Why Does He Still Find Fault?

Question
If God created men with a sin nature, then it is impossible for men to live a perfect life, yet God holds them accountable for their sins. Mankind does not "choose" to be born, and does not choose to be sinful -- we're just born that way. God ordains the sin nature and then punishes man for what he can't help. That seems to me like creating a creature with stripes and then punishing it because you don't like stripes. How is this good/fair?
Answer
These are all very good points. If it is true that God creates men with sin, and then punishes them for being sinful, then God seems like a wicked tyrant who punishes mankind with sinister glee and morbid satisfaction. Since the problem you present is rather complex, I'm going to break it down into a few different parts in order to address some individual issues.

If God created men with a sin nature, then it is impossible for men to live a perfect life, yet God holds them accountable for their sins

Initially, man did not have a sin nature. When God created mankind, he made them (Adam and Eve) perfect, uncorrupted by sin. It was possible for Adam and Eve to live a perfect life, but in point of fact they did not. By most systems of human reasoning, it is at least fair for God to punish Adam and Eve since they were able not to sin, but actively, willingly chose to disobey God's commands. As a result of their sin, man was cursed with a sin nature. Man's inability results from man's own sin. It is mankind's fault that man cannot live a perfect life. To put it another way, God created us without stripes, and punishes us for having painted them on ourselves.

In objection to this explanation, the point is often made that while it may have been fair to curse Adam and Eve with a sin nature, it is not fair to curse their children with a sin nature. It may seem that God created and creates every other member of the human race with a sin nature over which they have no control, thus cursing and punishing them for a sin which they did not commit.

There are two responses worth making to this objection. First, the Bible teaches not only that man is created in the image of God, but also that natural generation produces children in the image of their parents (Gen. 5:3). Since our first parents had sin natures when they began reproducing, all their progeny possess similarly sinful natures. Second, the worldview presented in the Bible is far less individualistic and far more oriented toward community than modern views which dissociate us from our first parents. Specifically, Scripture teaches that such solidarity existed between Adam and mankind that our fate rested in his hands:

"By the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one . . . through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men . . . through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners" (Rom. 5:17-19).
In Romans 5:12-19, Paul paralled our relationship with Adam to our relationship with Christ. In the same way that Christ's righteousness is credited and applied to believers because he is our representative, Adam's sin and its resulting curse are credited and applied to all mankind because he was also our representative. Not only do we inherit a sin nature via our mothers and fathers, but we inherit guilt (we get blamed for Adam's sin) and corruption (a sin nature) directly from Adam.

Does this seem fair according to many modern worldviews? No, our natural reaction is to think, "I didn't do it, so don't blame me." But the Bible says this is actually what happened, and in the context of the Bible's worldview, it does seem fair. Adam was our champion who fought the war on our behalf. He was a sinless being who had no habit of sinning, no sinful inclinations, and no sinful, corrupt world to influence him. He had the incredibly positive influence of walking and talking with God in the cool of the garden, and the commands God gave him to obey were quite simple. In many ways, it is far more gracious to be represented by Adam than than to have to represent ourselves. Without Adam's advantages, we would simply fall all the more quickly.

Mankind does not "choose" to be born, and does not choose to be sinful -- we're just born that way.

While we do not choose to be born with sin natures, our sin natures do result from a free human choice, specifically from Adam's choice as noted above. We ourselves do choose, however, to commit the sins we commit. We sin voluntarily, without compulsion, by our own free wills. Our sin natures incline us to sin, and make it certain that we will sin, but they do not force our hands.

Perhaps hell will help illustrate the matter in ways that seem a bit more fair, and for the sake of argument let's disregard the effects of Adam's sin. In hell, men are punished for the sins they have actually committed. Further, the people in hell continue to curse God and to sin for all eternity, thus perpetuating and worsening their damned condition. There is no possibility that they can repent, no possibility that they can be saved, and no possibility that they can stop sinning. Is it just for God to continue to punish them for the sins they commit while they are in hell? Most would say yes, and most agree that this is actually what God does. In hell, God justly punishes those who repeatedly, willfully rebel against him, even though those people cannot do anything else. If it is not wrong for God to count the sins of people in hell against them, then it ought not to be wrong for him to count the sins of people on earth against them.

God ordains the sin nature and then punishes man for what he can't help. That seems to me like creating a creature with stripes and then punishing it because you don't like stripes. How is this good/fair?

This is such a good question that Paul actually anticipated it in Romans 9:19: "You will say to me then, 'Why does he still find fault? For who resists his will?'"

Paul had just taught that God had loved Jacob and hated Esau before they were even born and before they had done anything, good or bad (Rom. 9:11-16). God had made this choice just because it suited him, totally disregarding the merits of the children themselves. The natural human response to this is that God was good to love Jacob, but unjust to hate Esau if Esau hadn't done anything to deserve it. Paul, however, denied that God is unjust. The strange thing is that he defended God's justice in Romans 9:15 not by pointing out God's goodness or fairness, but by pointing out his divine prerogative

God had also actively interceded in the life of Pharaoh to cause Pharaoh to sin (Rom. 9:17-18), basically forcing Pharaoh's hand, which is even more extreme than simply cursing someone a sin nature. It was this divine act especially that Paul expected to raise the objection, "You will say to me then, 'Why does he still find fault? For who resists his will?'" (Rom. 9:19). Again, however, he responded not be explaining why the action was fair or good by human standards, but rather by reasserting God's divine prerogative:

"On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use, and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate his wrath and to make his power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?" (Rom. 9:20-22).
In this passage, Paul did three things worth noting:

First, he affirmed that God's actions in this regard do seem unfair, unjust, and even evil. If we come up with a system of doctrine that does not elicit this objection from people, then our system of doctrine is not the system Paul was teaching here.

Second, in his explanation of the matter, Paul did not attempt to justify God's treatment of Esau and Pharaoh. Instead, he assumed that whatever God does is righteous, and then simply asserted the fact that God had done it. Since God had done it, it was righteous.

Third, he attacked the assumption which underlay the normal human response of "that's not fair!" -- the assumption that human beings have innate rights that even God must respect. In order for it to be unfair for God to create an animal with stripes and then to punish it for having stripes, it would have to be true that the striped animal had a right not to be punished for having stripes, a right which God would violate by punishing that animal. According to Paul, however, God is the one who has all the rights. God can do whatever he wants, and those to whom he does it have no rights not to have it done to them. Because God is good and righteous, we can trust that he will not mistreat us.

Do people have any innate, God-given rights? Yes, they do. The Bible is full of laws about how we must treat each other because of the dignity and rights that accompany being an image of God. But those rights are not intrinsic to existence -- they derive from the fact that we are created in God's image, and from the fact that God in his absolute sovereignty gives those rights to us. But notice that the rights given to humanity at large relate to the way other people must treat us, not to the way God must treat us. Moreover, they assume and depend upon the fact that God himself possesses the ultimate rights -- rights which supercede ours.

In conclusion, God's actions are not good or fair if they are judged by normal, modern, human standards. In order to perceive them as good and fair, we must adopt the Bible's worldview and presuppositions.

[For more information on this subject, see Biblical Soteriology, part 4 by Ra McLaughlin.]

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Creative Delivery Systems at Third Millennium Ministries.