Did God Create Us with a Desire to Sin?
“There is no doubt that humans want to sin. Why would a loving God that does not want us to sin create us with that desire? What an evil thing to do! Apparently, He wants us to sin! How is that fair? Why would He expect us to not sin and then tempt us by giving us the desire to do it? That’s sick. How could He be a loving God?” Several months ago, a young lady approached me and made these accusations against God. Is this a dilemma for the God of the Bible?1
For the sake of argument, we will assume for a moment that it is true that God created us with a desire to sin. First, if we grant that He created us with a “desire to sin,” is it not also true that He simultaneously created us with an ability to choose not to sin? In other words, He did not create us so that we had to sin. He clearly gave us freewill—the freedom to make our own decisions. Every capable human proves on a daily basis that he does, in fact, have the freedom to do or not to do various activities. We are not mindless robots that act solely on instinct. You can choose to read this sentence or not. No matter how intense a particular temptation is, it has been proven to be able to be resisted by man. Now, if God wanted us to sin, and had the power to cause us to sin, why would He create us with the ability to choose not to do so? That would not make sense. Ironically, at the very beginning of time, God directly stated that it is not He Who wants sin to rule over us. Sin has a “desire” to do so, but He created us with the ability to “rule over it” (Genesis 4:7).
Further, even if God did create us with a “desire to sin,” is it not also strange that He would give us a way of being cleansed or forgiven from that evil we desire to engage in? If He wanted us to fail, why would He do such a thing? The gift of forgiveness in the biblical model is a blatant inconsistency with such an idea, and serves as a formal proof that God does not want us to sin. Even more curiously, if He wanted us to sin, why would the system for forgiveness that He instituted entail His own agonizing death? Such a selfless act is not something a God would do who wanted us to sin and go to hell. Such behavior is, however, something a merciful God would do—a God Who wanted to give us independence and freedom of choice, and still give us a way to be forgiven when we make the wrong decisions.
That said, it simply is not accurate to say that God created Man with an inherent desire to do evil. If anything, since He gave us a conscience and inherent sense of justice or fairness, He created us with a pull or pressure to not do certain things. Every human being on the planet understands that there are some things that are fair, and some things that are not fair, and an unseared conscience pressures us to do the right thing by others.
Further, while we sometimes might desire to do evil, is it not also true that at other times we have a desire to do good? One could just as easily and equally ask the question, “Did God create us with a desire to do right?” Even the most hardened atheist or agnostic (e.g., Bart Ehrman2) admits that he wants (i.e., is tempted) to do good and does so (i.e., “succumbs” to that temptation) through various philanthropic activities. If God created us with a desire to sin, it must also be conceded that He created us with a desire to do good as well.
How can this apparent contradiction be explained? Is it not likely that God did not in fact create us with the desire to sin? We desire both activities at times because we have discovered that they both can make us feel good in different ways. That said, it is fair and consistent to conclude that God created us with that desire—i.e., the desire to feel good (i.e., to be happy, appreciate pleasure, to desire enjoyment and satisfaction), not purely the desire to do evil. For example, we were created to want to eat—to feel good from doing so—but not with the desire to be cannibals. Perhaps it would be better to describe it this way: God created us with the capacity to experience and appreciate feeling good. When we feel good, we naturally want to continue having that feeling. Those things with which we choose to fill the “feel good tank” up are our decisions as individuals with free will. Those decisions are no doubt influenced by many factors (e.g., experience, pride, our parents and teachers [Proverbs 22:6; 19:27], our friends [1 Corinthians 15:33; Proverbs 13:20], Satan [2 Corinthians 2:11], etc.), but the bad influences or evil desires are never from God. James 1:13-14 says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed.” We desire to do evil things because of the momentary pleasures or good feelings they can give, not because God wants us to do evil. The wise individual will recognize that not all pleasures should be engaged in at will. He will choose to endure temporary affliction if it is necessary to do right, rather than enjoying “the passing pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:25).
But why would He not create an environment where we have no interaction with others and cannot be deleteriously influenced by them? In such an environment, we would lose the blessings we receive from interacting with others as well (e.g., conversation, companionship, physical affection, kind words, medical attention, technological advancement, gifts, etc.). There is a reason why solitary confinement is used as a serious punishment within the prison system. Isolation and loneliness are unhealthy. “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Interaction with others, and the blessings we can have from those interactions, are gifts from God. We live on a planet with over seven billion others. Since we all live together, our free will inevitably affects those around us, for good or ill. If we could not affect others with our decisions, then we simultaneously would cease to have the free will to affect those people for good or ill. Only through creating an environment where all humans were forced to obey God could the temptation to disobey God be eliminated. But in such an environment, God would cease to be aloving God Who grants us freedom. He would be a dictator, forcing everyone to obey Him as mindless automatons.
But why would God give us the capacity to experience feeling good at all? If it makes us do evil, how is that a good thing? There is no doubt that God’s choice to allow us pleasure is a blessing to us, in spite of its dangers. Who would honestly argue that a life completely devoid of having pleasurable feelings or feeling good would be a good (i.e., pleasurable) one? The very idea is self-contradictory. For the same reason we long to make our children happy and give them joy in life, God created us to be able to experience the same. One would not expect an unloving God, One Who wanted humans to sin, to also create us to be able to experience pleasure and joy. Such a decision, however, would be perfectly in harmony with a loving, gracious God Who cares for us and wishes to bless us with happiness, in spite of the bad decisions we and others around us often make. So notice that the desire to feel good is not inherently evil. In fact, the Creator’s decision to instill in us the desire to feel good and to experience pleasure is actually a blessing, not a curse, as long as He gave us, along with the capacity for appreciating pleasure, the ability to distinguish the good kind of pleasure from the bad, either through instruction or creating an environment where we can learn from experience.
Is it not true that a loving parent wishes to maximize happiness or joy for his child? This includes giving that child an environment where he can have a certain degree of freedom and independence. He is not chained to his bed his whole life, but is given rules (i.e., advice), warnings about what will happen if the child chooses bad pleasures, and the freedom to decide whether or not to obey or disobey those rules. He can decide to believe his parents,that they know what will make him happy, or believe that his way will have a better result. A child might reason that he would be happier if he ignored his parents’ warnings, and touched the stove anyway. For a moment, the child experiences the pleasure we often feel from engaging our free will, and as he feels good from the freedom he pridefully believes that he has proven his parents wrong. A moment later, when he is burned, he discovers why his parents made the rule in the first place, and learns to trust (i.e., have faith in) them. But what about when he touches the stove and nothing happens because the stove is off? In such cases, a loving parent’s discipline is given in order to make sure the child does not happen to touch the stove the next time—when it is on. Though the child does not yet understand why the rule has been given in the first place (since nothing happened when he touched the stove the first time), he learns to obey his parents anyway, and in time, learns to trust their wisdom through the verification of that wisdom in numerous other rules and warnings. But why does the parent go through this procedure? Clearly, to maximize happiness for the child in the long run.
God has done the same for us. First, God created an environment conducive to learning right and wrong. Notice that the created order has a system of punishment worked into it to help us distinguish certain things on our own. For example, pleasure can generally be gained from sexual activity in any form, but that does not mean that all forms are going to maximize our happiness. So God communicated certain ways we should engage in such activity in order to maximize happiness. He also designed a natural system whereby when we deviate from His rules about sexual activity, pain and sorrow will come in some way (even if we do not always recognize that our behavior is the cause of it). While we have the freedom to reject God’s will, He still encourages us to do right through a system of punishment worked into the created order (e.g., venereal diseases; physical danger from a lack of sobriety or reckless, imprudent behavior; potential for drug overdoses; diseases and cancers that come from certain sins; depression; family strife; loneliness; etc.). Also in the created order are constant admonitions helping us to behave correctly (e.g., through pressure from our conscience to behave in certain ways, through lessons gained from our observations of others, as well as through the direct admonition given to us by others who have made bad decisions). Does the creation of such an environment sound more like the work of a God Who wants us to sin or not to sin? Does such a system prove that the Creator apparently wants to encourage us to obey Him, while also giving us independence and the freedom to disobey Him if we choose?
Second, as a loving parent would be expected to do, God was sure to give us direct instruction to warn us about the differences between good and bad pleasures. The Bible is clear in communicating explicitly that our happiness is a major motivation behind the rules that God gave us (e.g., Psalm 19:7-8). The rules in the Bible were not selected randomly merely to control humans, in the same way a loving parent’s rules are not so selected. The great Sermon on the Mount is begun with the Beatitudes—the Son of God’s rules of thumb for being happy (i.e., “blessed”) in life. In Deuteronomy 10:12-13, Moses reminds the Israelites that God’s rules were for their good. In Deuteronomy 6:24 he says that God’s laws are “for our good always, that He might preserve us alive.” God’s commandments are often about more than how to get to heaven. They affect our lives here and now. In Proverbs 29:18 Solomon warns his son that eliminating God’s rules (i.e., His “revelation”) from a society will certainly allow total, unbridled freedom in the behavior of that society (i.e., people will “cast off restraint”) and that conscience-free behavior will be thought to be the way to happiness. That total freedom, however, contrary to what we might think, will not bring people happiness. Solomon warns, “Happy is he who keeps [God’s] law.”
A child might think that having no rules about running out in the street will make him happy, but in truth, happiness in the long run comes from (1) having those rules, and (2) obeying his parents’ rules. We may not always agree at the moment with what He says will make us happy, just as a child does not always agree with his parents; but, as with a child, we are oftentimes simply not in a position to know in the long run what will be best for us and the people around us. A child would love to make those decisions on his own, and develop his own system of right and wrong. He thinks that he can do so effectively—just as adults sometimes think we know better than God what will make us happy. But the bottom line is that the parents know a lot more about what will bring lasting happiness, and so the parent teaches, makes rules, and enforces them—as does God. The difference is that humans are imperfect in designing and enforcing rules, because like a child, we also do not know everything we need to know to do it perfectly. Parents disciplined “us as seemed best to them” (Hebrews 12:10), but biblical rules were made by the omniscient Mind Who created the human mind. Who could possibly know better what will bring the human mind happiness than He Who created it?
Did God create us inherently to desire to do evil? No. God created us with the capacity to experience pleasure and happiness and the desire to pursue it. He created us to be able to enjoy pleasure and feel good, through our eyes, ears, tongues, noses, and nerves, as well as in our very souls. He created an environment where we can choose to fill our pleasure tanks in different ways—right and wrong ways—as a parent does with a child, and then He gave us valuable instruction about which are the best choices. By creating such a free environment, pain, suffering, and evil are inevitable, since humans will oftentimes reject God’s rules and admonitions. But with such inevitably bad decisions, He made sure to provide a means by which we can be forgiven, and eventually, live with Him in an environment free from all evil.
1 Well-known reformation theologian John Calvin taught the doctrine that humans have a “sinful nature.” According to Calvin, sin has been passed down from Adam to all humans. Humans are, therefore, born in a state of “total depravity.” For a response to that false doctrine, see Caleb Colley (2010), “The Problematic Concept of a Sinful Human Nature,” Apologetics Press, http://www.apologeticspress.org/APContent.aspx?category=11&article=3749&topic=379; Kyle Butt (2004), “Do Children Inherit the Sin of Their Parents?” Apologetics Press, http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=6&article=1378; Caleb Colley (2004), “Did David Authorize Infant Baptism?” Apologetics Press, http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=11&article=1062; and Moises Pinedo (2009), “Are Children Born With Sin?” Apologetics Press, http://www.apologeticspress.org/apcontent.aspx?category=11&article=2697.
2Kyle Butt and Bart Ehrman (2014), Butt/Ehrman Debate: Pain, Suffering, and God’s Existence (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press).