Is God Responsible For Man’s Sinful Nature?

indexMy last post considered the extent of man’s depravity – is it total or absolute, or is there ever a difference? But another question also comes to mind: where precisely did this sin nature come from? If we trace backward in time, many skeptics argue, doesn’t the responsibility for man’s sin nature still end with God? As one challenge put it:

When Adam sinned was he acting, as we do, in accordance with his sinful nature? If so, where did this nature originate? Compatibilism appears to leave one committed to the idea that God created man with a sinful nature and deliberately withheld the grace necessary to resist sin; but that seems ridiculous, since God would be effectively introducing evil into the world.”

The challenge is right in one sense: since God created man, man’s “nature” is ultimately attributable to God. But that doesn’t end the analysis. A car’s nature is designed by human beings. However, if I use my car to run someone down, or to wreak havoc somewhere, this would not be attributable to the designer, however much he or she may have been able to foresee misuse. The good of providing reliable transportation outweighs the risk of misuse, and the only way to make the thing work – in this analogy, to be useful as a car – is to make capable of being misused. Creating a “safe” car- one that could never be driver – would be nonsensical. 

Moving to the question of man’s nature, we need to be specific as to what we mean by the use of particular terms. By “nature,” I could mean the fundamental qualities of a person (or thing), or I could mean the tendencies, desires or instincts that govern behavior. “A lion is by nature a predator” is an example of the first meaning, while “it is in man’s nature to look for the easy way out” is an example of the latter. The former is generally true about all lions, while the latter is the tendency of some but not all men. When we talk about man’s original nature, I believe we are referring to the former meaning, whereas when we think about man’s present sinful nature, we are talking about something different, something more akin to the second meaning.

By “sin,” I mean any thought or action of a free-will being that contravenes God’s perfect will. Sin, and evil, are measures of the deprivation of a good. They occur when men – i.e. free-will beings – take a good that God has given and pervert it in some way. Animals cannot sin because they have no will, so even acts of destruction by them are morally neutral. Thoughts, by contrast, can be sinful even if not acted upon to the extent they reflect the functioning of the will in opposition to God.  

With these definitions in mind, my first observation would be that, while Adam and his descendants share free will, they possess different natures. Adam’s nature at first was not corrupted; his fundamental quality was “good.” He had free will yet walked in harmony with God. His free will, and his mind, eventually contemplated the question of the difference between him – the created – and God – the creator. Knowing of a limitation that God placed on him, Adam rebelled, rejecting God’s sovereignty. He placed his will in opposition to God’s. His nature was thereby corrupted. His freedom to sin moved from potential to actualized and with it his fundamental nature changed. That corruption he passed onto to his descendants, the way a genetic abnormality is passed on today; it is transmitted by virtue of the very process of procreation. We don’t enter the world in the same pure way that Adam did. Adam’s corruption shades our thinking, informs our desires, corrupts our pleasures; but it does not deprive us of the essential nature of the moral actor – the capacity for free will. Our wills are not completely unfettered, yet they are sufficiently free for us to be worthy (unlike the animals) of judgment by God.

Man’s original nature – manifested in Adam – derived from God. Man’s corrupted nature is a reflection of sin in the classical sense – man’s nature as good is now corrupted by a deprivation of the good; man’s basic tendencies, desires and instincts propel him further into rebellion, as he acts with a “darkened mind.”  God is responsible for this only in the sense that he created us in the first place and he gave us free will; but God did not create evil, nor more so than the car designer created carnage on the roadway. Again, evil is not a thing to be created or destroyed, but is instead the thoughts/actions of a free will being in opposition to God.

Consequently, God did not create man with a sinful nature and then withhold the grace necessary to resist sin. He gave man free will because true love requires the exercise of free will. Man, not God, is responsible for what was done (and continues to be done) with that free will.

The bad news in all of this is that we deserve separation from God. The Good News, of course, is that God also provides the solution. Perfect love, perfect mercy, perfect justice….balanced for eternity through the sacrificial love of the perfect Man – Jesus Christ.

Posted by Al Serrato

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  1. BGA says:

    I think what skeptics like myself see as the problem with sin nature, is not addressed by this post. We ask why do we sin? And we are told it is our sin nature, and I think you have identified this as tendencies, or urges towards disobedience of god. You’ve identified that this was not present in Adam, which leads to a follow up question, why did Adam sin in the first place?

    It could not have been his sin nature since he did not possess one. It is hard to think that he made anything like a reasoned choice. After all here he was in paradise, with everything he could wish for. Presumably he loved god and trusted him, this would be overwhelmingly natural for anyone without sin nature, in the context of newly created Eden, in which God walked and talked with you.

    We are not told much about what Adam knew but I think we can presume he know God created him, Eve and Eden. He trusts god and god has told him he will die if he eats the fruit. So, only a complete moron would chose to eat the fruit. And I presume most don’t believe God’s creation was idiotic. So was his choice simply arbitrary?

    It makes no sense to me unless he had inside him either a tendency to disobey, or an instinct of curiosity to go beyond Gods rules which were clearly dictated to him by god , directly. If this was the case, he must have been created with the seed to establish all sin. Indeed it would seem that the other activities in Eden were pretty insufficient applications of free will. I suppose naming things requires a choice, but this can be arbitrary (in fact how could it be other than arbitrary?). So what are Adam and Eve to do with their free will, keep choosing to not eat from a tree and ignore the serpent… And the serpent is a whole other problem.

    • Al says:

      I don’t think it was either a tendency to disobey or an instinct. I think they desired to be greater than they were, and so they used their free will to pursue that goal. While they were uncorrupted, they were neither perfect nor did they have perfect knowledge. They bit off more than they could chew (pun intended). See my blog post of this date for a fuller attempt at an answer.

  2. MC says:

    Thank you for your explanation. But your analogy of car, driver and designer is confusing to me.
    The car designer is God. The car is our body. But who represents the mad driver who run over people?
    Is it Satan? (Also a God’s creation)
    or is it one’s soul? (God’s creation)
    Also, would you leave your child in a room with a poisoned cake on the table and two other kids who are going to dare him to eat it?

    • Al says:

      MC, no I wouldn’t, but that’s because raising my children and creating human life from nothing are two different things. I act consistent with my obligation as a parent. God acted to create beings who could eventually interact with him in an eternal love relationship. His purposes were different than that of a parent. Having said that, as a parent, I also realize that I cannot shield my children from all evils; they must instead be “immunized” by learning right behavior over a period of time, so that when they are undergone this process, they will hopefully know not to eat the poison that you refer to. As for my car analogy, God created the car – us – knowing that our free will would be used to misuse what he created. We – not Satan – remain responsible for our choices.

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