God pronounced creation good, but Augustine’s solution seems to leave any thing that is absent of moral good as evil. Augustine’s thoughts have much merit and even if he was wrong about this, his wrong answer was 100 times better than any right answers before his time and for hundreds of years after his time. Some form of his position may indeed be the best answer. But let’s continue to understand the various positions.
Modern Charismatics have a solution: God is good all the time! God only gives, the devil takes, suffering and evil do not come from God, but from the devil. Problem: I don’t mean to be uncharitable towards our charismatic friends, but that’s not in the Bible. The Scriptures say the opposite, that those who live godly lives will necessarily find suffering and persecution as part of their daily bread. God gives a painful promise to his people when Paul says to Timothy, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”(2TI 3:12 ) And God clearly has a hand in natural evil, as Isaiah says.
The “normal” Reformed answer that I first heard from Dr. John Gerstner is that we don’t have a problem of evil, but a problem of good. The mystery isn’t that God could allow evil to begin and continue to exist in the world — the mystery is that God would allow any good to happen to bad people like us. True enough, but that’s no help. It’s an answer to a question, but not the question of why do we have evil in this world. It’s more like a rebuke than a satisfying answer.
I do not think this is the whole answer, but combined with some form of what Augustine says above, I believe part of the reason why Satan (and humanity) could be created perfect, and yet fall, is that while he was perfect, he was still a creature, not Creator. He was not a deity — he was lower than God. Only God is immutable (1 Samuel 15:29; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17). Thus, Satan (and humanity) could “naturally” degrade without God forcing him to sin or inject him with unbelief. God allowed it to happen for his greater glory, but he did not force it upon Satan or mankind. It was simply the result of being mutable or subject to change.
This is how “perfect” beings could sin — they were created perfect, but were vulnerable to the impact of chaos upon those who are not God.
God’s solution to this is union with Jesus Christ. For all who believe, we are united to Jesus Christ in such a way that our righteousness is his, and at glorification, we are transformed into a “new creation” that due to our relationship with God through Christ, we are no longer subject to moral chaos and the degrading nature of time. We are free to live with God, eternally, without fear of falling, since we are “kept” by God forever. I quote 1 Peter 1:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.