Did the Fall Ruin God’s Plan? Sin, Suffering, and the Sovereignty of God

“God not only foresaw the fall of the first man, and in him the ruin of his posterity; but also at his own pleasure arranged it. For as it belongs to his wisdom to foreknow all future events, so it belongs to his power to rule and govern them by his hand.”-John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (3:23:7)The above sentiment is not popular today. If I say, “The fall was part of God’s plan the whole time!” or, “This world of sin and suffering was Plan A,” then immediately people will retort that such a view removes free will from the picture, and accuse me of making Adam a robot.

I can understand where they are coming from. The Genesis account does not say, “God hardened Adam’s heart so that he ate of the forbidden fruit,” or anything about God’s sovereignty in the background. One could appeal to James 1:13, which says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being temped by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.”

This post cannot give a solution to this mystery of God’s sovereignty over sin and suffering, nor do I claim to know the solution. In this short space, I simply wish to show from the Scriptures that indeed God did plan the Fall, and to give clues as to why God preferred to have it this way.

“Did the Fall ruin God’s plan?” is the wrong question

If somebody sits down by their nightstand with a cup of tea and a Bible in their hand, and they say, “I shall now inquire whether this world is Plan A or B,” then they will be there all night. There is no Bible verse that says, “God predestined the Fall.”

You may quicken your results, however, by asking a different question. Instead of looking at a specific situation (in this case, the Fall) and asking if it was God’s will, try backing up a bit to see the bigger picture. Instead of wondering, “Did the Fall ruin God’s plan?” start with the question, “Can anything ruin God’s plan?” The Scriptures are clear that no plan of God’s can ever be thwarted. By applying the plain teaching of God’s Word to the unclear doctrine in question we solve it more efficiently.

Here are some Scriptures that seal the deal that nothing can ruin God’s plan (and therefore neither did the Fall). Emphasis mine in each:

  • Job 42:2 “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.”
  • Psalm 33:11 “The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of His heart from generation to generation.”
  • Psalm 115:3 “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.”
  • Isaiah 14:27 “For the LORD of hosts has planned, and who can frustrate it? And as for His stretched-out hand, who can turn it back?
  • Daniel 4:35 “All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, ‘What have You done?’
  • Ephesians 1:11 “[In Christ] we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.”

Therefore, we have the solution to this question about God’s sovereignty over the fall. If somebody asks, “Did the Fall ruin God’s plan?” we can confidently answer, “Nothing can ruin God’s plan!”

John Calvin argues that had God’s will been for Adam not to fall, then God would have granted Adam the same grace for an unshakeable faith that He grants to His elect for their perseverance. Scripture is clear that God could have prevented it had that been His will, for God says, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy” (Exo. 33:19; Rom. 9:15) and is not obligated to save anybody.1

God planned our salvation before the Fall

The first doctrine which leads us to the conclusion that the Fall was Plan A is election. The terms elect, chosen, and predestined are pretty much synonymous terms in Scripture. They stand for God’s selection of certain individuals for salvation through Christ (and others for damnation), not based upon any foreseen faith and/or merit, but based solely upon His grace and love. Although this doctrine is taught in many places, there are a couple verses that show us the timing of this selection. This sheds light on our question about the Fall. If God, before creation (and therefore before the Fall), planned to save sinners, then the Fall into sin must have happened for us to be in need of salvation.

This is not plan B the fall did not ruin God's plan

Paul says that God chose us “before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4) and “from the beginning” (2 Thes. 2:13), and that the mystery of the Gentiles was according to God’s “eternal purpose” (Eph. 3:11). He says to the Corinthians that the wisdom and mystery of our salvation was “predestined before the ages” (1 Cor. 2:6-9). To Timothy he writes that God’s purpose and grace was granted to us in Jesus “from all eternity” (2 Tim. 1:9). Revelation twice mentions the book of life, which contains names written “from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8; 17:8).

John Piper sees in these verses that grace was not planned as a result of sin, but was there first and therefore necessitated sin in order to bring about that grace.2 Thus, God was planning to save His people even from eternity past. These verses point to the unconditionality of this selection. They show us not that God first and foremost wanted Adam and Eve in paradise forever, but that He went into creation with the plan that fallen men would be redeemed out of sin.

Christ’s suffering and death was planned before the Fall

God did not say from eternity past, “I want to save My elect,” and then scratch His head over how to bring it about. He was always planning to save His elect in and through Christ. Remember, it was “in Christ” that God chose us (Eph. 1:4), and the book of life in which our names are written is the Lamb’s book of life. There are a few verses which show us that God had always planned that Christ should be crucified (thus death must have been part of Plan A) for sinners (thus sin was also part of the plan).

The verses we looked at under the previous heading imply Christ’s death already, for that is the means by which He saves us sinners. In addition there are texts which speak directly of Christ’s death being God’s plan from all eternity. Peter said in his Pentecost sermon that Jesus was delivered over to death “by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). Later in Acts we also read that all of the events surrounding the crucifixion by Herod, Pilate, etc. were what God’s hand and purpose “predestined to occur” (4:27-28). In the context of Christ redeeming us with His precious blood, Peter writes that Jesus “was foreknown before the foundation of the world” (1 Pet. 1:20).

Piper correctly concludes that Jesus’ glory was God’s main purpose in ordaining the fall.3 The best of all possible worlds and histories that God could have picked included a Savior being brutally murdered on a cross as a substitute for sinful men. God orchestrated not only Herod, Pilate, and the Gentiles, but all of history from creation leading up to the cross.

Why God would pick a world of sin and suffering?

Any answer to this inquiry will be incomplete, for most of God’s purposes are hidden from us. Certainly I cannot answer why suffering in a particular case occurred. But I can show you the big picture. Again, let us answer the question with a question. Instead of asking, “What was God’s purpose behind the fall?” we must ask, “What is God’s purpose behind anything?” The Bible gives an answer to this broader question. God’s end in everything that He does is His own glory.

In his book Let the Nations Be Glad! John Piper lists 31 evidences of God’s zeal for His own glory.4 Thus, by putting two and two together (that God does all things for His glory, and that God chose this as Plan A), we can begin getting a glimpse as to why this is good. We see that there are ways that God is glorified in this fallen world that He could not have been glorified had the fall never happened. Let’s just brainstorm a little.

As we have already been discussing, God is now able to show forgiveness and mercy in ways that He could not in a world without sin. Also, God displays His patience everyday as He holds back His wrath and grants the lost another opportunity to come to Christ. Further, God can also display His holiness and justice by exercising His wrath against sin. We can see God’s goodness better because we can contrast it with sin and suffering. We can better see God’s healing hand by the existence of disease. And there are several other examples.

Conclusion: Can I trust a God who planned suffering and evil in the world?

The doctrine I’m putting forth here is, for obvious reasons, hard to stomach. We fall into despair here because we lose sight of the Bible’s whole picture of God. If the only verse in the Bible about God was, “He turned their hearts to hate His people” (Psa. 105:25), or “Can a disaster happen in a city if the LORD did not cause it?” (Amos 3:6), then we would probably conclude that God’s actions are only evil, and that there is no purpose behind our suffering.

However, as Erwin Lutzer says, “Only by putting evil within the framework of God’s eternal plan do we have any hope that suffering can make any sense at all.”5 When we put this doctrine alongside the fact that God is our Creator, Redeemer, and is loving and gracious, then we see He can still be good. When we remember that Jesus understands our pain, having gone through all temptation, then we know we are not alone. When we remember that God is working all things for a believer’s good, and can be glorified even through suffering and in fact has His glory as the goal of all His actions, then we see our suffering is not meaningless. When we back up to see the big picture that the whole course of history is leading to the New Heavens and New Earth where all enemies will be crushed and God shall reign forever, then we see that our suffering is not as purposeless as it may seem.

Ultimately, the doctrine of God’s control over evil brings comfort to the Christian. Sure it sounds wrong that God would have control over evil, but how scary would it be if He didn’t? The sentiment goes like this: “If I don’t believe God has control of ____, then I can’t trust Him with control of my life.” Our world would be in total chaos and everything bad or good would have no purpose. God is the most qualified person to control evil, being that He is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. Trust Jesus with your soul today, and trust God’s sovereignty over every situation in your life.6

-Steve Rohn

1 Calvin, John The Secret Providence of God under Article 2 in his response.

2 See his paragraph on 2 Timothy 1:9 in Piper, John Spectacular Sins: And Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008) 58-59. Available free online. See also Boettner, Loraine The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1932) 234-6.

3 ibid., 57-64.

4 Piper, John Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremecy of God in Missions (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1993) 17-22. Available free online. Also, Jonathan Edwards’ book The End for Which God Created the World definitively proves this.

5 Lutzer, Erwin 10 Lies About God: And the Truths That Shatter Deception (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2009) 138.

6 For further reading, see Lutzer’s whole chapter “Lie 8: The Fall Ruined God’s Plan” in ibid., pp. 137-157.

What do you think?