It’s a question that every Christian eventually asks. “Why did God allow the world to go the way it did?” For believers, and often unbelievers, it doesn’t take much to see that God did not have to create a human race destined to fall. He was not obligated to create that tree in the garden, nor was he obliged to allow Satan’s fall, the subsequent deception, Eve’s taking of the fruit, Adam’s sin, and subsequent billions of his image-bearers birthed in high-handed rebellion. Why did he create a world upon which he would pronounce a curse that leaves no corner of the creation, image-bearing or not, without carnage, spiritual and physical?
Sometimes the whole opening scene of our world—the tree, serpent, the innocent pair—on the surface, it appears as an ominous arrangement. It almost seems scripted for failure.
Why would God seemingly stack up the odds against them? Why couldn’t he have just left the sterilized utopia without the tree, the snake, and the command? Why the curse?
Eventually our inquiry arrives at that sobering point: God is sovereign. He is sovereign over it all. And “sovereign” means more than mere permission. God is not the author of sin, but neither is “allow” the best explanation for it all. “In the day of prosperity be happy, but in the day of adversity consider— God has made the one as well as the other so that man will not discover anything that will be after him” (Eccl 7:14). That tree, that serpent; the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life culminating in taking the scrumptious fruit—it was all decreed.
Why would God do such a thing?
Though brief, one of the better explanations I’ve come across is from John Owen in his book, Communion With God. In it, he expounds the glory of God in the Fall. His section on the topic could be partitioned into four sections: creation, fall, redemption, and consummation:
Owen begins with the wisdom and glory of God displayed in creation:
God in the beginning made all things good, glorious, and beautiful. When all things had an innocence and beauty, the clear impress of his wisdom and goodness upon them, they were very glorious; especially man, who was made for his special glory.
However, all things are swiftly plunged into ruin:
Now, all this beauty was defaced by sin, and the whole creation rolled up in darkness, wrath, curses, confusion, and the great praise of God buried in the heaps of it. Man especially, was utterly lost, and came short of the glory of God, for which he was created.
So God curses his creation such that the Fall has an incalculable ripple effect. As Derek Kidner wrote, “so simple the act, so hard its undoing” (Genesis, 68). But, in the decree of all things, we’re not left there. Owen writes:
Here, now, does the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God open itself. A design in Christ shines out from the bosom, that was lodged there from eternity…
Owen recognizes both the ordination of the Fall by declaring it as “design” and recognizing it as [God’s] “wisdom.” So what is that design?
Through the finished work of Christ, submitting to his Father’s will and taking the wrath due his people, Owen writes that God’s design is:
…to recover things to such an estate as shall be exceedingly to the advantage of his glory, infinitely above what at first appeared, and for the putting of sinners into inconceivably a better condition than they were in before the entrance of sin.
Notice that surprising truth: as much as we may dream about having Eden again, as great as we might imagine our pre-fall conditions to have been, Owen observes that through God’s decree in the Fall, we, though sinners, will be put “into an inconceivably better condition” through the Person and work of Christ.
He continues on about God’s plan:
He appears now glorious; he is known to be a God pardoning iniquity and sin, and advances the riches of his grace: which was his design (Eph 1:6).
How does God appear so glorious in decreeing such a devastating fallen world? And how is our condition better than pre-fall?
He has infinitely vindicated his justice also, in the face of men, angels, and devils, in setting forth his Son for a propitiation. It is also to our advantage; we are more fully established in his favour, and are carried on towards a more exceeding weight of glory than formerly was revealed…
The Fall, then, and all the consequences, was actually to “our advantage,” since, through Christ and his substitutionary work, we are more “fully established in [God’s] favour.”
We receive ‘grace for grace’—for that grace lost in Adam, better grace in Christ. Confessedly, this is a depth of wisdom indeed. And of the love of Christ to his church, and his union with it, to carry on this business, ‘This is a great mystery’ (Eph 5:32), says the apostle; great wisdom lies in this.
Notice the consummate reasons Owen observes for God’s decree: the glory of God in upholding his justice and recreating humanity to a superior glory than Eden. He continues cataloguing the consummation achieved in God’s plan through Christ:
So, then, this also is hid in Christ—the great and unspeakable riches of the wisdom of God, in pardoning sin, saving sinners, satisfying justice, fulfilling the law, repairing his own honour, and providing for us a more exceeding weight of glory; and all this out of such a condition as wherein it was impossible that it should enter into the hearts of angels or men how ever the glory of God should be repaired, and one sinning creature delivered from everlasting ruin.
This great veil of tears, the atrocities committed, our grievous besetting sins, global suffering, and the thorns and thistles—its all been ordained by God and being moved by God through Christ to a very good end:
Hence it is said, that at the last day God ‘shall be glorified in his saints, and admired in all them that believe’ (2 Thess. 1:10). It shall be an admirable thing, and God shall be for ever glorious in it, even in the bringing of believers to himself. To save sinners through believing, shall be found to be a far more admirable work than to create the world of nothing.
Thus, it’s fittingly said, “To Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen” (Eph 3:21).