It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.

For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”

Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.

Romans 9: 16-18 (New International Version)

I have recently read much of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. I must say that as a literary work, Paradise Lost is a work of superb mastery of the English language and of the use of psychological methods to provoke the reader. Milton was a master writer and it was truly a pleasure to engage in the reading of his masterpiece.

However, due to the theological and philosophical themes that Paradise Lost speaks on, I am moved to touch and reflect upon the issue of free will in the Garden of Eden and to the extent that we can deny God Sovereignty and the Fall of Man.

Before continuing, there are a number of assumptions to be made:

1) The Bible is the Word of God and nothing can be removed or added to its content. Every single verse in it has a purpose and a meaning which deserves exegesis and discerning from us, God’s people.

2) Paradise Lost is not theology or Word of God but a philosophical/psychological interpretation of the behind-the-scenes aspects of the Fall of Man created by the author John Milton.

3) That, even though merely work of fiction, Paradise Lost expresses Milton’s point of view and his understanding of the nature of man at the fall. However, we will not precisely discuss his personal theology, but merely use Milton’s train of thought as an example of common Arminian thought-process.

4) God, in all His Power and Glory, is fully good and, therefore, is unable to carry out any evil act. As in, if God does something, no matter what it maybe, it is by definition good and it brings Him glory. Therefore, God cannot be evil or commit evil.

A recognized train of thought within historical and contemporary Christianity is the theory that humanity, as in Men and Women, have such a thing a free will. We will define free will as the ability and/or quality to make personally-impacting choices without the direct and omnipotent influence of another being or force. In much simpler terms, whatever you decide to do, you decided to do it. Even if another human being is threatening to carry an act out, you are in all your personal freedom to refuse such an act even if it may be painful or self-destructive (we will assume an individual’s ability to carry out act of self-destruction since it is a common given).

From a perspective of free will, at the moment of sinning by eating from the forbidden fruit of the Garden, Adam and Eve were making a free decision to rebel against God and indulge in an act of self-worship. After all, the serpent offered Eve that by eating the fruit “you will be like God” (Gen. 3:3). Eve made a free choice, out of her free uncorrupted will, to sin against God by desiring and acting out on that desire to be God-like. Of course we know, from the following verses, that Adam follows Eve into rebellion against God by seeking self-worship (Pride) instead of the worship of the Divine (God).

Please forgive the lack of details. I invite you to read the passage for yourself; however, the main’s point of mankind’s origin have been presented is that previous verses. Once again, I invite the reader to read the Scriptures for a full telling of the Creation and Fall of Mankind.

Man’s Free Will in Eden

I believe that the first issue at stake, in claiming the free will and, therefore, free choice of Adam and Eve, is the argumentation for such a freedom of will to begin with.

Early Genesis presents us with a very awesome (as a measure of greatness) God. This God has creates the heavens and earth (1:1) and goes on to create what we know today as our terrestrial home. This God has authority over matter, energy, and, above all, life. We understand that this is truly a powerful being out of His ability to breath life into the a lifeless world. Not only this but he is pleased with the attribute of “good.” In other words, He finds pleasure in goodness as it is found throughout His creation. Now, I believe that there is much more to describe about God and much more to discern. For example, we can also state that in judging Adam and Eve after their sin, this God is also Just and delights in being just even though it may bring suffering and pain to His creations. However, we get a pretty good picture of what this God is like: Authoritative. This attribute not in the contemporary political sense of unjust rulers, but in the sense that this is a being of power, authority, and justice.

On the other hand, when we looked at the description of man, we are presented with a being who is made, by definition, to serve God and carry out God’s will and commands:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth,  and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” Genesis 1: 16

“The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Genesis 2: 15

Even though a very short description of man’s purpose for existing, I believe that we can understand a general point: Man exists for God’s purpose. God did not create man and said “Here you go, go and do as you may desire: follow your passions and do as you wish.” This is not the image of man we see at Creation. What we do see is a being created for service, and therefore, as a form of service: Worship.

At this point I would like to add a theological interpretation greatly respected, The Westminster Confession, is assessing this point:

Q. 1. What is the chief end of man? Man’s chief end is to glorify God, [a] and to enjoy him for ever. (b)

(a) Psalms 86:9, Isaiah 60:21; Romans 11:36; 1 Cor 6:20; Rev. 4:11

(b) Psalms 16:5-11; 144:15; Isa. 12:2; Luke 2:10; Phil. 4:4; Rev. 21: 3-4

The overarching point is that man is not made for his own personal gain or service. Mankind is made to serve God and, therefore, honor and glorify God through it’s service. I must add to this that, in some way or form, man is also meant to find pleasure in this service. Man is to find contentment in the glorifying of the Lord without the need for any external or physical source of pleasure and bliss outside it’s service to God. I would like to end this point with the following note: from my discernment, which is hopefully divinely inspired, I do not see any hint or clue of free will or choice at the Garden of Eden; however, we do see argument, or at least evidence, of man’s purpose of service and worship and of God’s authority and power over the heavens and the earth.

As the Scripture at the very top states, God’s will and desire is above all. In the same manner that God raised and humbled Pharaoh, His sovereignty and authority over creation extends in the same manner, including Adam, Eve, Satan, and the whole of mankind.

The Bigger Assumption

I don’t intend for this post to become a “great defense of God’s Sovereignty” even though I do pray our faith and trust in God is multiplied through our discernment of His Scripture. This point being made, I will continue.

It seems to me that the bigger assumption to make isn’t that God is Sovereign and His Providence determines the course of worldly and universal events. From what are able to discern, the bigger assumption is that Adam and Eve could conceive the will to sin and act upon such a will. Let’s go through this together.

1) Mankind, Adam and Eve, are made for God’s service and purpose and not for their own personal desires or ambitions.

2) God is described as a God of authority, power, and potency throughout the early verses of Genesis.

3) The free will of mankind is not mentioned, or even hinted about throughout the Creation story.

4) The bigger assumption to make is that Adam and Eve acted of out free will rather than as part of a sovereign plan of God.

Basically, where I come to a stumbling block with the idea of free will and choice at the Garden of Eden is that if the purpose of Adam and Eve was to serve God, and they were designed for this very purpose, then at what time is free will introduced? Now, let me clarify a point of conceptual defining. In case the reader doesn’t see the difference, free will is the inner impulse, motivation, source of desire. Choice, on the other hand, is the acting out (whether physically, emotionally, spiritually, etc) of that inner motivation that was developed by the will.

Therefore, is within the nature and very purpose of Adam and Eve was the motivation of serve, glorify, and worship God, then where did their Pride come from? Where did the evil desire to sin originate? Where did the impulse “to be like God” conceptualized? And I believe that this is a view point accepted by John Milton in Paradise Lost: that magically, for lack of a better explanation, Adam and Eve suddenly desired to worship themselves instead of serving God. It is this very assumption that, I believe, makes a huge leap of belief without Biblical backing. Personally, if within their created purpose existed the desire to serve and obey God then, out of an act of His sovereign will, we can harmoniously explain the fall of man. In simpler terms, the fall of man is an event within God’s plan for His very purpose and glory. This interpretation of the fall is irrefutable, in my opinion, and in harmony with Scripture.

But what about God being good?

The previous statement is one that will make the heads of many blow some steam. That’s understandable. We are making a declaration that God, within His sovereign will an Providence, predetermined the fall of man (willed it to be). Why? For His Glory.

And I believe that it is around here that a lot of Christians fail to make the logical connections. You see, if God is good, if God glorifies Himself, if God is Just, if God is unchanging, then He cannot be evil and cannot go against His own Glory–or he wouldn’t be God.

Therefore, at the Fall of Man–Adam and Eve falling from a sinless state into a fallen, corrupt state of sin– God did not sin, for God cannot sin or be evil, but predetermined events for the sake of His Glory. God is not able to do something against Himself so even when God may seem to be carrying out an evil act, we must reflect on the thought, remember that according to Scripture God is good, just, and unchanging (and sovereign) and make the logical connection, through the use of reason, that God cannot be evil and must, by nature, glorify Himself.

Unfortunately, a lot of individuals aren’t able or willing to make this connection or be at peace with it. Personally, if God is all that we say He is, then this is the most logical conclusion we can make from Scripture. At the Garden, Adam and Eve fell not out of free will (even though they did make a choice) but out of the fact that within His Sovereign plan, God found glory and purpose in this chain of events in mankind’s origin. The leap to an assumption of man’s free will at Eden, I discern, is a bigger and more frail assumption than God’s being a sovereign God and carrying out His Will through His creation. This is my point.

In conclusion, the acknowledgment of God’s complete Sovereignty (what other sovereignty can there be) and Providence is an act of human humility. It takes:

1) A true and honest discernment of Scripture,

2) a willingness to let God be who He is and not what we want Him to be,

3) An understanding and acceptance of the God of the Bible and our limits, abilities, and purpose as HIS creation, and

4) A sense of joy and fulfillment in knowing that, as God’s Creation, we are serving His greater purpose and, as His Children, we are promised the promises of Scripture:

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

Romans 8: 28-30

A quick summary of what I discern from this passage of Scripture is that God works all things for the good of those who love him, those called according to His purpose. Therefore, we can trust that, within His Sovereign Will, He will work out things and events for our good, even if we, within our limited knowledge and wisdom and understanding, are unable to fully grasp or appreciate the good that flows from His will.

I don’t expect the reader to comprehend this final point, but it is truly essential to the human-God question. The fact of the matter is that as Christians, as Saints, as Children of God, our purpose is not simple to glorify God and enjoy Him forever and, in finding our joy and desire in Him, we will truly begin to understand the beauty and be amazed by the glory found in His Providence. I believe this is in harmony with Paul’s words to the Ephesians:

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.”

Ephesians 1: 11-12

This post is not meant to discuss the issue of Election, which is an subcategory under the umbrella of God’s Providence; however, Paul is clear in the sense that God works all things out in conformity to the purpose of His will: God predetermines the universe, which is His, for His purpose for the praise of His glory. God, in His Sovereignty, works out everything for His purpose, not ours, but His.

I believe that we, as believers, will find true joy and fulfillment in bending out hearts to an acceptance of God’s Sovereignty and a desire to continue to understand and grow in this Biblical concept. I don’t see another reason why Paul, and the rest of Scripture, would make such a great emphasis on this point if it weren’t something from God, for us, for God’s glory, for our growth in our walk with Him.

I pray that this post, that these words, may have been for the glory of God and that it may foster a desire to continue to study, discern, and grow in our understanding of the Lord God but along with this a willingness to humble our hearts to the authority of His Word found in Scripture.

May God’s be the Glory, forever and ever. Amen.