Why God Allows Temptation
My last post discussed an unusual twist on a familiar challenge to the “goodness” of God. Analogizing to a parent allowing hardened criminals into his home, the skeptic asked why God would allow Satan – the ultimate deceiver – to have access to His “children” in the Garden. The implicit emotional impact of an analogy such as this must be recognized, but the challenge nonetheless remains. How can Christians make sense of temptation, and of the freedom the “tempter-in-chief” has been given?
In considering the question of temptation, two possibilities appear: God could have created beings that He shielded from temptation. Such beings would remain “good” but their goodness would be programmed and not the product of free will. Love that is programmed, however, is not really love at all; it may on the outside appear like love, but love without choice is meaningless. The second possibility is for God to create free-will beings capable of true love. But to do so, they must also be capable of not loving; they must be subject to the temptation to reject God, because absent any such temptation, they would in fact be in the first category – good, and “loving,” but only because they are following their programming. There is no middle ground; God could not do both – not because God lacks power – but because doing so is essentially a contradiction. It’s like asking God to create a circle with four equal sides. The very question betrays the questioner’s lack of conceptual understanding of what free will and love are.
Let’s consider some basic definitions. Temptation, in the more specific religious sense, is a desire or craving to do wrong. Some things are wrong in and of themselves in a way that we all intuitively realize but perhaps would have difficulty explaining. “Malum in se” is the way it is expressed in Latin; murder and rape are classic examples of such wrongs. By contrast, some things are “malum prohibitum” – wrong not because they are inherently evil but because they are prohibited by law or by consensus. Taking game out of season or driving 50 in a 35 mph zone are examples. But these are earthly concepts. Why should anything be wrong, even things that we say are somehow wrong “inherently?” The answer to the question lies within these ancient legal descriptions…
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