The success of our search for the source of sin will depend entirely on our apprehension of the divine definition of what it is. The Biblical mistranslation "sin is the transgression of the law" is clearly misleading, for sin reigned during the period which preceded the giving of the law (Rom.5). It should read "sin is lawlessness." Failure to conform to any standard is sin, whether it be the law of Moses or any other law, natural or revealed.
We are thankful that we are not called upon to give a philosophical disquisition on the ethics of sin, or to discover its essence in the scene in which we live. Our minds are too warped, our hearts too heavy with the harvest of sin, to catch a clear conception of its true nature. We are glad to turn to the fountain of all wisdom and find there a simple simile that presents a perfect picture of God's own apprehension of what is meant by sin.
In the fratricidal war between the tribe of Benjamin and Israel, the former mustered, among others, "seven hundred chosen men lefthanded; every one could sling stones at a hair breadth and not sin" (Judges 20:16). Our version says they could not miss, which is quite correct, yet how much is gained when we render it sin, as in hundreds of other passages! Indeed, we are inclined to think the translators missed, when they failed to translate the word consistently, for in so doing they covered up a delightfully descriptive and a most important definition.
Sin and miss are identical in meaning. Some months ago we had occasion to throw a stone over a certain branch of a tree. A cord was attached to the stone, for the object was to draw up an aerial for radio reception without climbing up to the perilous higher branches. We confess that we sinned many times before the task was accomplished. The cord would catch as the rock ascended; the rock went too high; it went to one side; it caught in the foliage. No matter what it did, each failure was a picturesque representation of the divine definition of sin.
Let us clear our mind of all side issues; let us forget the forms in which sin appears. It may seem gilded and glittering; it may seem sordid and sear; at its center it is the same. However it affects our feelings, it finds its essence in failure. As it is paraphrased in Paul's indictment of all mankind (Rom.3:23), "all sinned and are wanting of the glory of God." We have failed to reach the divine standard.
Unless this is clear it is useless to go further. We will surely stumble in our search for the source of sin unless we discard all human definitions and cling closely to the divine. Mature reflection will fully confirm this conception. It does not deny that some sins are much more than a mere mistake. There is transgression, sin against a law, offense, sin against the feelings, but these are only aggravated forms of the central thought. When God charges all with sin, He does not insist that all are guilty of heinous offenses against law and decency and love, but that all are mistaken. Even their best efforts--their "good" deeds--are done in error. It is the broadness of this definition which is its strength. A sinner need do nothing that man may condemn to deserve his name, he only needs to fail to fully realize God's high standard of holiness and glory.
We now come to the crux of the whole matter. Since all things are of God, yet He cannot sin, how did sin originate? Whence did it come? And how?
All so-called "solutions" which trace sin up a blind alley and stop short of God are neither scriptural nor satisfactory. We know that sin came into the world through one human being, yet who would stop there? Sin did not originate in Adam. The serpent was in the garden before Adam sinned.
Neither is it enough to go beyond Adam and quote "sin is of the devil," or Slanderer, for the Slanderer, just as much as Adam, is a creature, and, as such, originated nothing. He was made a Slanderer in the beginning, or it was dormant in him from his creation, or he was influenced from without after his creation. There must be an adequate cause for every effect. We only condemn ourselves as theological evolutionists when we trace sin back to a creature and refuse to acknowledge the Creator. Many who do not spare the shortsightedness of science and condemn its labored efforts to banish God from His own universe, are practicing the same deception when confronted with the origin of sin.
The subject of Satan will be taken up in another study. Meanwhile we will simply state our conviction that current Miltonian effusions regarding his primeval perfection and his subsequent fall are not to be found anywhere in the Word of God. "The Slanderer is sinning, from the beginning" (1 John 3:8). We ourselves were infected with the virus of tradition and doubted this plain statement, but we humbly acknowledge our error. It makes no real difference to the course of our present discussion, but it is simpler to follow the lines of truth.
We have, then, a creature, called a Slanderer and Satan, and to him the Scriptures trace back all sin. Our inquiry is now narrowed down to the question whether this one is really a creature, or self-created--in fact, another god, such as the Zoroastrian religion worshiped. If he is not self-existent we are shut up to his creation by the hand of God. If we allow that God created Satan (as such), the crucial question arises, Did God sin in creating the Slanderer? The answer will depend entirely upon the object He had in view. Was it God's will that sin should invade the universe or was it due to an error on His part? Remembering our definition of sin, we must be prepared to say that God has sinned, if the entrance of sin was a mistake.
If God created Satan perfect and his defection was a surprise and a disappointment to God, then there is no use in hiding behind mere words. He failed. He started out to make a flawless creature who turned out bad. There is no one else to charge with this failure but God. But this is all wrong, for God never fails, or sins.
Sin has an essential, though transient, part in God's purpose. God made due preparation for it before it came. The Lamb was slain from the disruption of the world. Creation may reveal some aspects of God's power and wisdom, but His love can be displayed only where sin has sown the seeds of hate. There can be no Saviour apart from sin. There can be no reconciliation apart from enmity. God locks up all in stubbornness in order that He may be merciful to all.
Shall God's affections remain forever pent up in His own bosom? Shall He never taste the sweet response of love? Then all He needs is a perfect universe, where His creatures have no need of Him and His gracious ministrations. But if He wants the deep satisfaction of requited love, and desires to impart to His creatures the delicious sense of His fatherly affection, then there must be distance, distress and condemnation, to form the field for the exercise of His favor.
Since sin must enter this scene and play its part, since it is essential to God's purpose, and absolutely under His control; since it will eventually change the universe from cold, independent creatures into a loving family circle, and God from a distant Creator into an affectionate Father, it was by no means a mistake (or sin) on God's part when he created a creature who should not only sin but should scatter it in all creation.
We have now arrived at the heart of the problem. It was no mistake for God to create Satan, for the adversary did exactly what God had planned he should do. And the astonishing conclusion forces itself upon us that, the moment we try to shift the ultimate origin of sin to Satan, then we are making God a sinner! For, if God did not intend Satan to sin, but he did it on his own initiative, then God missed the mark!
We have been accused of making God "the author of sin," whatever that may mean. In no such vague and uncertain terms we say with all kindness that those who introduce sin into the universe as an excrescence, an unforeseen calamity, an irremediable blot, they are charging God with failure, which is sin. Or if they introduce it surreptitiously, without God's act, making Satan sovereign in sin, then God's failure has been the greatest of all sins.
We cannot believe that God ever fails or sins. It is only by acknowledging that He created Satan to sin that we can possibly clear Him from its stain. Sin is not a theory. It is a sad, a terrible, a tremendous fact. I pity the despair of those who are mentally equal to the consequences, if it has broken loose from the hands of God or never was under His control. Their highest hope is chaos. Their only reasonable consummation is eternal torment, not only for all, believers as well as unbelievers, and the hosts of heaven, but for God Himself, for love always suffers with its object. The only Scriptural, the only rational, the only true solution, lies in the acceptance of God's grand dictum that all is out of Him, and through Him and for Him.
The Scriptures are not so squeamish on this subject as its self-constituted defenders. Jehovah says boldly in Isaiah 54:16 (A.V.) "I created the waster to destroy." To waste, or corrupt, is not simply evil. It is sin. Jehovah does not claim to do it, but to create the one who does. If the corrupter were created by another, or self-existent, then he would be out of hand, and Jehovah could not guarantee immunity to His people, or control the evil and harness it to His purpose.
Some will ask, what Scripture have you for the statement that God created Satan, as such. The very question is proof of the darkness into which we have drifted. What Scripture have you, that God created you? There are innumerable objects in the physical and spiritual universe concerning which this might be asked, and in no case can we find that the particular object is specifically mentioned in God's Word. What a bulky tome it would be if such were the case! But we have the plain declaration that all came into being through the Word and apart from It nothing has come into being (John 1:3). Moreover "the universe was created in the Son of God, that in the heavens and that on the earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or sovereignties, or authorities" (Col.1:16). Satan is specifically included as the chief of the aerial jurisdiction.
It is a sad state of affairs when our thinking is more powerfully influenced by the pagan philosophies of the past than the living oracles which have been confided to us. A stranger coming into Christendom would certainly deduce from the literature of the day that there are two great powers struggling for the supremacy, one good, and one evil, and that the evil was not only uppermost, at present, but would eternally prevail over the good. Only a feeble fraction would be saved from his clutches. Any reasonable intelligent being could not help from deducing from this system of theology that there are, in reality, at least two gods, and that Christianity is an offspring of Zoroastrianism and kindred cults.
In our next we will deal with God's method of coping with sin. There are so many "theories of the atonement" that a fresh study, based on the true significance of sin, will be welcomed by many (Rom. 5:11 A.V.).