God is good. God is merciful. God is all-powerful. “God is love” (1 John 4:16). God knows the end from the beginning. And yet in this world, comprising a part of the universe which He created and controls, and in which His power is unlimited and absolute, sin, suffering, and death have borne sway for nearly six thousand years.
Why does God permit sin and its author, Satan, to exist? This cry has for thousands of years gone up from the lips of a multitude of sufferers. It is a question that to many minds is a source of great perplexity. God has the power to destroy sin and all its attendant evils. Yet He permits it. Some have asserted that because God permits sin He is therefore responsible for it. Where lies the answer?
In the establishment of the great government of God, every intelligent being is a free moral agent, with full power to obey or disobey. God could force obedience, but that would not develop a symmetrical character. On the other hand, forced obedience could only foster rebellion.
Hence angels, as well as all other created beings, were placed upon probation. Willing, glad obedience to the demands of a just Creator would give them a sound, perfect character. It would fit them for eternal life, with all the joys that heaven could bestow. Pride, love of self, and all other sin, if cherished, would develop a character out of harmony with heaven. Such a character God cannot tolerate, and the fiat has gone forth, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:20).
Some glad day the test of character will be complete throughout all the creation of God. Then the faithful and true, with a life record which has stood the test of trial and temptation, will be forever free from the wiles of sin and Satan.
A Reason for Sin
On this subject Dr. Charles Beecher has made some very sensible remarks. He says:
“If such was the original condition of the universe, the question arises, How could sin possibly enter? Some minds have felt the difficulty on this point so strongly that they have rejected the Bible account of the matter, and denied the existence of any such sinless state of the universe.
“But the answer to the question is simple. Sin is, in its own nature, anomalous, and therefore mysterious; it is, in its own nature, an unaccountable thing; for, the moment that we admit that it is properly accounted for, i.e., the moment we have assigned a good and sufficient cause for it, that moment it ceases to be a sin. A good and sufficient cause is a good and sufficient excuse; and that which has a good and sufficient excuse is not sin.
“To account for sin, therefore, is to defend it; and to defend it is to certify that it does not exist. Therefore the objection that it is inconceivable and unaccountable that sin should enter into such a perfect universe, amounts to nothing but saying that sin is exceedingly sinful, inexcusable, and destitute of the least defense or justification.
“Sin is a violation of all law, a departure from all original nature, a thing essentially lawless, anomalous, and mysterious. We can identify the fact of its existence, we can describe the manner, we can discover the occasion, but the cause, the good and sufficient cause, God Himself and the judgment seat will demonstrate cannot be shown, for it does not exist.” Redeemer and Redeemed, 82, 83.
The origin of sin cannot be explained. No excuse can be given for its existence. “Sin is an intruder, for whose presence no reason can be given. It is mysterious, unaccountable; to excuse it, is to defend it. Could excuse for it be found, or cause be shown for its existence, it would cease to be sin.” Yet of one thing we may be sure; a careful study of the Scriptures will show abundant evidence that God is in no way responsible for the entrance of sin.
But while no reason or excuse for sin can be given, its history may be easily traced. About the time of the creation of this earth, Lucifer, one of the most powerful and beautiful of all the heavenly host, allowed pride and rebellion to come into his heart. He was not satisfied with the high position which he held, but aspired to a place by the side of Jehovah, upon His throne. He said, “I will be like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:14).
Because such a demand could not be granted, Lucifer openly rebelled against the government of God, and led millions of heavenly angels into rebellion with him. Then there was war in heaven, as a result of which Lucifer, or Satan, and his rebel host were “cast out into the earth” (Revelation 12:9).
Not Created Evil
“Because Satan harbored evil thoughts, was tempted, and fell, it does not follow that God created him with an evil inclination. The Bible contradicts such an idea, for the Lord says of him, ‘Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee’ (Ezekiel 28:15).
“All intelligent creatures, capable of reasoning concerning right and wrong, are free moral agents. It is impossible that God should confer a moral character on any of His creatures. He creates them perfect, endows them with full capacities to do His will, to walk in the way of righteousness, but He cannot so compel them to do right as to destroy their power of choice; for to deprive them of choice would be to destroy the moral quality of their actions. Deprived of choice, they would be mere passive machines, and machines cannot develop character. All acknowledge the force of this reasoning as applying to men, but it is equally applicable to angels and all created intelligences.” Ministration of Angels, 67, 68.
The wisdom of God in allowing the rebellion of Satan to develop is well set forth in the following quotation:
“Even when he was cast out of heaven, Infinite Wisdom did not destroy Satan. Since only the service of love can be acceptable to God, the allegiance of His creatures must rest upon a conviction of His justice and benevolence. The inhabitants of heaven and of other worlds, being unprepared to comprehend the nature or consequences of sin, could not then have seen the justice of God in the destruction of Satan. Had he been immediately blotted out of existence, some would have served God from fear rather than from love. The influence of the deceiver would not have been fully destroyed, nor would the spirit of rebellion have been utterly eradicated. For the good of the entire universe through ceaseless ages, he must more fully develop his principles, that his charges against the divine government might be seen in their true light by all created beings, and that the justice and mercy of God and the immutability of His law might be forever placed beyond all question.
“Satan’s rebellion was to be a lesson to the universe through all coming ages—a perpetual testimony to the nature of sin and its terrible results. The working out of Satan’s rule, its effects upon both men and angels, would show what must be the fruit of setting aside the divine authority. It would testify that with the existence of God’s government is bound up the well-being of all the creatures He has made. Thus the history of this terrible experiment of rebellion was to be a perpetual safeguard to all holy beings, to prevent them from being deceived as to the nature of transgression, to save them from committing sin, and suffering its penalty.
“He that ruleth in the heavens is the One who sees the end from the beginning—the One before whom the mysteries of the past and the future are alike outspread, and who, beyond the woe and darkness and ruin that sin has wrought, beholds the accomplishment of His own purposes of love and blessing. Though ‘clouds and darkness are round about Him, righteousness and judgment are the foundation of His throne’ (Psalm 97:2 R.V.). And this the inhabitants of the universe, both loyal and disloyal, will one day understand, ‘His work is perfect; for all His ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is He’ (Deuteronomy 32:4).” Patriarchs and Prophets, 42, 43.
When Satan and his angels were cast out of heaven, their probation had ended, their doom was sealed. Their privileges had been so great and their rebellion so stubborn and wicked that they could never again be reinstated or trusted. They had passed the limit of divine forbearance.
But with man in his sin the case was different. His opportunities had not been so great. He was led into sin through the temptations of one of the most powerful and subtle beings, recently fallen from the very presence of God Himself. Infinite love and compassion opened a way by which man could have another opportunity to perfect a character which would reinstate him in the position which he had lost through sin. But how different the conditions! He had failed when sinless and under the direct dominion and government of God. He must now win back, while dwelling in the dominions governed by Satan, encompassed by all his evil and temptations, that which he had lost. Were it not that help divine was provided, the holy angels appointed to his aid, the condition of man would be hopeless.
“In the banishment of Satan from heaven, God declared His justice, and maintained the honor of His throne. But when man had sinned through yielding to the deceptions of this apostate spirit, God gave an evidence of His love by yielding up His only begotten Son to die for the fallen race. In the atonement the character of God is revealed. The mighty argument of the cross demonstrates to the whole universe that the course of sin which Lucifer had chosen was in no wise chargeable upon the government of God.
“In the contest between Christ and Satan, during the Saviour’s earthly ministry, the character of the great deceiver was unmasked. Nothing could so effectually have uprooted Satan from the affections of the heavenly angels and the whole loyal universe as did his cruel warfare upon the world’s Redeemer. The daring blasphemy of his demand that Christ should pay him homage, his presumptuous boldness in bearing Him to the mountain’s summit and the pinnacle of the temple, that malicious intent betrayed in urging Him to cast Himself down from the dizzy height, the unsleeping malice that haunted Him from place to place, inspiring the heart of priests and people to reject His love, and at the last to cry, ‘Crucify Him! crucify Him!’—all this excited the amazement and indignation of the universe.
“It was Satan that prompted the world’s rejection of Christ. The prince of evil exerted all his power and cunning to destroy Jesus; for he saw that the Saviour’s mercy and love, His compassion and pitying tenderness, were representing to the world the character of God. Satan contested every claim put forth by the Son of God and employed men as his agents to fill the Saviour’s life with suffering and sorrow.
“The sophistry and falsehood by which he had sought to hinder the work of Jesus, the hatred manifested through the children of disobedience, his cruel accusations against Him whose life was one of unexampled goodness, all sprang from deep-seated revenge. The pent-up fires of envy and malice, hatred and revenge, burst forth on Calvary against the Son of God, while all heaven gazed upon the scene in silent horror. …
“Now the guilt of Satan stood forth without excuse. He had revealed his true character as a liar and a murderer. It was seen that the very same spirit with which he ruled the children of men, who were under his power, he would have manifested had he been permitted to control the inhabitants of heaven. He had claimed that the transgression of God’s law would bring liberty and exaltation; but it was seen to result in bondage and degradation.
“Satan’s lying charges against the divine character and government appeared in their true light. He had accused God of seeking merely the exaltation of Himself in requiring submission and obedience from His creatures, and had declared that, while the Creator exacted self-denial from all others, He Himself practiced no self-denial, and made no sacrifice. Now it was seen that for the salvation of a fallen and sinful race, the Ruler of the universe had made the greatest sacrifice which love could make; for ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself’ (2 Corinthians 5:19). It was seen, also, that while Lucifer had opened the door for the entrance of sin, by his desire for honor and supremacy, Christ had, in order to destroy sin, humbled Himself and become obedient unto death (Philippians 2:8) …” The Great Controversy, 502.
In the final outcome “the whole universe will have become witnesses to the nature and results of sin. And its utter extermination, which in the beginning would have brought fear to angels and dishonor to God, will now vindicate His love and establish His honor before a universe of beings who delight to do His will, and in whose heart is His law. Never will evil again be manifest. Says the word of God: ‘Affliction shall not rise up the second time’ (Nahum 1:9). The law of God, which Satan has reproached as the yoke of bondage, will be honored as the law of liberty. A tested and proved creation will never again be turned from allegiance to Him whose character has been fully manifested before them as fathomless love and infinite wisdom.” Ibid., 504.
“When God promised the land to Abraham and to his seed, He said that he could not then inherit it, because ‘the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full (Genesis 15:16). The Lord would give them an opportunity to fill up the cup of their iniquity. This proves the long-suffering of God. And no sin was ever so great but that it found sympathy somewhere.
“Satan so wrought upon the sympathies of the angels that legions of them denied the justice of God, and took their stand by his side. Had the Lord then destroyed him, it is highly probable that myriads more in the universe might have doubted the wisdom or justice of the action. Perhaps they could not yet realize the enormity of his guilt.
“But at the final judgment, when every cup is full, and Satan has fully convinced every creature that he is the only personification of malignity and all that is evil and hateful, all will approve the justice of God in his destruction. And no doubt Satan himself, seeing the issue of many generations of rebellion, and the causeless ruin he has wrought, will realize that God is just, and that he was altogether wrong in his pride and ambition, and, above all, in instigating the murder of the meek and lowly Son of God.
“When Satan sees the city of God descend from heaven, and the hosts of angels with whom he once worshiped in blessed union, and the glorious Son of God, their loved Commander, at their head, and the millions of glorified ones from this world, purchased by His blood, even he himself will be compelled to acknowledge the utter failure of his ambitious plan, the goodness of Jesus in dying for His creatures, and the wisdom and justice of God the Father in exalting His Son over such a vicious spirit as he has proved himself to be. We verily believe that this will be the case, and that in this will be found the fulfilment of the words of inspiration: ‘That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’ (Philippians 2:10, 11).” Ministration of Angels, 67–71.
Past, Present, and Future, James Edson White, 110–119.