I have recently gained some insights and revelations about the matter of free will, and the Fall, and God’s entire plan of redemption. It was rather relevant to Mark’s questions so I just sent an email to him in an attempt to answer his doubts as well as sort out my thoughts. Figured I may as well post my email here:
“A. If humans are born into total depravity, they cannot help but sin. Thus, how can it be considered that we have free will to choose not to sin?
B. If A and E had that choice and had free will, was it worth it, knowing that they were going to sin?
I shall answer B first by beginning with my revelation, and proceeding to elaborate on how it answers your question.
This realisation occurred to me as I was grappling with my own question: What is preventing another Fall from happening? You probably understand but I shall expound anyway. Presuming there is free will and free will allowed sin, and presuming very reasonably that there will still be free will in heaven, what is stopping us, or another angel for that matter, to turn away from God again?
Let us work backwards. The scripture clearly says that once the new heaven and earth are established, it will be for eternity, and we shall spend that eternity in the presence of the Lord. (You can check if you want.) Since we are working within the confines of Christianity, it is assumed that the Bible is Truth. As such, there cannot be another Fall, because that would be contradicting the Word of God. If there is no possibility of another Fall at all, and the Fall was due to our nature of free will, there must be a difference between our Eden-nature and our redeemed-nature.
My friend recently showed me this quote by St. Augustine which, when paraphrased, says something to the extent of there being a superior free will after redemption. I know your alarm bells must be ringing. One can easily ask then, “Why didn’t He create us with that superior free will to begin with?” And here I shall introduce the idea of refinement.
“Each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.” – I Corinthians 3:13
This verse warns Christians that Christ is to be the only foundation of all we do. Our work will be tested by fire, and if it isn’t built on Christ, it will be burnt away.
This idea of being tested and refined is recurrent in the Bible. Everything must be tested and proven – this is why Christians have trials and struggles; it is to perfect us. However, I believe we can take it further. What if God allowed His entire creation to undergo this refinement process? That would mean that the Fall and its consequences – this entire interim period before Christ redeems the world – is part of His plan to make His creation perfect. It is His way of testing His own work, as if He were putting the clay into the oven. (This would also justify having some souls being lost to hell, since Matthew 13:30 says “Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.” It is totally in line with the idea of God allowing His creation to be refined.)
A further illustration and evidence of this idea can be seen in the contrasting depiction of Eden and the new heaven and earth. While Eden is described very much like an ideal nature reserve or something, the latter is described as being a cube – a symbol of perfect equality – and being built by materials such as jasper, pure gold, sapphire, topaz, etc; materials that are refined and purified. There is a stark contrast! Eden is raw and “natural” but the new heaven and new earth is purified.
More verses on refinement which can be interpreted as within this time period of fallen nature, or eternally:
“For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; you laid a crushing burden on our backs; you let men ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.” – Psalm 66:10-12
“Our God is a consuming fire.” – Hebrews 12:29
But if God is omnipotent, why not create us refined already? Yet the whole idea of being refined – and the glory that comes with it – suggests a process. God can do all things, but He cannot do something which is logically contradictory. (For this would be contradictory to His very own nature, since He is a God of logic and order as well.) Therefore He cannot create something refined without refining it. Which also begs the question, why not create something that does not need to be refined? And if it is perfect, why refine? Firstly let me suggest that for something to be truly perfect, it has to go through refinement by biblical principle. Something which is unrefined and untested, simply cannot be proven to be perfect. And it isn’t that He created something imperfect which necessitated refinement – that is a perspective limited by our concept of time. God, who can see all in time, saw the perfection when He created everything; He saw the Fall, of Satan and subsequently of Man, He saw what pain that would bring, but He also saw how that made everything perfect in the end. Thus when He created us, He saw us to be perfect.
Now, how is everything better? The passage in Corinthians tells us that Christ is the foundation of everything. Similarly, the Fall allowed for Christ to be revealed in His glory. Since Christ is the Father revealed, this glory is also that of God. Let us keep that in mind. Going back to Eden, let us recall that the sin which condemned Man was that of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It is reasonable to conclude that prior, Adam and Eve had no such knowledge of good and evil. It is said that when they ate, “their eyes were opened”. So there is innocence before (in the sense of not knowing) and conscience after, although that came with the price of being condemned. I propose that this conscience, this knowledge of good and evil, and also witnessing and experiencing all the suffering that came after the Fall, allows us ultimately to always choose good, once we have been redeemed and granted a new nature.
Now about Satan. Why allow Satan to live? Why not just kill him with His Almighty power? Because the alternative is better. The alternative is not to fight fire with fire, but with something higher and nobler and better. The Bible is full of this theme: If someone slaps you, turn the other cheek. Overcome evil with good. “Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.” (Romans 12:17). So God, more than simply defeating Satan by might, defeated him by love. In so doing, He not only showed Himself mightier, but showed His way of love to better than Satan’s way of pride, power, greed, and sin. This triumph of God’s way was revealed in such a glorious and marvellous way in His Son Jesus Christ, and His work on the cross. It is at this point that I would like to point out the centrality of the cross in all of this, and bring to mind the idea of Christ being the foundation of everything. Alas, this refining process of creation has revealed that Christ is indeed the foundation of everything. Right from the beginning was Jesus Christ with God (John 1) – all of this was to reveal Christ as The Way, The Truth, The Life, (John 14:6) in contrast to the fallen world of darkness, deception and death. This, I believe is the second reason why we as beings with consciences and a redeemed nature would no longer fall again. Therefore though it seems like the original plan did not work out, that was actually part of the larger plan, which is even more glorious.
A possible problem with this is that one can say then that evil had to exist such that God gained the glory, and such that Man would be able to see what good is, and understand what love is. However, this is not the case. God did not create evil so that He can be glorious. Rather, when He saw all that creation would bring, He too saw the beginning of evil, and the resultant increase in His glory and the perfecting of His creation. Therefore it is not that Satan had to fall so that God would get the glory, rather, God’s plan was made more glorious by Satan’s fall.
In Joseph’s story, he was sold by his brothers, but he eventually became second to Pharaoh in Egypt and saved many from a famine, including his brothers. He said to them, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” (Genesis 50:20). In the same way, Satan meant it for evil, but God meant it for good in order to bring about the result of perfection, of glory, and of life.
Therefore, since we have seen that while free will allowed for sin, this fall was justified because it refined Man and brought Him to a sinless yet free state. In fact, this fall was seen in God’s plan and allowed, such that this refinement would take place. It is a temporal and short period of suffering and fire, before His creation is made refined forevermore.
To answer A, which has no relevance to my revelation above, I would say that although it seems like we cannot choose good on our own, that does not mean that we do not have free will. For example, to turn it on its head, none of us would kill a child to get a dime. Because that is terrible and it is just a dime. But are we free to do so? Certainly! It is just that our nature goes against it. I am free to choose to eat mud for the rest of my life, but would I? No, because my nature strongly if not totally leans away from it. So in the same way, although our nature goes against us choosing to not sin, we are still free to do so. Now I hear you say yeah but our nature is given by God anyway so what’s up with that? Yes that is true, but it was our own choice (well not ours, but our first representative Adam) to first sin totally out of free will and condemn our natures to be fallen thereafter. So God created us to have free will, but we let our natures be corrupted, which naturally corrupted that free will. And also there’s the idea of grace, which is given for us to choose God. The whole idea of God choosing us or us choosing God is a separate matter, one that I do not think there is a real answer for on this side of eternity. But I suppose one good way to look at it is that God chooses those whom He knows will choose Him.
Does this help? I sincerely hope it did not raise more doubts. I was second-thinking my decision to pose my own question about a second Fall. Anyway, looking forward to your reply.”
It is certainly not nearly as comprehensive for such issues – I left many things undefined and unexplored, and explained many things very quickly I suppose. But I think the gist is there.