Blinded by the Light
Last time, I said I wanted to look at the following three questions:
- Could God have made beings incapable of sin?
- If not 1, could He have made beings capable of sin but who would never sin in actuality?
- Given the assumption (which I accept) that God made the spiritual world and the incorporeal intelligences (what we call angels, etc.), why did He make embodied intelligences–i.e. us, as well as any other intelligent species that may exist here on Earth or elsewhere in the cosmos?
Here I want to look at 1 and 2.
The answer to one is related to the question of what God is capable of doing in general. In the linked post, I argued that God can do anything that is logically possible. It does not seem logically impossible that God create beings that cannot sin. In fact, He has done so–the standard view of theology is that animals, being non-sapient, cannot sin. They act in accordance with their nature, with good and evil being irrelevant.
Of course, that’s not what question 1 above means. We don’t usually think of animals as having free will or an understanding of morality. To refine it: Could God have created free and intelligent beings–angelic or human–for whom sin would have been impossible?
Once more, it doesn’t seem to be a logical impossibility that He do so, unless one argues that free will itself implies otherwise. That is an issue I’ll return to, but for the time being, let us assume that free beings with true free will that cannot sin are possible. Why, then, do they not (as far as we can tell) exist, since after all, all the free beings we are aware of can indeed sin? I think we need to look at the traditional view of God–at least in the Christian tradition–in this regard.
God is said to be perfectly good, just, and loving, and to desire only that which is best for all His creatures. It seems to follow from this that if it were possible for Him to create perfect creatures who were truly free and unable to sin, then He would have certainly done so, since obviously this would bring about the greatest good–a perfect state of affairs, in fact–for all His creatures. Since manifestly He did not do so–look around–it seems to follow that creating such impeccable beings is not, in fact, possible.
As to why this is not possible, though on the face of it, it would seem to be, I suggest the following:
One, it seems unclear that a truly free being, once created, would lack the possibility of sinning, even if it began as perfect and unflawed. I wrote a series on free will to explore whether or not free beings, given infinite time, could make irrevocable choices (such as not to sin). I concluded–well, inconclusively. Suffice it to say that I think it at least plausible that given a population of sinless beings with true free will and a sufficiently long period of time, sin would be likely, sooner or later.
Two, and more subtly, I believe that God does not make cardboard characters. When we read a well-written novel, the characters seem to us to be real. The seem to be living, breathing characters like we ourselves. We say of the characters of a poorly-written novel that they are “cardboard”. That is, they are written only to serve a plot purpose, or they act in a trite or one-dimensional manner. Villains wear black hats, and good guys wear white hats; and so on.
Creatures made incapable of sin would not be fully realized. They’d be too “close” to God, as a cardboard character in a novel is merely the writer pantomiming, rather than writing a full-blooded character. In a sense, a being created too close to perfection would be blinded by the light, unable to function as a truly separate and independent being. It would not be fully separate from God, but a sort of metaphysical puppet. I’ve noted this before:
The Beatific Vision is the experience of the blessed in Heaven whereby they see God as He truly is; or from another perspective, they fully experience Him as He is, as He sees Himself. Thus, since one can now truly see things from God’s perspective, he sees with full truth and accuracy the futility of sin and separation from God; and thus would never want to sin; and thus will never fall.
This seems reasonable, but it begs the question as to why God didn’t make the angels and humans so that they experienced the Beatific Vision from the moment of their creation? Actually, that seems easy to answer. If any lesser being was created with the Beatific Vision, it would, in a sense, never have experienced anything other than God; and thus would never really be able to be a true individual. It would be too close to the Source of Being to differentiate, which means it would be in effect a puppet lacking free will. To use Jungian terms, any created being needs to individuate first before it can reintegrate to wholeness–wholeness in union with God, in this case. In a sense, you really have to “sin to be saved”.
This seems to me almost necessarily true. For us to be truly free, independent beings, at least the possibility of sin must be there; and it seems that the possibility of sin at some point implies the inevitability of sin.
This is hard–it seems to imply that God had no choice in creating beings He knew not only could, but would sin. However, the fact is that we observe a world in which we do, in fact, sin. If God is perfect and wants the best for us, then it must be that a world in which sin is actualized must be the best of all possible worlds. Were that not so, He would presumably not have created this world, but a better one. This implies the answer to number 2 above. Given enough time, I argue that at least some truly free beings would sin; but more importantly, if we take seriously God’s goodness, then His ultimate plan must involve actual, as opposed to hypothetical, sin, or He would not have made a world in which sin is actualized.
Thus, my answer to questions 1 and 2 above is no, and no.
Question 3 may seem unrelated to 1 and 2, and it is indeed on a different tangent. There is a subtle reason I have for posing it, however, which will (I hope) become clear in future posts. I want to save that question for my next post, however, and so I will leave off here for now.
Part of the series “Legends of the Fall“
Posted on 25/10/2016, in Christianity, music videos, philosophy, religion, theology and tagged Christianity, free will, Manfred Mann, philosophy, religion, sin, theology. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.