What this question is not about:

This question is NOT about:

Is God omniscient (all knowing?), omnipotent (all powerful?) and benevolent? Then if God foresaw the first sin, and had the power to stop it, why did he not?

This question is also not about:

Did God predestine Satan revolt? Did God predestine Adam/Eve to fall?

What this question is about:

In my understanding, Reformed Theology views everything in terms of the glory of God. Thus, original sin -- Satan's revolt and the fall of men -- exists to glory some aspect of God (either his righteousness, his mercy, his grace, his love, or ...)

Aside: Erwin Lutzer's "The Serpent of Paradise" somewhat gets into this: namely, the interaction of Satan and God reveals certain attributes of God.

What are the main arguments that Reformed Theologists use for how Sin + the fall Glorifies God?

Please cite references (As great as a 5-6 paragraph essay can be, certain subtleties can only be captured in a 100 page or so book.)


(none of these are required for a correct answer; they're mainly incomplete thoughts /intuition on my part)

For example, arguments expanding on thought along "Redemptive history is about the Glory of God in predestinating a group of people to be saved to showcase his grace" ... would be very helpful.


I think it's agreed that Sin + Satan somehow glorifies God. But I think the interesting question is the mechanics of how it Glorifies God. In a similar manner, the old testament faithful knew that God was somehow going to redeem humanity, but he fascinating part was how God was going to do it (Christ dying o the cross); similarly, we know that Christ will establish a kingdom, but the fascinating part is how Christ establishes his kingdom (book of Revelations, not as how worldly empires do). Similarly, the fascinating issue here is how does Sin / Satan exist to glorify God?

  • Interesting question. I know CS Lewis (who was not a reformed theologist) once wrote about God creating a lesser evil in order for a greater good to come about, as well as to contrast with God's greatness. I wonder if they think along the same lines.
    – Dougvj
    Sep 8, 2012 at 2:41
  • 1
    @Dougvj: I think many would agree that -- somehow -- Sin / Satan exists to glorify some attribute of God. What is interesting is the question of mechanics ... how ? Sep 8, 2012 at 2:48
  • FYI - I gave an answer that addresses it in the wider context of the basic meaning of glory but if someone else posts a different answer, that traces this from a less theoretical standpoint, but more biblical-history-illustrative account, it might make a very good supplement to the high doctrine approach. For example, one could trace the actual outcomes of the Devil, fall and specifically how each thing manifests God's glory but this would easily turn into 1000 pages. Cheers. Good question - I could not resist even though I am trying to watch TV shows :)
    – Mike
    Sep 8, 2012 at 8:33

3 Answers 3


The Fall indeed glorifies God

The reformer that spent the most effort in making his thoughts fully known about this subject is Jonathan Edwards. He wrote two famous books on the topic:

Although both of these works appear highly philosophical Edwards derived his thoughts from scriptures and I will try and lay out the very basics.

The basic idea goes like this. God, due to his nature cannot be profited by, or receive anything from the creature as he is perfect. He can't suffer loss or gain outside of himself.

Since God is perfection anything "good and valuable" in and of itself itself, God values it with an ultimate respect. Also since God is infinitely valuable "in and of himself" God must then be the reason for Creation as he must love himself above all things:

That if God himself be, in any respect properly capable of being in its own end in the creation of the world, then it is reasonable to suppose that he had respect to himself as his last and highest end, in this work; because he is worthy in himself to be so, being infinitely the greatest and best of beings. (The Works of President Edwards, Volume 3, Page 14)

Edwards also notes that it is the final result of Creation that must be the original purpose for it and for all things part of Creation.

Whatsoever thing is actually the effect of the creation of the worlds which is simply and absolutely valuable in itself, that thing is an ultimate end of God's creating the world. We see that it is a good which God aimed at by the creation of the world; because he has actually attained it by that means. (The Works of President Edwards, Volume 3, Page 18)

How it glorifies God

The mechanics of how is dependent on what we think "glory" is. When we define "glory" we can define how it is manifested by the Devil, fall, etc.

Defining glory

In describing what true virtue, or "God's glory", is, Edwards says:

true virtue consists in love to being in general (The Works of President Edwards, Volume 3, Page 95)

Then Edwards clearly defines what he means by stating the proper objects of perfect love:

The first object of a virtuous benevolence is being, simply considered; and if being, simply considered, be its object, then being in general is its object; and what it has an ultimate propensity to is the highest good of being in general. And it will seek the good of every individual being unless it be conceived as not consistent with the highest good of being in general. (The Works of President Edwards, Volume 3, Page 97)

In other words he says perfect virtue, glory seeks to be itself above all things and this is the same as seeking the good of every being. However as Edwards hold the election of the reprobate he adds the limitation of "unless..." which we should treat as off-topic as this goes too far into speculation about the mystery of election.

Here is the second prime object of perfect love, or glory:

The second object of a virtuous propensity of heart is benevolent being. A secondary ground of pure benevolence is virtuous benevolence itself in its object. (The Works of President Edwards, Volume 3, Page 98)

In other words, not only does pure glory seek to be itself, but its glory is also held in its actual goodness towards any object that it seeks to bless.

From defining this "ultimate virtue", which is God's "glory", he says love to God is evidently what virtue is in us as well:

it is evident, that true virtue must chiefly consist in love to god; the Being of beings (The Works of President Edwards, Volume 3, Page 101)

He adds that this must lead to an "enjoyment" and "rejoicing" as part of the nature of true virtue:

A benevolent propensity of heart is exercised, not only in seeking to promote the happiness of the being towards whom it is exercised, but also in rejoicing in his happiness. (The Works of President Edwards, Volume 3, Page 104)

I will not continue to outline his arguments but from this you can see a reformed framework from which to argue anything about the subject. So to avoid the 17th century difficult language here is modern English verbiage: God is perfect and perfection must love itself above all things being perfectly benevolent. Therefore, the purpose of all creatures must be to serve the highest benevolence of all creatures to the pleasures of God, for which all things are done to the praise of his glory. We must not imagine that the praise of his glory in any way conflicts with our highest good for all manifestations of God's glory is to our highest good as the essential property of his perfection, so the more God is glorified only means the more we are blessed as he can't gain anything from our praise or obedience it is only by these that we obtain the effects of his perfect love towards us.

Regarding sin, the Devil and the fall specifically

We can see how this reformed faith is worked out. As God will not and can't suffer any thing but what is for his own glory, seeing that he turns everything he does to the greater and more illustrious advancement of his own glory, the Devil, the fall, sin, all evil, etc. were included in his decision to create the universe and all things in it. For example we would not know how loving and full of grace God was if a fall did not happen, because only by the fall do we see God was willing to suffer Himself in Christ to save His creation. This properly manifests God's perfection to us, more than if it did not happen. Similarly, we would not know how much God hates sin if we did not see the judgment he has made against it, which again makes his perfections known to us.

How it relates to providence and predestination

Regarding the specific question as it is tied into the words "predestined", from the wider standpoint of the term he did predestine it all, however, this predestination included some free choice of its creatures fully bound into the envelope of his sovereign will and determined purposes. In the narrow sense of the word, sin can't be said to be predestined at all, as being part of God's will, for its very nature is defined by its inherent opposition to God's will. This argument won deemed nonsensical and there are no reformers who thought this or taught it.

I mention a narrow and wider sense of "predestine" to distinguish how we use the word in English. In the Bible, when Paul says predestined, for example, in Romans 8:30, he used the Greek προώρισεν (proorízō). This comes from two root words (pró) "before" and (horizon) "establish boundaries, limits". Therefore the term "predestine" means "establish unmovable boundaries before creation". Therefore, it is the wider sense of the word that should be used and we can then answer Biblically in the affirmative. "Yes", God predestined everything to the praise and our enjoyment of his glorious grace. Yet as already mentioned, not specifically predestined as he did "specifically" predestine those souls who would, when all things are complete, enjoy him forever and ever. Our election is a special subset of God's overall general boundary-setting and providential management of all things and we should not confuse the two.

In regards to the "mechanics of how" this providential boundary-setting of all things, including those things that oppose God's will, is managed and maintained by God no man can conjecture, but only believe. At a minimum we can simply say that all things recorded in scripture manifest the mechanics and this, including all the history of God with Israel: where his holy will was revealed, his hatred of sin and opposition to it made known man's wickedness, his promise of a Messiah to bring salvation, etc. It also includes most importantly the actual sending of his Son, Christ's incarnation, death and resurrection. His resurrection is not for himself or "his own glory" in the wrongly understood selfish sense as though he can be glorified more than his own eternal glory is, but "for us" whereby we become possessors of the universe. God's glory is simply the manifestation of his perfect love to us by grace, giving him nothing more than he had before creation, but giving everything to us which we did not have. In this way "all things" work out for our own benefit as God's grace and our benefit coincide in Christ in an incomprehensible manner (taken up more in this post.


Charles Hodge provides a simple argument in his Systematic Theology (1.5.13.B). He begins on the same ground as stated in the question: that the glory of God is the ultimate purpose for everything. This, he says, implies that God manifesting himself is the "highest conceivable, or possible good," and that it is the ultimate purpose of creation, providence, and redemption.

Now to the point:

As sentient creatures are necessary for the manifestation of God’s benevolence, so there could be no manifestation of his mercy without misery, or of his grace and justice, if there were no sin.

Without sin and misery, God's glory could not be revealed. The key Bible passage he quotes is Romans 9:22–23:

22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory

Paul, says Hodge, is saying that "no man can rationally object" to this purpose of God. Ultimately:

Sin, therefore, according the Scriptures, is permitted, that the justice of God may be known in its punishment, and his grace in its forgiveness. And the universe, without the knowledge of these attributes, would be like the earth without the light of the sun.

This Hodge contrasts with a universe where "happiness" is the ultimate good. Such a world would put "the creature in the place of the Creator," which would pervert our theology in the same way that astronomy is perverted by treating the earth as the center of the solar system. He concludes:

It may [...] be safely asserted that a universe constructed for the purpose of making God known, is a far better universe than one designed for the production of happiness.


An expensive car in a garage looks fine but driving down a road demonstrates its ability. God in heaven is perfect and Christ entering His creation lives out that perfection. The Father's authority in sending His Son is lived out. The Son's obedience is lived out. The fall is all to do with the Father /Son relationship which was before Creation both in time and importance.

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