One of the biggest challenges in my sanctification thus far has been coming to terms with how fallible my conceptions of goodness, love, righteousness, and justice actually are. I am so prone to approach the Bible in an arrogant, critical posture and measure God’s revelation of himself against my predetermined notions of what he should be like and how he should act. Since God is the origin and author of goodness, love, righteousness, and justice, it would seem wise to let him define these attributes for me. However, my rebellious nature tends to resist such wisdom, which has resulted in a number of dark seasons in which I have struggled to believe God is perfect in character and worthy of my trust. The darkest of these took place in mid 2014.
I had read the book of Romans countless times, but on one particular day a theological truth in chapter five startled the mess out of me. As Paul explained how the benefits of Christ’s obedience infinitely supersede the consequences of Adam’s disobedience, I could not get past the seeming unfairness of what biblical scholars call Adam’s “federal headship” over the human race. Paul, inspired by the Spirit, taught that we, Adam’s descendants, did not choose to become sinners of our own volition, but we took on a sinful nature through Adam’s sin (Romans 5:19). He explained that we are condemned not mainly because of our individual trespasses—though we are judged for those, too—but mainly because of Adam’s trespass (Romans 5:18). He wrote that death is not primarily a consequence of our personal sinning but of the first man’s sinning (Romans 5:15,17).
Questions about this mysterious union between Adam and his posterity haunted me for months. Day and night I tried to reconcile God’s justice with what seemed to me to be an unjust action. However, my incessant, skeptical pondering produced no fruit—no good fruit, anyway. The longer I failed in my efforts to understand all the mechanics of our union with Adam, the more intense my doubts about God’s character grew. How could I worship a God who punishes people eternally in Hell for simply being and doing what Adam’s sin made them to be and do? If they can only repent when God chooses to mercifully save them (Romans 9:15-18), how could I believe he is just when he chooses not to rescue so many from what I then perceived to be their unchosen and inescapable plight?
After analyzing, questioning, and fretting for months, the God whom I doubted graciously healed my distrustful heart. No, he didn’t reveal to me some secret knowledge that made sense of all of this; nor did he lead me to embrace a theological system that attempts to explain away these complexities. What he did was convict me of my monstrous arrogance.
I, with my teeny-tiny-little-finite mind, was presiding as judge over the infinitely wise and knowledgeable God. I, a sinner of unimaginable proportions, was questioning the character of the King of Righteousness. What pride. What presumption. What audacity. What sin!
The Holy Spirit brought to my attention a few biblical texts to which I still and will forever cling while contemplating the decisions and actions of a God who is infinitely beyond my ability to comprehend:
“But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” – Romans 9:20
“The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us . . .” – Deuteronomy 29:29
“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!” – Romans 11:33
God does not require nor ask us to fully comprehend him or understand all that he does. If he wanted us to know everything there is to know, he would have revealed everything there is to know. But instead, he has given to us all the truth we need to know about him and his dealings in the world, and he calls us to humbly trust him in light of this revelation. The Bible very clearly communicates that God is perfect in character. This, therefore, must be our starting point as we think through the less clear realities presented in the Bible. We are not to critically scrutinize God’s actions according to our finite perspectives of goodness, love, righteousness, and justice. We are to let him define for us what is good, loving, righteous, and just.
Though I cannot wrap my mind around the mystery of our union with Adam, I believe God was benevolent and just in choosing to do things this way. If it had been best for each individual person to represent him or herself in the Garden of Eden, God would have allowed each of us to represent ourselves. But since he decided to appoint one man to represent the rest, I trust that this was the absolute best way—because God always does things the best way.
There are things about God and the ways in which he works that will always baffle us. In this life, we will never have all the answers to the questions our inquisitive hearts ask. But his perfect character is never to be called into question. He is always wholly good, loving, righteous, and just—even when we are unable to understand his actions.