Friday, November 2, 2007

Can God Sin?

Somebody wrote requesting me to post something about whether God can sin. Apparently this person heard some students debating this point, some saying He could not, others arguing that He had the power to sin but chose not to.

If we define sin as Lossky (I think) does, namely as the transgression of God’s will, then of course this question is just like asking whether God can create a rock too heavy for Him to lift. The question, since it is self-contradictory, can have no proper answer.

Moreover, “sin” is just not a category that applies to God, any more than hair color does.

If we redefine the question and ask instead whether God can do evil, we run into a similar contradiction built in to the question, but it is perhaps more subtle.

First we have to say that anything and everything God does, He does because He freely wills to, and not because of any external or even internal necessity. He is not compelled even by His own nature, for example, to be good. One of the unique things about God is that He doesn’t “come with” a pre-determined nature, a set of “givens” within which He must exist, the way we do. If we can speak of His nature as being determined at all, He Himself is the one who determines it! He has the nature He wills to have. He, uniquely, is who He is because that is who He wants to be. Nothing infringes upon or compromises God’s freedom even to the tiniest degree. Nothing. Not His Love, not His Justice, nothing. He is totally, radically, supremely, and perfectly free.

It’s that “perfectly free”, wherein the contradiction lies that makes nonsense of the question. Moral evil is always a form of self-seeking at the expense of others. God, of course, is never in the least degree self-seeking,since in Him is already the fullness of being; there is nothing He doesn't already have that He need seek. What He seeks is always our greatest good.

Furthermore, evil is a form of slavery to self-seeking. An evil act is an unfree act. God is perfectly free. Therefore it is a logical absurdity to suppose that in His perfect freedom, God could behave unfreely.

We cannot say of God that He could do evil, just as we cannot say there is anything He could not create. We cannot say of God that He could not do evil, either, just as we cannot say there is anything too heavy for Him to lift. Either answer is an answer to an inapplicable question.

If we do say “God cannot do evil,” what we really mean is, we must not theologize in such a way as to assert that He does, or could. (There are, as we've all known, heterodoxies that ascribe wicked behavior to God routinely and then call that wickedness good, since it's God doing it -- but this is not a legitimate way of theologizing.) The “cannot” has to do with us, with our human logic, with what we may or may not say – and not with what the infinite, illimitable God can or cannot do.