God's Providence and Sin

The subject of God's providence and sin places us before an unfathomable mystery. This we readily concede and confess. And we have no intention of comprehending and understanding this mystery. On the one hand, man is a free responsible being. He performs iniquity because he loves it. He is unmolested in his sinning, is never forced or coerced. Besides, he never wills or desires anything else than sin, does not rest until and unless he commits evil, is a slave of iniquity, but always a very willing slave. He is always free, only however in this moral sense of the word. He is never sovereignly free. On the other hand, God is the living God. He alone is God. We cannot afford to lose this truth. If we lose this truth we lose God. And, losing God, we lose all. 

Is God the Author of Sin?

In response to my last blog post (we welcome responses!), The Errors of Arminianism, a reader asked me (by email) to answer the Arminian charge that the Reformed faith is guilty of making God the author of sin. I intended to write my own answer to the question: is God the author of sin. But in doing some research I came across this brief and yet thorough treatment of the question by Prof. H. C. Hoeksema (posed to him by a reader of The Standard Bearer). Below is the question and the full answer, but if you want to look it up for yourself you can find it here.


How can God ordain sin and still remain a perfect God?


This is a large question, on which much could be written. I will try to make a few pertinent remarks. 

In the first place, let us remember that neither of the two truths mentioned in the question—that God ordained sin and that God is the eternally perfect God—is dependent upon our understanding of the relation between them for their truth. If scripture teaches both—and it does—then we bow in childlike faith before the scriptures, whether we can fathom the possibility of both truths or not. 

In the second place, I wish to emphasize that it is not a pet Protestant Reformed doctrine that God ordained sin. That is simply the age-old truth which our Reformed confessions maintain. Thus we read, for example, in Article XIII of the Confession of Faith: “. . . so that nothing happens in this world without his appointment: nevertheless, God neither is the author of, nor can be charged with, the sins which are committed. For his power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible, that he orders and executes his work in the most excellent and just manner, even then, when devils and wicked men act unjustly. And, as to what he doth surpassing human understanding, we will not curiously inquire into, farther than our capacity will admit of; but with the greatest humility and reverence adore the righteous judgments of God, which are hid from us, contenting ourselves that we are disciples of Christ, to learn only those things which he has revealed to us in his Word, without transgressing these limits.” 

In the third place, notice that the truth that God ordains sin is a scriptural doctrine. There are several classic examples of this in scripture; but let me mention just one outstanding example, the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ, Acts 2:23: “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” Notice that the most heinous sin in history is indeed the responsibility of wicked men, not of God, who is perfect; yet it takes place according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. 

In the fourth place, bear in mind that the alternative to the doctrine that God sovereignly ordains sin is the denial of the sovereignty of God: for then sin comes about without God and apart from God and his control. And from a practical, spiritual point of view, where would you rather have sin controlled—by the devil, or by our sovereign heavenly Father? To ask this question, it seems to me, is to answer it. Our Confession of Faith puts it aptly when it says in Article XIII: “This doctrine affords us unspeakable consolation, since we are taught thereby that nothing can befall us by chance, but by the direction of our most gracious and heavenly Father; . . . being persuaded, that he so restrains (bridles, HCH) the devil and all our enemies, that without his will and permission, they cannot hurt us.” 

In the fifth place, let me submit the following statements in answer more specifically to the “how” of your question: 

1) God ordains sin without himself becoming the author of sin

2) God ordains sin perfectly, that is, holily—in a holy manner and for a holy purpose. 

3) Part of the purpose for which God ordains sin is, certainly, that he may reveal his own perfect and infinite holiness over against it.


Question from a Catechism Student

Question from a Catechism Student

(7th Grade Boy)

 Q. What if someone sins after God brings us all to heaven?

The question asks about what will happen if a saint (or maybe an angel) sins after being made perfect and brought to heaven. Before we answer this question we must ask another question, which may be what the student really meant to ask. Is it possible for a saint or angel who has entered the state of perfection in heaven to sin?  This is a good question considering that Satan was a perfect angel before he sinned, and Adam was a perfect man before he sinned. It would seem that it may be possible for perfect angels and perfected saints in the future to sin.

But it will not be possible for saints (or angels) to sin in heaven. Rev. Herman Hoeksema teaches this on pages 628-631 of Reformed Dogmatics (vol. 2, second edition). Rev. Hoeksema explains the biblical teaching about eternal life on these pages. In heaven God will give his people eternal life, which Rev. Hoeksema explains, “is resurrection life. It is immortal in the true and scriptural sense. It lies on the other side of death. It is victory over death.” Then a little later he writes,

Eternal life is everlasting. It can never be lost, exactly because it has its root in the incarnation of the Son of God. Now we have a beginning of this eternal life in our hearts; it is only a principle. That beginning of eternal life will be translated into the fullness of joy at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in glory. Then it will advance into the state of spiritual perfection, as well as to the perfection of the resurrection of the body. It will reach its final perfection of glory when all the saints in Christ, all the elect of God, shall have been gathered; our bodies shall have put on incorruption and immortality (1 Cor. 15:53).

The reference to 1 Cor. 15:53 which speaks of immortality is important. One who has immortality cannot die. Because death is the “wages of sin” (Rom. 6:23) one who cannot die also cannot sin. Adam did not have immortality. He could sin, and he could die. Immortality is a gift of salvation Jesus Christ gives to his elect. The elect receive that immortality in stages. In regeneration they receive the seed of immortal life. In death they are given immortal souls. In the resurrection they receive complete immortality in body as well as soul. Once saints receive their glorified bodies and souls they can never again fall into sin or die—that is what immortality means!

So “what if someone sins after God brings us all to heaven”? The answer is that no glorified saint or angel will be able to sin, so we do not have to think about what would happen if they did. The eternal life we will have in heaven will never stop. So we give thanks to God for the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23)!


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