Article 19: The Cause of Sin
The philosopher Aristotle didn’t have a Bible, but by reason he concluded there was a god of some sort. He reasoned that everything has a cause, and those causes also had a cause. Thus, there must be a First Cause, or else you would have an infinite string of causes going back forever with nothing causing any of them to be. The logic also gets applied to finding the cause of sin.
The Problem of Evil
As attractive as his argument may be for trying to show that the God of Scriptures exists, there are several problems that arise when you try to approach God by way of reason and philosophy. One of the most difficult is: if God is the cause of everything, then that means He is also the cause of sin. The history of theology is full of people trying to solve this problem. How can God be good when evil exists?
The unfortunate answers to this question that philosophy supplies are either that God is not good, and created evil as well as good, or that He perhaps inadvertently introduced some sort of fatal flaw into His good creation. In either case, He doesn’t make for a very good God.
But God is not a philosopher. He specialized in foolishness. And Scripture is very often contrary to our reason. In answer to the question of evil, that is, to the cause of sin, we confess very simply:
Of the Cause of Sin they teach that, although God does create and preserve nature, yet the cause of sin is the will of the wicked, that is, of the devil and ungodly men; which will, unaided of God, turns itself from God, as Christ says John 8:44: When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own. (Augsburg Confession XIX)
The Cause of Good
God causes only good. The cause of evil, the cause of sin, is the devil. This is not something that you can arrive at by rational investigation. It must be revealed. Jesus testifies to the origins of sin when He teaches about the devil. Here’s the whole verse in another translation:
You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44 ESV)
The Solution for Evil
But here’s the rub. Since God causes only good, even the devil’s and our own introduction of evil and sin into the world cannot undo God’s good cause. By sending His Son Jesus to bear our sin, God took the devil’s most evil act—the murder of Truth incarnate, the Son of God—and caused the world’s greatest good. And so, with St. Paul, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose,” (Romans 8:28 ESV).
You can read the Book of Concord at http://www.bookofconcord.org
“Concord” is a weekly study of the Lutheran Confessions, where we will take up a topic from the Book of Concord and reflect on what we believe, teach, and confess in the Lutheran Church. The purpose of this series is to deepen readers’ knowledge and appreciation for the confessions of the Lutheran Church, and to unite them “with one heart” to confess the teachings of Holy Scripture.
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard is pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in New Haven, MO.