Sin's Creation: Powerful Non-Creation

While most things around us exist in their own right and substance, some prominent things do not. A hole, for example exists only as a subtraction from something else. After being dug from the ground, a hole can neither be transported on a truck nor disposed of on your neighbor's roof. It can only come into being when deducted from a structure not of its own nature, such as a stocking, or a slice of Swiss cheese. We call the resulting space, a hole. That is, nothingness!

Likewise the condition we call cold. Even though we feel it and have a name for it, as a physical entity or energy it does not exist, a very improbable thought as we tightly button up our jacket. But while heat can be measured in thermal units, cold has no force of itself. Its existence is derived solely through the removal of thermal energy. Absolute zero Celsius (minus 273.15 degrees) is simply the total absence of heat.

This is also true of darkness. Like cold, darkness has a minimum intensity, in this case zero lumens. Darkness is a word we use to describe the removal of light.

Such entities cannot be created in their own separate right. Beyond the reach of a heat and light source, this universe is naturally cold and dark, existing without the assistance of a creator. The sun and a tree are both created objects, but not so the shadow they cast. In this sense, holes, cold and darkness are but shadows.

Just as the sun is the light-constant of our physical realm, so righteousness is to the spiritual. Like that glowing orb that is life itself to our planet, God's righteousness is self-existent and endures forever (Psalm 111:3). Absolute goodness is a transcendent influence that both emanates from God and is God, a force entwined in the very fabric of the cosmos. Without it, even the physical world becomes degraded (Isaiah 51:5,6).

Evil, on the other hand, is not merely the opposite of goodness, it is the absence of goodness.1 Like that hole, it has no existence of its own. Evil is to divine holiness, as darkness is to light. They cannot exist in the presence of each other. To say that God created both good and evil, is self-contradictory.

The closest that Scripture comes to defining supreme holiness is through the metaphor of light: "God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). That darkness equates to sin (vs. 6,7). The Hebrew words for darkness in the Old Testament are also used for wickedness, misery, destruction, death, ignorance, sorrow, and separation. Scripture's only direct description of sin is that given in 1 John 3:4: "Sin is lawlessness".

Malachi foresaw the coming to earth of the Sun of righteousness (Malachi 4:2). His theme is taken up in the prophecy of Zechariah: "...the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness..." (Luke 1:78,79). The Apostle John describes the event vividly: In Christ "was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it" (John 1:4,5) No amount of evil can claw back the overwhelming intensity of the light of God's righteousness. On the other hand "the way of the wicked is like deep darkness" (Proverbs 4:9). The farthest end of this good-evil spectrum, hell itself, is described in Jude 13 not as a burning cauldron, but as "blackest darkness."

The Atheist takes great glee in deriding believers on the matter of evil. "Do you Christians believe in a good God?" "Yes, we do." "Then why would your God create evil?" He didn't. That's one impossible thing for God to do. Something resulting solely from the absence of something else, is an entity that cannot be created.

But if it's true that cold and darkness have no energy in their own right, how is it that evil, the supposed absence of any force of its own making, is in fact, such a powerful influence in this world? How is it that sin can take such a withering grip on us that we are so helplessly drawn into its clutches? Does that not make evil a formidable power? Worse, if wickedness is an incremental distance from good on the same continuum, then surely the Creator is, after all, responsible for both?

So let's follow the trajectory of evil from its inception using our formula, in an attempt to resolve these contradictions. In so doing, we'll discover important insights into the nature of sin.

The brilliantly-shining Lucifer, holiness personified, lost his radiance when he detached himself from worship of God to worship of himself: "Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth" (Ezekiel 28:17). Incarcerated on earth as Prince of this world, the Devil went about establishing his own kingdom. When causing Adam and Eve to step away from God, their aura of virtue also instantly vanished and they were left naked. At those two points in the pathway of evil no toxic substance entered the beings. The loss of light and holiness came simply from a gap between themselves and God.2

Sin is not a condition identifiable in DNA, except for its effects. Its evil traits are devastatingly etched into the human mind and passed down through the generations. Scripture defines sin as "wrongdoing" (1John 5:17), a moral failure engraved in the neuron pathways of the brain as faulty habits and trigger-ready yearnings: "For out of the heart come evil thoughts" (Matthew 15:19); "The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace" (Romans 8:6). "Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed" (James 1:14). Sin is an inner response to an outer evil. If sin was a virus, then it was present before Lucifer fell. Further, there would be other means of its extermination than a death on a cross. Nor could justice allow that the Son of God become the scapegoat for what would have been an aberration in the Creation process.

The emptiness and chaos of separation from God would be despair enough, but the greatest curse of this planet was that darkness had accepted some powerful tenants. It was into this realm that the Devil and his angels chose to dwell when banished from heaven. Now evil became personified. Darkness assumed an intelligence. Like a roaring lion, the prince of this domain stalks up and down the earth seeking whom he might devour (I Peter 5:8). "The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Cor. 4:4). The Devil took mankind captive to do his will (2 Timothy 2:26).3

The problem of our human condition is not resolved theologically, but geographically. It has to do with our proximity to Christ. You want to be rid of evil impulses? Come closer to Christ. You are stumbling in darkness? Move closer to the light. Christ came to this world not to give us a transfusion, but to simply claim us back to where we always belonged. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).

As a case study confirming this premise, I present Zacchaeus: Tax collector and cheat, confirmed by those around him as a member of the realm of darkness, he had climbed a tree to catch a glimpse of Christ." Come down" Christ called, and Zacchaeus found himself standing before the Master. In that moment the most incredible thing happened. Without any call to conversion, Zacchaeus broke forth with the words, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount." Darkness had encountered the light. Evil became overwhelmed by the presence of good.

But the most powerful validation of this view is the light it casts on the three central events of our salvation - Christ's wilderness temptations, Gethsemane , and the Cross. The first was no accidental encounter. It was a pre-programmed engagement to which Christ was deliberately led by the Spirit. Why? Throughout His life, Christ suffered a major impediment in acting as our representative and substitute. Being so close to the father as he was, such holiness could not comprehend sin and its temptations. He was so separated from evil that he was completely unaffected by it "The prince of this world cometh to me and hath nothing in me," he declared. There was no hook in Christ upon which the devil could hang his hat - unlike ourselves. Through starvation, even the wilderness rocks appeared as bread. For the first time Christ experience - but resisted the formidable force of propensity, the Devil's unyielding human shackle. And He did so on our behalf, conquering where Adam failed.

Gethsemane was the obverse side of Eden. Have you ever comprehended why Christ could cry out on the cross "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Have you ever wondered at the mechanism whereby sin could be absorbed into the very being of Christ in order to became our sin bearer? Then wonder no more.

Note the words of 2 Corinthians 5:21: "God made him who knew no sin, to be sin for us." God made him? While it was Adam who walked away from God in Eden, thus introducing sin to this world, in that other garden it was Christ who stayed put, but God Himself who walked. In so doing, as the mantle of divine holiness was withdrawn, Christ descended the path of darkness, now the terrain of the Devil. As distance was put between he and the Father, the noxious pall of sinfulness enveloped every nerve and fibre of his being. The evil that Christ absorbed at that moment - our human sin - was solely the creation of fallen Lucifer. The sinless Christ became sullied, that he might take our sins with him to the grave.

Calvary was the inevitable result of Gethsemane. "The wages of sin is death," even to God's Son - an eternal death due to our sins borne in his body. Should God have ordained sin - the only other explanation of its existence, then Calvary would have been a sham. Worse, God Himself would have been culpable in forcing His Son to pay the price of His own doing.

Calvary broke through the barrier of separation in a manner of immeasurable meaning: "Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But now" says Paul in Colossians 1:21,22, God "has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation." Atonement means "at-one-ment." Our sins became His and His righteousness, surrendered in Gethsemane, became ours. Paradise is restored "by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened up for us through the curtain, that is, his body." (Hebrews 10:19,20).

But there's a remaining mystery, which Paul says had "been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the Lord's people" (Colossians 1:26). Up until now, he infers, when a prophet had prophesied, he’d gone back home, scratched his head and said it’s all very well, but something’s missing. Things aren’t happening in people’s lives the way they should. Now Paul is saying that at last he's declaring that mystery revealed by God. And he does so in the next verse - information that could only make sense after Calvary: "The glorious riches of this mystery," he says, is "Christ in you, the hope of glory."

It's that simple: proximity, at-one-ment. A relationship so close as to be called "In Christ" and "Christ in you." A personal bond made possible when God's Son surrendered all to redeem us back to himself, forever to be identified with those he came to save.

God has set eternity in the heart of man, and heaven beckons as a siren call. To the yearning penitent be it known that all of the requirements of our salvation are found in Christ. Not by any determined clawing back to the light. Not by any self-empowered struggle from the brink. For in Christ we are already there.4 "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Corinthians 5:17).

As Zacchaeus discovered and as the words of the song declare: One moment in His presence, and you'll never be the same.5

FOOTNOTES

All Scripture quotes unless otherwise indicated are from the New International Version. All emphasis mine.

  1. A concept proposed in the 4th Century AD by Augustine of Hippo.
  2. Prior to Lucifer the test of loyalty to God for beings never intended to be robots, was not a choice between good and evil, but a choice between wholeness and a void - a fearful subtraction of one's being. Sin itself, so utterly anathema to the nature of God, up until that point was not yet in existence.
  3. The primordial darkness of this globe at Creation was inert. Should righteousness suddenly take leave of our realm, the resulting state would also be inert. Were that not the case, then sin would be a counterforce, and thus a part of Creation. On the other hand, evil requires the same condition as good - a driving force, an intelligence. All evil therefore can only have come from the hand of Lucifer.
  4. We triumph in Him (2 Cor.2.14); We are clothed with His righteousness in Him (Gal 3:27); Are sanctified in Him (1 Cor.1:2); given grace in Him (2 Tim 1:9); experience freedom (Gal 2.4); have the promise of life (2 Tim1:1); presented perfect (Col.1:28); live a godly life (2 Tim 13:12); have no condemnation (Rom 8:1); are seated in heavenly realms in Him (Ephesians 2:6).
  5. One Night with the King. Aretha Franklin

Kevin Ferris writes from Brisbane, Queensland Australia, where he is the worship chairman at the Springwood Adventist Church.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7266
4 Likes

The best answer to the sin problem is Dr Lloyd-Jones book The Cross God’s Answer to the Sin Problem. Tom Z

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Excellent article expressed in a very unique way, but wholly sound. Thanks for sharing these insights and the blessing that comes with it.

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There must be darkness to appreciate the light. “Darkness was on the face of the deep, and God created light”; but He also created darkness. and called it night. If there was always good how could we know it was good? If God created good, evil must be there as a contrast; otherwise, if everything was good, it would be accepted as natural as breathing.

God knew that our ability to choose freely required choices for either good or evil. Why else was the serpent allowed in the garden and why else was there freedom for man to choose evil? Did man deliberately choose evil, or was he deceived? And if so, who allowed the deceiver to enter the garden?

[quote=“spectrumbot, post:1, topic:10236”]
Evil is to divine holiness, as darkness is to light. They cannot exist in the presence of each other.

“And God saw all that He had made and indeed it was very good.”

The earth, the garden, and Adam and Eve were good. When did the garden become evil? When the serpent entered? Who allowed him entrance? What loving parent would tell his child “You must not touch the cookie jar under pain of death”?

It is irrelevant to say that God created good but not evil. Either He is the ruler of this earth or He isn’t. Whether he allowed evil, or created
it makes not difference. He allowed the capability of evil to deceive man.

Would life be so valuable and appreciated were it not for the possibility of death? If we knew we could never die no matter what we did, life would be valueless.

The image of Lucife as the representative of Satan that is an interpretation enhanced by Milton’s Paradise Lost as if it were truly biblical. The Bible is silent on when sin entered heaven and any information on Lucifer as the serpent in the garden.

If Job is to be believed, even allegorically, Satan was still in the good graces of heaven as one of the Sons of God. Apparently, Satan become the evil instigator at some time after Job was written or after the Jews were exiled in Babylon and discovered Sa-tan, as he was never identified as the evil one before that time?

If there is no source of evil, where did it come from? Only with both good and evil can there be choices…

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The fact that God had placed in the middle of the garden of Eden the Tree of Life would be proof that death was already a possibility, an inherent feature of created beings, even before sin entered the world. Likewise, the possibility of “evil” could be an inherent feature of created beings by virtue of the result of “Freedom of Choice.” Otherwise the question begs “Who was Lucifer’s Lucifer?” Isn’t “Evil” nothing but a symbol of our “self discovery” gone wrong?

Just asking.

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I very much appreciate this article- thank-you. Love the analogies.

The emphasis should always be on what brings us into closer proximity to our God and avoid that which takes us away. A very simple question that can most often be often answered with a “yes” or a “no”.

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Well done Kevin Ferris. A great exploration of the topic of sin.

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Although I like the analogy of evil being the absence of good, as darkness is the absence of light ; they are, ultimately, simply analogies.

It could equally be argued, good, is simply the the absence of evil; that good is not a “thing”, it can only be recognised by contrasting it with evil.

Good and evil are therefore, both of equal “substance” or perhaps more accurately "non substance '. God either created both or neither.

To say that good is light and evil is darkness are categorical attributes. They are not actually darkness or light, we just say they are.

The same can be said for heat and cold. To say "how hot it is " is just a linguistic error. One could equally say “how cold it is”. We don’t measure heat, we measure temperature.

So, although I like the analogy, it falls down using its own logic in reverse.

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A lucid and effective discussion! I admit a bias: Writers trained in the British style of writing can be masters of analogy and metaphor. American writers prefer “illustrations” to “metaphors” and rarely engage in the kind of mining of historical ideas that Kevin displays. In this essay, we see the powerful ideas of the Augustinian tradition of privatio boni shining–as we also see in C. S. Lewis and others. The basic idea is that evil is non-substantial, an absence of the good.

But what does this ontological shift do? If taken seriously, how would Augustine’s idea reshape the Adventist meta-narrative? What would Adventist theology look like if we considered sin/evil etc as absences? Can this idea illumine Adventist ideas of the *great controversy," where evil seems to be hypostatized into the personality of Satan?

I would argue that it (thankfully) slants our theology away from the dualism we often see in Ellen White and popular SDA theodicies. Rather than seeing sin as “disobedience”, it might mean, for example, lack of illumination or unawareness of God’s presence.

At the least, Kevin’s essay seems to call for a re-assesment of our entire theodicy, and provide a possible answer to the problems that lie inherent in the literalistic and narrative imagination which grips the minds of so many.

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You wrote an excellent thought-provoking article, Kevin. Sin’s Creation: Powerful Non-Creation
5 January 2016 by Kevin Ferris. It deserves much study and continued reflection. However, in your footnote at the very end you cite Aretha Franklin’s - One Night With The King. She is someone whose ministry and talent have inspired and brought much joy to me. I have heard from a friend this morning that she may have died of pancreatic cancer yesterday. If this report is true I want you and others in this Spectrum website to pause and remember what the words of this beautiful song that you referenced in your article, have to say to us today in our spiritual journey:
Aretha Franklin - One Night With The King Lyrics

One night
With the king
Changes
Everything
One day
In his courts
Did forever
Change my course

One moment
In his presence
And i’ve never
Been the same
One night
With the king
Changes
Everything

One night
With the king
Changes
Everything
One day
In his courts
Could forever
Change
Your course
One moment
In his presence
And you’ll never
Be the same

One night
With the king
Changes
Everything

This is
My testimony
From the desert
To the king
It had been
My destiny
To be chosen
For such
A time as this

I didn’t know
That all
My dreams
Could become
Realities
Then i saw

His face
And his love
Captured me
Yeah

One night
With the king
It changes
Everything
One day
In his courts
It will forever
Change
Your course
(all you need
Tonight is)
Just one moment
In his presence
Just one moment
In his presence
Hooo

One moment
In his presence
And you’ll never
Be the same
One night
With the king
It changes
One day
In his
His courts
It changes

One night
With the king
It changes
Oh, yes
It does
Everything

Ohhhh
I know that it
Changes
I know that it
Changes
It changes
Everything
Yeah
Yes, it does

Aretha Franklin had a four-octave vocal range. She was a self-taught pianist, who learned to sing brilliantly without knowing how to read music. She has performed at the inaugurations of three presidents: Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Had 44 Grammy nominations and 18 wins. Ten of those wins are for Best R&B Vocal Performance. A high school dropout, she has two honorary doctorates of music, from Berklee College of Music and Yale University.

Most significantly in her struggles and life, she had spent in prayer and in her spiritual journey, “One Night With The King”, thank you Kevin for remembering her and citing this song

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If I understand him correctly, Augustine’s point was not that evil is “nothing” but that it is “no thing” when the second refers to an actuality that depends upon only itself for its own being.

What he said makes sense when we keep in mind that he was writing against the Manichaeism to which he had been devoted for a number of years. When we take it
out of that context we need to be careful.

Most people don’t experience evil as "nothing,"as though the evil things that happen to them and others are best understood as “holes in pastry.” To speak this way seems to trivialize the savage cruelty they experience from forces that aggressively make their lives miserable or impossible.

Few have wrestled with this more extensively and hauntingly than Karl Barth. On the one hand, he does not want to leave the impression that evil possesses a capacity to be of its own that rivals God’s. But neither can he deny the ferocity and horrible aggressiveness of evil. Neither aseity nor vacuity gets it quite right.

Another option is to think of evil as the distortion—not deprevation–of good. More like a malignant tumor than a pastry hole, it both depends upon the larger organism for its life and aggressively spreads with disastrous results.

To be sure, evil is “no thing.” Whether this means that it is “nothing” is, to my thinking, less certain.
.

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Well said Thomas Z. Rene G.

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Kevin Ferris, your article is most insightful, original and unique, enhancing my understanding of evil!
Thank you, also Elaine Nelson for your always perceptive and pertinent comments!

Elaine, your statement that “God ALLOWED the capability of evil to deceive man” resonated with me.

Every evening I recoil from the reality of evil, as I witness the brutal barbarity of ISIS on my television screen. Surely Syrian president Bashar Assad is the personification of evil with the calamatois civil war he has inflicted on his own countrymen. He follows in the footsteps of Hitler, Stalin, and Uganda‘s Idi Amin, (who threw his political opponents to the crocodiles!)

Yet God ALLOWED these despots to prosper despite EGW’S assertion that the Second Coming was a “movable event” which could/would/should have occurred circa 1900, For those who say He delayed his coming “lest any should perish”, there are now BILLIONS more now alive, who will perish, than when EGW pontificated on Christ’s return. Billions of newborns, since EGWs demise a century ago, have been born to “heathen” mothers in sordid slums and shanty towns, with many dying of dysentery and starvation before the age of five, and many of them will eternally “perish”

And God ALLOWED all this untold abject misery by delaying His Second Coming! Supposedly according to EGW because the “universe” had not yet "vindicated " Him.

Are other planets populated with primitive primates as depicted in the movie PLANET OF THE APES, unable to grasp the enormity of EVIL as exemplified by
Hitler and his fellow despots? Surely eons ago they tired of "live streaming " of atrocities from planet earth which disrupted their blissful existence?

Why have they not already “vindicated” God, in the face of millenia of EVIL?

The misery of the Syrian refugees is horrific, harrowing and heartrending particularly as winter encroaches. I am forced to switch channels unable to stomach the ugliness. But can the guardian Angels “switch channels” to avoid witnessing this stomach-churning evil? Does God run a psychiatric clinic for Angels suffering from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

Do the Syrian refugees have guardian angels? Or are only Adventist Christians so guarded? Or are there such a myriad of Angels that each only gets assigned thirty minutes of guardian duty per century, so as not to bond with their protégés?

Elaine you made an insightful remark stating that in Job’s era, Satan was one of the Sons of God. My own insight is that Satan is much more powerful/influential than we have hitherto believed. I do believe that Lucifer was powerful enough to have extracted from God a dispensation/pact allowing him multiple millenia of causing havoc on earth . As our concept of “age of the earth” and life upon it, exponentially expands with modern research technics, Satan’s reign over this planet, once thought to be a mere six thousand years, is now evidently much longer.

How many more millenia are allocated to Satan as the Angels, the “universe” and humanity, grit their teeth, shudder and recoil from the evil which God ALLOWS ( by postponing Christ’s Second Coming) and the untold ongoing MISERY resulting?

Surely EVIL, “the absence of goodness” is so patently, potently, pernicious, that any sane observer would millenia ago have pontificated in favor of God
and denigrated/denied /defied EVIL/SATAN, a process which EGW calls "vindication ".

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Robin,

It’s now been three days since comments have been made here and yet it is still not on the Lounge. Please go to “Now What Would You Like to See Here” where this topic can be continued, since your comment was addressed to me.

Are we ready to move on from the Iron Age myths now?

At-one-ment only comes with conscious presence in the moment, and admits no mentalizing.

Alden Thompson wrote a book called, Escape From the Flames.

I hope he’ll call his next one, Escape From Mentalizing.

Ellen White won’t fit through that Needle’s Eye, but perhaps she saw it afar.

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Great article. Made me think about good and evil. My question is how does one explain the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Who made it? Did it exist before creation? Does knowledge of evil equate evil?

WebEd

This is the essay that was cut from main site and never (unless I missed it) in the Lounge,