Can God create something contrary to His own good nature?
Different writers may explain these matters somewhat differently, but as I see it, the main outline of the story is something like this.
God is free in that nothing apart from God “makes” Him do what He does. Although everything He does is good, this isn’t because something different than God, called good, somehow limits Him. Rather, good is what He is. Good isn’t abstract, but personal. It’s Him, in the triune love of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
It wasn’t contrary to God’s nature to give His created rational beings the gift of creaturely freedom, because the gift didn’t make them rebel against Him; it merely enabled them to choose. True, to be able to choose is to be able to choose rebellion. But to be able to choose is also to be able to choose to follow Him — and some goods, like love, can come into their own only if they are unforced. So the gift itself was good and in keeping with God’s own goodness.
To answer your question about how Satan became evil, I have to clear up an ambiguity in the way we use the word “nature.” Sometimes when we speak of something’s nature, we mean “how it is.” For example, this is how we speak of God’s nature. But when we speak of the nature of created things, we are usually referring not to how they are, but to how God designed them to be. Human nature is the design that God imparted to human beings; angelic nature is the design He imparted to angelic beings. In this second sense, there is no such thing as an evil nature, because all of God’s creational designs are good. Even Satan was created with a good nature. He had existence (that was good), intelligence (that was good), various other powers for serving God (those were good), and freedom (also good).
However, because creaturely freedom includes the ability to choose whether or not to follow the Creator, Satan could rebel. And he did. It makes no sense to ask what pre-existing evil “made him do it.” There wasn’t any, for if something had made him do it, then his doing it wouldn’t have been free. The explanation of why you commit a free act is that you choose to commit it.
By rebelling, Satan misused the good gifts God had given him; he put himself in conflict with his own design. It’s exactly the same when we rebel. Our freedom isn’t like the Creator’s freedom, because God cannot act against His nature, but we can act against our natures. Though nothing “makes” us do it, we can use our freedom even to impair our freedom, to ruin ourselves.
So you see, there were no evil things in the beginning; the only way to get a bad thing is to take a good thing and ruin it. That’s what Satan used the good gift of freedom to do, and that’s what he taught us to do. We do it every time we use the good of intellect for cheating, the good of knowledge for rationalizing, the good of trust for deception, or the good of sex for lust.
Thanks be to God for untying the knot of this terrible sorrow through Jesus Christ, who, though sinless, took the burden of our sin and dislocation upon Himself. Have I answered your questions?
Grace and peace,
Copyright 2003 Professor Theophilus. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Professor J. Budziszewski is the author of more than a dozen books, including How to Stay Christian in College, Ask Me Anything, Ask Me Anything 2, What We Can’t Not Know: A Guide, and The Line Through the Heart. He teaches government and philosophy at the University of Texas, Austin.