How can a Perfect God create the potential for imperfection?

I received the following comment on my Yin Yang, God and the devil: A cosmic chess game? He writes:

My issue is this: If “God” created and allows all things… then “God” also created Satan and the potential to become Evil. The potential must have existed within “God” at least as a thought/possibility or it never would have come into existence. Another way to word it is: How could something “imperfect” come from something “perfect”?

My basic assumption, which seems to be the same as the respondent, is that the only perfect being that exists – that could possibly exist – is God. Based on this assumption, I think it is also reasonable to assume that nothing perfect can arise from something imperfect. The  respondent’s problem is: how can imperfection arise from a perfect God? He provided the example of God creating another perfect being – an angelic being – with the potential for evil; a potential that monotheists such as Christians, Jews and Muslims claim does not exist in God Himself.

I would like to change the example from Satan to man, which does not change the basic issue, which is, if God creates beings with the potential to become evil, why does this potential for evil not exist in God, in his nature, or his essence.

I focus on the term “nature.” There is the nature, or essence, of an entity, which distinguishes the identity of one entity (being) from another. Every created being, living and non-living, has its own nature; Humans, lions, roses, trees, diamonds, and so on. The uncreated God, of course, also has a nature (uncreated in the Bible implies that He must be the creator of all entities, which by defnition, must be different to His nature.

God’s creation, however, is not part of his nature. Here is an analogy: the potter is not part of his pot (unless he’s potty). The analogy goes only so far, because both the (human) potter and what he makes (the pot), are imperfect, for they are both God’s creation. They both do not, therefore, share in God’s nature. The Talmud and Jewish Kabbalistic writings teach that man is a piece (spark) of God, but that is certainly not in the Bible, nor is it good exegesis to find it there.  (See Rabbi Tani Burton).

I shall not discuss man as the image of God because that would take us too far from our main focus, which is how a perfect God can create the potential for imperfection, specifically, evil.(I discuss man as the image of God  elsewhere).

After God had created everything – before Adam (hmmm) – He “saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good (TOV M’OD) (Genesis 1:31).  ”Very good” implies complete, whole, harmonious. And those are the connotations of Hebrew word, which is translated into English as ”perfect.” For example,

Gen 17:1 And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.

Deut 18:13 Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God.

Mat 5:48 Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Perfect” (Hebrew: tam/tamiym) here does not mean “flawless,” ”impeccable” (incapable of sin – Latin peccatum) but “whole,” “complete;” as far as it is possible for a human being to be complete. When Jesus says, Mat 5:48 “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,” He is not saying that his disciples must aspire to share in God’s perfect nature, but rather that they must try to remain faithful to their new status as children of God, which is done by keeping His commandments. If they do not remain faithful, they (their wholeness) will fall apart. More accurately, if they do not remain faithful, this shows that ”they went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us” (1 John 2:19).

I mentioned that after God had created the pinnacle of his creation, Adam, He “saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good TOV M’OD (Genesis 1:31). At the beginning of Chapter 2, we read:

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation” (Genesis 2:1-3).

Something’s missing, or rather somebody – Eve. She’s not included as part of the original ”very good” creation, because she was formed after and from Adam. Which I think was also very good, even if it doesn’t say TOV M’OD.

Now, to the issue of how imperfection can result from God’s perfection. The Christian answer is that God created the first human beings (Adam and Eve) with the ability to disobey Him. They were created complete (“perfect”). They, however, decided to disobey God. This sin resulted in their “Fall,” which sowed the seeds of radical corruption ( Latin radix ”root” ) and death. (The rabbinical view rejects radical corruption, and describes sin as more akin to a soiled face than a corrupt heart.

Why God would create a world where He knew man would become radically corrupt is not something we can ever know. If you think about it, who are we tell God how to run his creation? “Let God be true, and every man a liar” says Paul, on behalf of the Jew, and addressed to both Jew and Gentile:

1 What advantage then hath the Jew? or what is the profit of circumcision? 2 Much every way: first of all, that they were intrusted with the oracles of God. 3 For what if some were without faith? shall their want of faith make of none effect the faithfulness of God? 4 God forbid: yea, let God be found true, but every man a liar; as it is written, That thou mightest be justified in thy words, And mightest prevail when thou comest into judgment (Romans 3:1-4).

The majority of Jews rejected their Messiah. This lack of faith did not only smudge their face, it polluted their soul. The million shekel question, which my respondent could have asked, is: Why did God choose the Jews (or anyone else) if He knew that he would only save a remnant (the ancient prophets make it abundantly clear that only a remnant will be saved)? The answer is because the Bible teaches that if you love God’s word, you love everything He does. Outside of God’s word, unbelievers end up where they started; on the rickety bridge of philosophy – or whatever grabs their imperfect fancy.

My title is  ”How can a Perfect God create the potential for imperfection?” ”Can” in the title has the meaning of ability. So we can rephrase the question so: ”Is it within God’s power to create something imperfect?” I argued that this is possible. There is another question my respondent did not ask, to which I only gave a partial answer. It’s a question that relates more to the moral side of God’s character than to His omnipotence: ”Why would/did God create the potential for imperfection, for sin, for evil, for damnation? The scriptures do not explain all we want to know, but they do explain much.

The Bible tells us:

First, God was not taken by surprise when Satan and his angelic cohort sinned and when Adam sinned. Everything that happens is “according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, (Ephesians 1:11, ESV). God designed the universe to display his perfection. This perfection takes three forms: creation, providence/sovereignty and redemption. So God created the world to manifest his sovereignty in redemption: “For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men” (1Corinthains 4:9). “I have become a sign to many; you are my strong refuge” (Psalm 71:7).

God has designed everything to manifest (show off) the radiance of His perfection and holiness; in a word, his glory:

[1] In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. [2] Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. [3] And one called to another and said:

Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;

the whole earth is full of his glory!”

[4] And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. [5] And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:1-5 ESV).

Second, and here is where human indignation, among many Christians as well, boils over: God foreordains all events: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36 ESV). “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11 ESV). We read in Joshua Liebman’s “Peace of mind” that religion is “at its best” merely “the announcer of the supreme ideals by which men must live and through which our finite species finds it’s ultimate significance.” If people were honest, says Liebman, “they would admit that the implementation of these ideals should be left to psychology.” Whereas the Scripture (Hebrew and New testament) says “Man proposes, God disposes,” Liebman says, “God proposes, psychology disposes.” “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps (Proverbs 16:1); “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21).

Here’s the rub: the Lord’s purpose is fulfilled not in spite of Satan and man but because of Satan and man:

[15] When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” [16] So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: [17] ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. [18] His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” [19] But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? [20] As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. [21] So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them” (Genesis 50:15-21 ESV).

[22] “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know [23] this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. (Acts 2:22-23 ESV).

When we say God is all-knowing, we mean He knows everything past, present and future. That’s fine say most; omniscience is one of the incommunicable attributes of God, which He doesn’t share with man. God is also eternal, that is no beginning, no end. It follows that an eternal all-knowing God learns nothing. The Bible says that everything that happens is because God pre-ordains it, even in the number of hairs on your head. So, the reason why God knows everything and learns nothing is because He pre-ordains everything. The scriptures above are clear that this is so. 

Related post: God, the infinitely good, creates evil