Infralapsarianism and God’s Perfect Moral Character


My personal view of the infralapsarian and supralapsarian view is, much like the question of free will and predestination, something of a middle ground. Following Boethius, I believe that free will is compatible with God’s foreknowledge, because free will in humans is merely temporal; God’s almighty will can influence temporality but is not bound by it. However, I also believe that our free will has been damaged by the fall – there is no way for us to will ourselves into being good, and no way, through exercising free will, to be “good” in any real sense. This is why it cannot be said that God’s knowledge “causes” our evil acts – I freely sin, but am incapable of being freely good without God’s grace. I suppose that in a very limited, temporal sense, I would admit that there are little glimmerings of goodness in our will, but only because God is the creator of all things and even the fall could not destroy the tendency of God’s creation towards goodness. Even so, because it was an act of will on the part of Adam and Eve to sin, I have to disagree with Augustine here – our will is not free of the bondage of sin, but is perhaps the most stricken by the fall of any aspect of our nature. (I don’t mean to here presuppose that Adam and Eve chose “freely” to sin, which would assume the consequent – namely, my position of infralapsarianism. I mean they chose to sin in the simplest sense – it was a decision they made, regardless, just yet, of whether that decision was “free”.)
Before I go on, I want to establish something more important. The fact is that infralapsarian and supralapsarian doctrines are not explicit scriptural teachings. They are important questions, and the discussion of these ideas among church fathers and Reformers is important – because of church tradition, it is probably fair to say that God’s spirit directs the conversation between these positions. However, that does not change the fact that Scripture must always have primacy in our beliefs. What do we know about God from the Scripture? First and foremost that he is good. If we can say that we have knowledge in God’s absolute power and absolute goodness (a knowledge which comes, remember, from faith, not a fancy argument) then we already know that, regardless of the reasons, God’s permission or cause of the Fall is just. It has to be; God is morality itself and could not allow it if it did not fit into His ultimate goodness. Admittedly, arguing this as a means against the problem of evil to convince, say, an atheist, would not really be effective since it appears circular. But here I expect no such charge from people of faith. If you know God, you know He is good, absolute good, and therefore, his reason for allowing or causing the Fall is also good. My reason for stressing this is that, quite simply, we have to be careful not to give our arguments primacy, as if somehow God’s goodness depends upon us getting an argument right. Athanasias, for example, puts forward the idea that God caused the Fall so that the Incarnation could happen – but this begs the question, why not just create humanity incarnationally? Why should God create humanity with a gap between Himself and people if that was not his will in the first place? A possible answer here is that, of course, God could not incarnate Himself without first allowing mankind to sin, but I don’t see why that follows. It seems like it would be a far less insult to Christ’s divinity to witness his incarnation in a sinless race than a sinful one – of course, his glory could not be damaged, but it is a more thorough condescension on Christ’s part to be incarnated into a sinful race. I don’t claim that Athanasias’s argument fails; I just assert that it has reasonable problems, and that the person convinced by it is still depending on the grace of faith dispensed by God, and not the brilliance of his own intellectual conclusions. Thus I state that Anselm was right – we assume a position of “faith seeking understanding.” Coming up with answers to theological questions is great, but we must not diminish the miracle of faith by behaving as if an argument we are fond of is necessarily right or, more importantly, saves us from anything.
With this important caveat, I proceed to give my own perception of how the Fall results from God’s morality, based in Scripture. Quite simply, I believe in a compatibilist version of the infra-lapsarian and supra-lapsarian positions. First of all, one of the arguments cited in favor of supra-lapsarianism was that God’s foreknowledge makes the Fall necessary. However, Boethius has, I think, shown that free will and God’s foreknowledge are not incompatible; moreover, God does not create beings with imperfect wills. Adam and Eve were created with perfect wills – God does not create defective persons, but created flawless human beings – any other concept here would ignore the distinction between pre and postlapsarianism. The significance here is that Adam and Eve did not start out with original sin – their wills were God-kindled, in a perfect way, which gave them the ability to act as free agents. After all, freedom, if it is real and if it is good, must come from God, and so we know that Calvin was undoubtedly right about our natures. We are, in our original state at birth, depraved and without goodness of will, and indeed without freedom of will, because our wills are enslaved to sin without Christ. But this was not true of Adam and Eve, as I said – their wills were not marred by sin. The only thing limiting their will was knowledge. They did not know the consequences of disobedience, had no way of understanding what their children would be forced to live with if they disobeyed. They infringed upon Ultimate Sovereignty, and we are born into wrath as the sinful inheritance of their error. This implies something very important – that we are, in a sense, responsible for the legacy of our first parents. This is odd since we did not “choose” to be sinful, but that is precisely the problem – we can’t choose to be sinful or not sinful, because our wills are already broken. The fact that we could not choose to submit to God’s will, to His Sovereignty, without Christ, indicates that humanity has lost its free will, or at least has had it crippled. The most we can credit to ourselves, by ourselves, is the power to choose sin. God restores to us partially in this life, and fully in the next, the ability to be good again, the ability to be free. Freedom comes from God, and in rejecting God, Adam and Eve rejected the freedom of the human race, which necessitated the Incarnation.
I think that I am mostly in safe territory here. Of course, people won’t like that I am calling them depraved, if they aren’t good readers of Luther, Calvin, and one other book . . . oh, yes, the Bible. Well, that’s too bad – if you are distressed by your depravity, the most I can suggest is that you turn to Christ; he can restore it for you. If we have any free will in our sinful state towards the good, it is just a sliver, and all it can do, on its own, is respond to the spirit of God favorably. The more we choose to reject the sliver of free will we have, this frail, ghost of what God had given us in the garden of Eden, the farther we fall, and I believe that if the doctrine of the Elect and the Damned is true, that this is how you can tell the two apart: the Elect have the quality of having said “yes,” which God knew would happen in his wisdom, and the Damned have the quality of having said “no.” This little glimmer of the will God had given us long ago is enough to have eternal resonances for our souls, and God predestines our place in the afterlife based on his knowledge of how we respond to truth. Some think, perhaps, that I am in the dangerous territory of giving us a little credit for our salvation, but it is no more credit (probably less) than the person who is drowning and gets into a man’s boat who happens to be passing by. Of course it was my “choice” to get into the boat, but it could never have been my choice to make the boat come along, or to have the desire to live. At most I could only act, based on the desire to be saved (which is from God) and the opportunity to be saved (also from God) – in between these two powerful poles of predestination operates our free will in shaping God’s predestined plans for our souls. When we are made clean again, not merely saved as we are now but see things in full, rather than in part as the apostle Paul noted, we will have true free will again. But this free will rests only in the grace of God, even in our saved state.
Adam and Eve, as I said, were created with these perfect wills, but only imperfect knowledge. Though I think it would mar God’s character to say that he created immoral beings, I do not think it mars God’s character to say that he created beings who could sin – they could give up their free will, in other words, by rejecting the will of God. The reason why this had to be possible is because of the nature of God’s Sovereignty, and the nature of morality. If you “ought” to do something, it implies it is possible not to do it, or if you “ought not,” it is similarly necessary that you must be able to do so. In His Sovereignty, God commanded them not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil he imposed a command, which is simply a type of “ought,” if perhaps a more severe ought than how we generally conceive of ought (more than, say, you ought to take out the garbage or tie your shoes). If it were impossible to break God’s rules, then Adam and Eve could not be moral for not breaking them – they had to be able to, minimally, or the rule would be nonsense. You don’t, for example, command someone not to sprout wings and fly – that’s absurd. There’s no way I could be good for doing this, or bad, because I couldn’t do otherwise.
The opposite is also true, however – if there is absolutely no way to avoid an action, if you are caused, then you are not responsible for it. I’m not praiseworthy for being born with two legs – it just happened. This is different from our bondage to sin, because that is precisely a case of being born with damaged will, which means our moral nature has been compromised – that compromise, however, is as we have discussed a result of the Fall. Based on God’s reaction, to punish Adam and Eve, to speak curses on them and their descendants, suggests they could have done otherwise – it had to have been possible. So this means that they could have chosen otherwise – it was in their nature that they could have, for their wills were created good. And so they are responsible for their sins, passing onto us, again, a sinful nature and a severe handicap in the ability to do anything truly good (exactly how far that handicap goes is something I have already tried to address, but will have to let go due to space). So, in this sense, I am infralapsarian – this means that I believe God did not, in a straightforward sense, “cause” the sin of Adam and Eve, because their sins were the result of an actual free choice. Free choice is a power given by God, a miracle as astounding as the Trinity, and a power which can be, and was, lost when we are separated from God.
I am, on the other hand, a supralapsarian in that I believe God knew what would happen – he knew that Adam and Eve would sin. Now here is where it gets a bit tricky. Even though I do not believe God controlled Adam and Eve to sin at the moment of eating the fruit (the concept of God using creations he loved like puppets to commit a heinous crime is an image I find repugnant and absurd), in believing that he knew Adam and Eve would sin, I believe that he created them with this knowledge, with knowledge of what they would do with their free will, namely, to destroy it (or very nearly destroy it). Their action, the sin of eating from the tree, would not be possible unless God created them, and, in creating them, God made possible an action He knew would happen. In this sense, the doctrine of supralapsarianism is correct – God knowingly created a situation in which the Fall would happen. But this claim itself does not actually ruin the infralapsarian claim, namely, that God is not responsible for Adam and Eve’s sin. It is not because they sinned freely – they necessarily sinned freely, because wills created by God must be free, and not enslaved, which is a result of sin, which God does not have in His perfect nature. This is, in a sense, a middle ground between infralapsarianism and supralapsarianism that, I think, is more tenable than either position.