Is God the Author of Sin?

It depends on how you define “author” and “sin”.

  • If by “author” you mean that he is sovereign over sin (i.e., determines / causes / ordains each instance of sin) then the answer is yes. If by “author” you mean that he himself is a sinner or is responsible for any person’s sin then the answer is no.
  • If by “sin” you mean particular instances of sin then then the answer is yes. If by “sin” you mean the existence of evil as a concept then the answer is no. Evil was not created; it exists so long as God exists, because if God is eternally holy then it follows that evil has always existed at least conceptually to contrast with that holiness, much like the existence of light implies the existence of darkness.

Therefore, in the simplest sense of the phrase, I think the answer is a resounding yes. God is the author of everything that occurs in history because he is sovereign over all creation. This might be an uncomfortable truth for even Calvinists but it is a truth of scripture nonetheless.

I remember when I was wrestling through this issue as a twenty-one year old. Providentially, I was driving through the countryside of Pennsylvania for work at that time and came upon a tiny rural church with a remarkable message on their sign:

IF HE IS NOT LORD OF ALL THEN HE IS NOT LORD AT ALL

Keep the weight of that phrase in mind as you study the topic of God’s sovereignty. Many Christians find verbs like “cause” and “determine” and “ordain” to be uncomfortable, but why? Are we bothered to call a spade a spade?1 Worse yet, do we deny his Lordship in our theology even if we profess it with our lips?

The Argument from Scripture

God as the author of sin is taught explicitly in scripture and through deduction.

Explicitly

It is taught explicitly in Isaiah 45:1-13, particularly verse 7. The NKJV wisely captions this passage “Cyrus, God’s Instrument”. Isaiah’s message is simple: God is sovereign and he will accomplish what he pleases (Ps. 115:3, Eph. 1:11). In the case of Cyrus, God will “hold his hand” (vs 1) even “though [Cyrus] has not known me” (vs 4), “direct all his ways” (vs 13), and thereby rescue the Jews through him so that all the world may know from “the rising of the sun to its setting that there is none besides me” (vs 6).

Verse 7 is the one I wish to home in on, however:

I form the light and create darkness:
I make peace and create evil:
I the Lord do all these things.

If you follow my earlier link to Isaiah 45 you will not see the word “evil” but “calamity”. That is because I linked to the NKJV, whereas just now I quoted the KJV, which I believe is the correct translation. The underlying Hebrew word refers to “evil” the vast majority of the time. Occasionally it is translated “disaster” or “calamity”, but it’s worth noting that this always refers to disaster caused by human evil. I welcome correction on that point, but when this point is combined with the context of the passage I see evidence that the word refers to moral evil, not natural disaster.

Deductively
  1. God’s sovereignty. Even if the above reference (Isaiah 45:7) does not persuade you, it still remains that the passage is about God’s sovereignty over the affairs of humans. And why not all affairs of men? David believed as much when he said in Psalm 119:36, “Incline my heart to Your testimonies, and not to covetousness.” Why would David even bother praying this if he did not believe that God was sovereign over his desires (inclinations)?
  2. God’s foreknowledge. If God knows the future then it follows that the future is determined. Open theists recognize this, which is why they reject God’s foreknowledge in order to preserve their false view of the will. We can thank God that Arminians are not so consistent in their defense of libertarian freedom that they follow it to its logical conclusion, lest they become open theists themselves. Nevertheless, if the future is determined then it follows that all future events, including sin, are determined.

Objections Considered

If the position I present here leads to the conclusion that God himself is a sinner or is actually responsible for the sin of any particular sinner, then the position should be rejected, of course. This charge is brought by people who have an incorrect understanding of the human will. They will say things, “If we have no free will, then we’re just puppets (or robots). And if a puppet commits a crime, its the puppetmaster (or the programmer) that is responsible. The puppetmaster gets thrown in jail, not the puppet.”

The problem with this analogy is simple: puppets do not have wills and it is willing to sin that makes one responsible. The biblical system of justice teaches that one is responsible if they desired to commit a sin. No puppet ever desired to commit a sin (because they have no will) and therefore no puppet can ever be responsible. But humans do have wills and therefore are responsible due to their willing to sin.

Back to the topic at hand: did God will to sin or did he will that I sin? The latter, of course. Now, unless it can be shown in scripture that God willing someone to sin is itself sinful, there is no contradiction to be found in this position.

At this point, you might be tempted to question this idea that God wills our desires. “Surely they need not be willed by God, but rather they come from our heart.” Again, the fact that David believed God determined his desires should be sufficient, but ignoring that, we must realize that appealing to the heart simply dodges the question at hand. After all, is God not sovereign over the heart? Why is the heart the way it is? Did it randomly become evil? As soon as you take God out of the equation, human behavior (which I would argue is caused by our beliefs and desires) becomes arbitrary and irrational: perhaps some people murder, rape, and steal. Perhaps others don’t. Why not? Just because. Why did so-and-so commit the crime? Just because that’s the way the cosmic cookies crumbled — whatever those are.

But as Christians we know that every part of His Story (i.e., history) is pointing to His Glory. Every belief, desire, and behavior will ultimately go rewarded or punished so that the great contrast between a perfect God and an imperfect creation can be magnified.

Implications

Appreciating that God is the author is sin has two profound implications:

  1. Sin will always glorify God, either through his punishing it or magnifying his attributes of grace, forbearance, mercy, etc.2 This should come as a comfort to believers in depression over their sin. Ultimately, everything God does in the believer’s life works toward the good of the believer (Romans 8). Do not mistakenly think, however, that the believer who continues on sinning that grace may abound will have cheated the system or come out ahead of anyone else in the pursuit of pleasure (which is the pursuit of every person). God’s abounding grace does not rule out the reality that sin is irrational: it does not result in more pleasure than obedience. Therefore, to those who say, “If God is the author of sin and it all works together for my good, why not just sin as much as I want?” the answer is simple: you will sin as much as want because you can do no other. As a person created in God’s image, you will always choose according to your greatest desire at any given moment. But this doesn’t mean that any given moment you did what would have brought you the most pleasure. Moreover, the question can be flipped around: “If God is the author of obedience, why not just obey as much as I want?” Indeed, you will obey as much as you want — and may God kindly incline your heart toward that end!
  2. Pray for new desires, just as David prayed: “Incline my heart to Your testimonies, and not to covetousness.” At the end of the day, God will only end your temptation or struggle with sin if he chooses to change your beliefs and desires. While it is true that we must discipline ourselves for godliness, we must remember that the desire to discipline oneself comes from God as well. There is never a point at which we are generating our own beliefs and desires. Even when you feel so overwhelmed by sin, as though you cannot resist, you can and should pray to God for help. Indeed, the simple reading of this article might be the occasion on which you begin to pray for better desires — a petition that is foreign, sadly, to Christians who think it is up to them to better themselves. Indeed, all of salvation, including sanctification is by faith alone. If you are not being sanctified (or at least not quickly) then pray for more faith! Does that seem strange to you? It did not seem strange to Jesus who healed the son of a man who cried out for more faith (Mark 9:14-29).

References

  1. Similarly, many Calvinists are uncomfortable accepting the fact that God determines who goes to Heaven and also Hell. They create the doctrine of “double predestination” and then claim to accept “predestination” but not “double predestination” even though the concept of the latter is implied in the former. In other words, “double predestination” is redundant and the product of semantic contortionism.
  2. The objection may be raised that Paul says in Romans 1:21 that sin does not glorify God. This is incorrect: the passage is saying that unbelievers do not worship their creator but rather the creation. Here, “glorify” is being used synonymously with “worship”.

Resources

These resources are simply related to the topic at hand. I do not necessarily agree with their contents, emphasis, language, or all three.