James from Auckland, New Zealand asks: “How does God's predestining people to eternal hell bring himself glory?”
Before we embrace the term “predestining to hell,” we need to make some qualifications, because the very phrase is one that is very rare, if present at all in the Bible in those terms. I can think of one or two texts that could almost be paraphrased that way, so I don’t want to be too hard on the question. But there are qualifications I want to put on the phrase before I give the answer that I see.
There will be no one in hell who does not deserve to be there. No one will be there who can give a good reason, a warranted reason, why they shouldn’t be there. All of the world will know this and will vindicate God in it. There will be no doubting the justice of God at the last day. That is the first thing that has to be said, biblically, that no one will be in hell who doesn’t deserve to be there.
“There will be no doubting of God’s justice at the last day. All the world will know it and vindicate God.”
Second, no one will be in hell who is not in a state of rebellion against God. If we have any sense that people are being thrown in hell who are not in rebellion against God but are lovers of God or they are repenting towards God or they are embracing God or they are somehow not in rebellion against God, that is just a foreign concept to the Bible. The only people who will suffer are people who have been opposing God and are at the present moment in hell opposing God, rejecting God.
The third thing that needs to be said to qualify that phrase, “predestined to hell,” is that the Bible portrays God’s election and predestination as choosing graciously to save some sinners, not choosing to make some really good people bad. It always pictures him as rescuing sinners before the foundation of the world. Christ is slain for sinners before the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8).
Full Display of God’s Perfections
So with this those three qualifications, the question is still a good one. That is, how is God made more glorious by ruling a world or creating a world in which people — by his permission or design, however you want to describe it — will justly wind up in hell? The closest thing that I know to an answer in the Bible is found in Romans 9:22–23.
“God created the universe so that the full range of his perfections — including wrath and power — would be displayed.”
Paul says there that God aims to display his wrath and his power. His goal is that the full range of his perfections be known. I think the display of God’s perfections is the ultimate goal of the universe. God created the universe so that the full range of his perfections, including wrath and power and judgment and justice would be displayed. To do that there is, as it were, a dark backdrop of the history of redemption called the fall and sin.
The acts of grace and the acts of mercy and the experience of salvation shine the more brightly against the backdrop of the fall and of sin so that two effects result in the glory of God. First, his grace — which I think is the apex of his glory — shines more brightly because it is set against the backdrop of judgment and of sin.
Second, the undeserving beneficiaries of this election and this redemption are moved to a more exquisite joy and gratitude for our salvation. This is because we see all the lostness of people who are no worse than we were and we are no better than them — we should be in hell as well. So our gratitude will be intensified.
At least those two senses I would say are the answer to his question. How does God get glory? He gets glory because his grace and mercy shine more brightly against the darker backdrop of sin and judgment and wrath, and our worship and our experience of that grace intensifies and deepens because we see we don’t deserve to be where we are.