THE CHRISTIAN FAITH: AN INTRODUCTION TO DOGMATIC THEOLOGY - By CLAUDE BEAUFORT MOSS, D.D.LONDON - S.P.C.K 1965 Holy Trinity Church  Marylbone Road London NW 1 - Printed in Great Britain by Richard Clay (The Chaucer Press) Ltd  Bungay Suffolk - First published in 1943 - Prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2004.

PART I

CHAPTER 24

CREATION AND FREE WILL

HOME | contents | doctrine of man | all things created good | genesis | freewill | God: limitation & rule | suffering

I. The Christian Doctrine of Man is Peculiar to Christianity

So far we have been considering the doctrine of God. 
We now turn to the doctrine of Man. 

The Christian doctrine of Man is as distinctive as the Christian doctrine of God
upon which it depends. Christians differ from non-Christians as sharply in their belief about Man as in their belief about God.

Man is made up of three parts closely connected together. 
The material part of man belongs to the animal kingdom in the material world. 
Man is a living being and therefore has, besides his body,
a life or soul, which other animals have too. 
But he is also spirit as well as soul and body, which the other animals are not. 
We say that man "has" a body, a soul, and a spirit,
but strictly speaking, we ought to say that he "is" body, soul, and spirit. 
Without any one of the three he is not a living man. 
God created all three.
They are therefore in themselves, and in God's intention, good.
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II. God Created All Things Good

1. We Know This by Revelation

Misty Sunrise.

The first words of the Bible are,

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 

These words are not the result of speculation but of revelation. 
Man cannot by himself know anything about the origin of the universe. 
Many men have speculated about it.

We have the result, from the crude stories of the origin of the world told by savages to the sublime myths of Plato. 
But the Hebrews were the only people
to whom God revealed that He had created the universe.

They did not know this until late in their history. 
In earlier centuries they thought that God had no power outside their own land (Judges 11.24, I Sam.26.19). 
But the prophets, especially the Second Isaiah, [The writer of Isa.40. ff.]
taught that God was the creator of all things (Isa.42.5, etc.), and they knew it by revelation. 
So the Hebrews began at a point which other nations did not reach,
for they knew that God had created all things,
and that He had made them good (Gen.1.31, cf. Wisdom 1.14).
God is perfectly good, and nothing that He has made can be evil.

2. Creation out of Nothing

CREATE means MAKE OUT OF NOTHING
It is not directly stated in the canonical Scriptures that God made all things out of nothing (Heb.11.3 comes near it, compare II Macc.7.28), but both Hebrews and Christians have always seen that it is implied by the doctrine that God made all things. 
As the medieval carol says:

Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord,
Who hath made heaven and earth of nought,
And with His blood mankind hath bought.

["The Word at the beginning made all things out of nothing." St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 6.]
When we say that

God looked upon all that He had made,
and behold, it was very good

(Gen.1.31),

we do not mean by "good" profitable to man. 
Many things that God has made do not affect man at all, and many do him harm. 
In any case man has only existed for a tiny fraction of the time during which the universe has existed.
God created the universe for Himself, not for us.

3. What we mean by Good and Evil

Therefore "good" is not what profits man, and "evil" is not what injures him. 
GOOD is what is in accordance with the will and character of God. 
EVIL is what is contrary to His will.

4. Nothing is Evil but the Evil Will

Nothing is evil, or can be evil, but a personal will disobeying God. 
The will is not material. 
No material thing can be evil. 
There is therefore no such thing as evil in the flesh. 
Our bodies, like other material things, can be misused by an evil will. 
But in themselves they are good and cannot be anything but good.

5. The Origin of Evil is a Mystery

How did evil come into the world which God had created good? 
Nobody knows. 
The origin of evil is one of the greatest of mysteries. 
According to the story of Gen.3, the first serpent tempted the first man and woman. 
It does not explain how the serpent became evil.
[We do not, of course, believe that serpents are evil.
Even the devil was not created evil but became evil.]

We can only guess at the reasons that God had for allowing evil to exist. 
But two reasons may be suggested.

1. No Virtue without Free Will, no Free Will unless Evil is Possible

All virtue depends on choice between good and evil. 
Heroic courage could not exist if it were not possible to be cowardly. 
Heroic purity could not exist if it were not possible to be impure. 
If evil were not possible, there would be no heroic goodness.

2. Necessity of Temptation to Development of Character

Besides, the development of human character requires that it should resist evil. 
No man can become what man ought to be if he is protected from all temptation.

6. Evil is Negative

St. Augustine taught that evil is not a substance, not a positive thing, but the perversion of a substance, a kind of disease. 
This theory is not part of the Christian faith,
and many Christian theologians have denied it. 
But it is a most attractive theory. 
God created all things. 
He did not create evil, for evil is not a thing. 
But He made man capable of disobeying Him,
that he might be also capable of heroic obedience. 
The meaning of Isa.45.7,

I form good and create evil,

is that God sends sorrow as well as joy. 
It does not mean moral evil.
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III. The Early Chapters of Genesis

In the early chapters of Genesis we find the doctrine of creation and of the nature of man revealed in the form of a story. 
That story is not historical, but it is profoundly true in the same sense as that in which our Lord's parables are true. 
(It does not matter whether the Prodigal Son actually existed. 
What matters is the truth conveyed by the parable.) 
The story of Adam and Eve was originally a creation legend like other creation legends found among primitive peoples, a crude guess at the origin of the world, of man, and of human institutions. 
It probably implied belief in many gods, for there are traces of such a belief in the story as we have it (Gen.1.26, 3.22, 11.7). 
But God the Holy Ghost inspired some prophet, or some Hebrew under the influence of the prophets, to rewrite this legend in such a way as to convey revealed truth to the human mind. 
No better way could have been found than a story;
for the story told in the first three chapters of Genesis cannot perish, and it is simple enough for a child or a savage to understand, while it contains all that is really important about the origin of the world;
for it teaches the following doctrines:

  1. There is only one God
  2. He made all things that exist.
  3. He made them good.
  4. He made man, the last and noblest of His creatures.
  5. He gave him free will, the power of choice.
  6. He made sex, which is therefore good, and part of His plan for man.
  7. Man, having been given free will, misused it.
  8. Man is therefore a fallen being, subject to God's anger.
  9. The human family, one man with one woman, is what God intended, and the husband is the head of it.

All these doctrines are permanently true,
and the experience of mankind has confirmed what God has revealed. 
Gen.1-3 is an admirable example of what we mean by the inspiration of Scripture. 
A human story is used by God the Holy Ghost
to reveal to man what otherwise he could not have known. 
Its value is not in the details of the story,
least of all in those parts of it that survive from its original form (such as Adam's rib), but in the Divine truth which it reveals.

In Gen.1.27 we read:

God made man in His own image. 

The author may have thought of God as having a visible form like man,
for the Hebrews thought in pictures and not in abstract ideas. 
But Christians accept this passage in the sense that God gave to man alone of all His visible creatures (so far as we know) the power of free will.
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IV. Free Will

All men have this power. 
It belongs to man, as man, to be able to choose between right and wrong;
and this distinguishes men sharply and fundamentally from other animals. 
The power of choice is nowhere found in nature except in man. 
We know from revelation that it was also given to the angels (Jude 6). 
He who can choose right can also choose wrong. 
It was impossible, because contrary to reason, for God to give man the power to choose to obey without giving him also the power to disobey. 
This power of choice is limited. 
We cannot do whatever we please. 
We are subject to various limitations, moral as well as physical. 
Those who deny the existence of free will usually assume that those who believe in it believe it to be unlimited, which is absurd. 
But without free will there could be no virtue and no sin. 
Other animals, vegetables, and minerals cannot sin, nor can they be moral because they do not possess free will. 
(Some animals, long domesticated by man, appear to have a certain rudimentary power of moral choice, but wild animals do certainly not share it.)

1. Reply to the Scientific Objection

Three objections have been raised to the existence of free will. 
The first is the scientific objection. 
Natural science assumes that the same effect will always follow the same cause;
and wherever persons are not concerned that is, in all the "pure" sciences such as chemistry, physics, astronomy this assumption is justified. 
Some scientists assume that it is justified in the affairs of men; and that if we knew all the facts, we could predict the course of history as we can predict an eclipse of the sun. 
But there is no reason for making such an assumption. 
Those who make it leave the possibility of free will out of their premises and naturally do not find it in their conclusion.

2. Reply to the Psychological Objection

The second objection is the psychological objection which is a special case of the first. 
Those psychologists who begin with the assumption that the human mind works like a machine naturally find no room for free will in their systems. 
Both these objections are really due to an unconscious argument in a circle.

3. Reply to the Theological Objection

The third objection is of a different kind. 
Muhammad and Calvin held that God's will is absolutely supreme and irresistible. 
Calvin based his theory on such texts as Rom.9.19:

Who hath resisted His will? 

But this interpretation is contrary to the general teaching of Holy Scripture that man is responsible for what he does (Ezek.3.19, Matt.7.24, etc.).
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V. God's Self-Limitation and Overruling

God has limited His own sovereign power by giving free will to His creatures.
Otherwise there could be no morality. 
Sin is disobedience to the will of God. 
Virtue is to follow the will of God in spite of difficulties and temptations. 
Since God has chosen to limit His power by giving us free will,
He cannot take it away from us without altering His purpose;
and "with Him is no variableness" (James 1.17; cf. Mal.3.6). 
This way God does not stop the wars and other follies which man commits.

Was it worthwhile to give us free will, which has been the cause of so much sin and misery? 
We do not know enough to be able to answer this question except by saying that it must have been worthwhile since God did it. 
St. Paul tells us (I Cor.1.25) that the foolishness of God is wiser than men. 
If it were not for free will, all that men most admire -
the glory of the martyr, the hero, the statesman, the reformer, the missionary -
would not exist. 
Men would be no more than wild animals. 
And we only see the results of free will in this world, not those in the world to come:

Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard,
neither hath entered into the heart of man
whatsoever things God prepared for them that love Him

(I Cor.2.9).

God can and does overrule our disobedience for His purposes. 
St. John tells us (11.51-52) that Caiaphas, in the very act of deciding to put our Lord to death, prophesied unconsciously that His death would bring all the children of God into one, and the treachery of Judas was made to be the means of the salvation of mankind. 
And so we must believe that God permits the Devil to exist in order that by some means unknown to us the sum of goodness may be increased. 
Longfellow wrote of Lucifer ("Golden Legend", lasts lines):

Since God suffers him to be,
He too is God's minister,
And labours for some good,
By us not understood.

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VI. The Problem of Suffering

Freewill brings us to the problem of suffering,
which cannot be discussed at length here.

God takes no pleasure in suffering,
but suffering is not contrary to His will in the same way as sin. 
Sin is always evil:

God gives to no man licence to sin (Ecclus.15.20). 

But pain may be indirectly good. 
Some pain is given for a warning. 
If there were no toothache, our teeth would decay without our knowing it. 
 
Experience of life teaches us that nothing worth doing is done without pain to someone. 
Action for which no one has suffered has no lasting effect. 
Revelation confirms our experience. 
The Son of God had to die if mankind was to be redeemed. 
No human character is fully developed which has not suffered pain. 
We cannot say whether this is due to the fall of man, or whether it belongs to human nature as God made it. 
But it is certain that human nature as it is needs pain. 
It is our duty to relieve pain wherever we find it, as our Lord did, recognizing that pain is not necessarily contrary to God's will, but that it is not for us to say whether it is or not. 
We must not, for instance, refuse to heal a sick man on the ground that his character needs the discipline of sickness. 
It is our duty to relieve his pain, but God will perhaps not allow us to be successful. 
The notion that pain is always contrary to the will of God, as sin is, was the fundamental error of Dr. Percy Dearmer
(see his Body and Soul).

There is also suffering which is not according to God's will, but is due to human folly or ignorance. 
As Charles Kingsley was always teaching, if men choose to ignore the Divine laws of health, it is not God's fault if they suffer from disease. 
If they choose to live at the foot of a volcano, they must expect to suffer from earthquakes and eruptions. 
And we are linked together so closely that the folly or sin of one man may lead to the sufferings of others who do not share it; hence the pain of so many innocent children. 
"Whatever folly the kings commit, the people suffer" (quicquid delirant reges, plectuntur Achivi: Horace, Epistles, i. 2, 14).

But all these considerations do not explain all the suffering of the world. 
There is much that still remains mysterious. 
Some think that the devils have power to interfere in the material world (a belief generally held and grossly exaggerated in the Middle Ages). 
Others think that there is a World Soul which itself is fallen. 
Such speculations are not our business here. 
We cannot fully understand why there is so much suffering, but we have sufficient evidence to cling to our belief that, nevertheless, God is love.
[On this subject, see C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain.]
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