Must Sin be Possible for Choices to be Genuine and Loving?

One of the common points that we hear people make when trying to explain the existence of evil or the fall of man is that mankind, in order to be truly free, to make real choices, or to experience genuine love, must have the possibility of sin. Often, people go even further to argue that God cannot influence man or change his heart toward love, because that love would not be genuine. Put another way, these people say that, if we do not have the possibility of sin, we are the same as puppets or robots.

In reading through Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, I came across the following few paragraphs in his discussion of God’s providence. I found them very helpful, because they show the failure of the logic that states that for
man’s choices to be real and loving, they must be free enough to include the possibility of sin.

[Disclaimer: Grudem uses the terms Calvinism and Arminianism to describe these two views of God’s providence. My point here is not to argue Calvinism or Arminianism, but to simply display from a well-reasoned scholar the fault in the reasoning that declares that sin must be possible in order for choices to be real.]

From: Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology : An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Inter-Varsity Press; Zondervan Pub. House, 1994), 349-350.

The common Arminian response is to say that God was able to prevent evil but he chose to allow for the possibility of evil in order to guarantee that angels and humans would have the freedom necessary for meaningful choices. In other words, God had to allow for the possibility of sinful choices in order to allow genuine human choices. Cottrell says, “This God-given freedom includes human freedom to rebel and to sin against the Creator himself. By creating a world in which sin was possible, God thereby bound himself to react in certain specific ways should sin become a reality.”

But this is not a satisfactory response either, for it implies that God will have to allow for the possibility of sinful choices in heaven eternally. On the Arminian position, if any of our choices and actions in heaven are to be genuine and real, then they will have to include the possibility of sinful choices. But this implies that even in heaven, for all eternity, we will face the real possibility of choosing evil—and therefore the possibility of rebelling against God and losing our salvation and being cast out of heaven! This is a terrifying thought, but it seems a necessary implication of the Arminian view.

Yet there is an implication that is more troubling: If real choices have to allow for the possibility of choosing evil, then (1) God’s choices are not real, since he cannot choose evil, or (2) God’s choices are real, and there is the genuine possibility that God might someday choose to do evil—perhaps a little, and perhaps a great deal. If we ponder the second implication it becomes terrifying. But it is contrary to the abundant testimony of Scripture. On the other hand, the first implication is clearly false: God is the definition of what is real, and it is clearly an error to say that his choices are not real. Both implications therefore provide good reason for rejecting the Arminian position that real choices must allow the possibility of choosing evil. But this puts us back to the earlier question for which there does not seem to be a satisfactory answer from the Arminian position: How can evil exist if God did not want it to exist?

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