Here is a recent question we received that you also might face if you have the awesome task of raising children. Feel free to comment or add your own experiences with similar questions. (Note: We always ask permission before posting questions we receive.)
“Hi there. My 10 year old daughter recently asked her Sunday School teacher why, if there is no sin in heaven, could Satan have decided he wanted to be greater than God? Her teacher said she didn’t know and to ask her mom. ;) I want to be ready when the question comes up again (you know what happens to those pesky unanswered questions ;)).
Your daughter’s question only reinforces my belief that kids are smarter than we think they are. While perhaps framed in more simple terms, she is wrestling with what theologians and philosophers have wrestled with for as long as man has walked the earth, namely the problem of evil. I have been writing recently on this subject so I won’t go into detail on it here but encourage you to read more in our God and Evil Series.
I would like to reply to your question in two parts:
- What you as a parent should know.
- How you can respond to your daughter.
What You As a Parent Should Know:
Questions about the origin of evil are complex and many of our answers are not spelled out fully in the Bible. In Genesis 1 God creates the heavens (presumably including angelic beings) and the earth and sees that “it was very good.” By Genesis 3 Satan is now working to undermine God’s creation purpose for mankind and deceives Eve and then Adam into sinning. Obviously something transpired in the heavenly realms between the events of Genesis 1 and 3 that brought about Satan’s rebellion but we are not told what. All that to say, we need to hold our answers tentatively because we are often arguing from silence.
We are not in total darkness in the matter however, because Scripture does give some insight into what happened. 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6 say:
“…God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment;”
“And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day.”
It would seem then that like humanity, some angels willfully sinned against God and therefore became ‘sinful’. In addition the nature of their sin seems to (like humanity’s) flow from a rejection of the place God ascribed to them as created beings. In other words they aspired to attain a position greater than that given by God, which in essence was the same sin committed by Adam and Eve who were enticed by the prospect of becoming “like God” (cf. Gen. 3:5)
Getting to the issue of your daughter’s question then, while it is true that there was/is no sin in heaven, (or more accurately no sin can exist in God’s holy presence) God in his providence did choose to create free moral beings (i.e. angels and humans). The issue concerning Satan then is that while created sinless, he was created with the freedom to choose whether he would serve God (retaining his created station as a ministering spirit) or not. You could say then that prior to Satan sinning, evil did not yet exist in the universe. By creating free moral beings however, God did create a universe possessing the potential for evil by virtue of creating beings capable of making free moral choices.
The natural questions that follow this answer are those that surround the possibility that God could have created free moral beings who wouldn’t sin, and we are back into the larger discussion of the problem of God and Evil. At this stage, however, your daughter simply wants to understand, or needs to understand that God is not responsible for sin, and this is because he chose to make a ‘good’ universe containing free moral beings.
How You Could Respond:
One of the greatest challenges we have as parents is giving simple answers to profound questions. But, I think we can if we take time to consider what our children need to know right now. Their minds are not yet ready for abstract logical reasoning, but they can tell the difference between something that makes sense and something that doesn’t. Here is how I would frame a response for this question to a ten year old.
Responding to Your Child:
Have your child think about a best friend, (we’ll call her Katey). Ask your child this:
“Would you rather Katey be your friend because she likes you and wants to be your friend, or because her parents made her be your friend?”
– or similarly –
“Would you rather Dad or Mom love you because we choose to love you and want to be your dad/mom, or because there is a law saying we have to love you and we don’t get a choice?”
Most likely your child will see that being liked by a friend or loved by a parent because the friend/parent wants to is more desirable than their being forced to. Suggest to them that this sheds some light on how Satan could have sinned even though there was no sin to begin with, and so here I think is the point to her question:
“Sin did not need to exist in order for Satan to sin, only the freedom for Satan to choose to sin if he wanted to, and it would seem that God gave angels and humans that freedom to choose.
We’re not ultimately told God’s reason, but our own feelings about being freely loved vs. forced to love can help us understand one reason why God may have allowed his creation such a choice.”
I’ll stop there rather than anticipate any follow up questions she may have. If she does, just take time to listen and ask questions to clarify what exactly she is asking before responding. If you’re not sure then tell her you’ll give it some thought. Don’t be afraid to say “I’m not sure, let me think about that one”. I often find my own daughter is more receptive to my answers if she knows I’ve put time and thought into them than if I always try answering them on the spot, and a lot of time my ‘on the spot’ answers are wordy and confusing, even to me:)
Don’t forget to affirm her desire to ask good questions, and assure her that because God’s Word is true we can trust him to give us good answers even if we don’t know them right away.
Thanks for your question Sue.