Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Audio transcript

Leah from Monroe, Louisiana writes in with a heavy question: “Pastor John, if the Triune God was perfectly joyful and glorious in union and fellowship with himself, before the creation of the world, why, knowing that some of his creation would reject him and suffer eternal punishment, why would he create the world for his own glory? Why was his glory in creating the world worth the eternal damnation of the non-elect?”

Well, that is about as heavy as they get. But let me make sure that we lay the foundations of the question and the answer. She has laid them. She is assuming them rightly, I think. But not everybody listening might see those foundations.

So, first, God knows everything that will come to pass in the future. Both Isaiah and Jesus and others say this. Isaiah 46:9–10 says, “I am God and there is no other. I am God and there is none like me declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done.” In other words, in Isaiah’s mind the Godness of God includes foreknowledge of everything that comes to pass.

Jesus says the same thing about himself. He says when he is predicting the betrayal by Judas, “I am telling you this now before it takes place that when it does take place you may believe that I am” (John 13:19). Now most translations say “that I am he,” but it is just “that I am.” And the echo is “I am who I am” — Jesus claiming to be divine here — and the evidences of his divinity is that he knows the future acts of responsible human agents like Judas. So that is the first foundation that needs to be laid. Yes, God foreknows everything that comes to pass and he foreknew everything before he created everything what would come to pass, and that is why the question is so relevant.

Here’s the second foundation: God knew that sin would enter the world and he planned for redemption before there was a world. And we can see that in passages that talk about grace being planned for sinners before there was even a world where there was sin that needed grace. Ephesians 1:4–6 says, “[God] chose us in him before the foundation of the world. He predestined us to the praise of the glory of his grace.” So we were chosen before the foundation of the world to experience grace, which is God’s response to guilty people.

We see the same thing in 2 Timothy 1:9, “[God] saved us and called us to a holy calling because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us before the ages began.” So grace is planned before there was any sin. So God knows there is going to be sin that needs grace. And Revelation 13:8 says, “All of them will worship the beast whose names are not written before the foundation of the world in the book of the life of the Lamb who was slain.” So there is a book before the foundation of the world in which names are being written and the name of the book is “the book of the life of the Lamb who was slain.” So God planned before the foundation of the world that there would be a Lamb who was slain for sinners. Therefore, yes, God knew the whole thing that was coming down.

So God knows it all and he means to do it all, do redemption, do history according to Ephesians 1:6: in pursuit of the display of “the glory of his grace.” That is the goal of creation and redemption, the communication of the glory and of the grace of God for the everlasting enjoyment of his people. So his glory and our joy are the united purpose of God in creation.

And now the question that was asked is, “Why would God move forward with this plan in view of the millions of people who will not be saved, but suffer eternal conscious torment?” And Leah is right to ask it this way, because hell is real and terrible and Jesus taught that it was real and the apostles taught that it was real. A little glimpse would be Revelation 14:11 where John writes of the devil and his angels and those who do not believe will be in hell. This is the lake of fire. “The smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever and they have no rest day or night.”

So it is torment and it is endless and it is day and night. So God knew that that would happen and the text that I think comes closest to answering Leah’s question is Romans 9:22–23, and it goes like this. “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?” And then here is the key explanatory purpose clause. He does that. “He endures vessels of wrath in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy which he prepared beforehand for glory.”

So if I understand this passage, Paul is saying — and this is the key sentence — God endured for a season the unbelief and rebellion of those who reject him so that his wrath and power would be justly displayed in their punishment so that those who do believe will see the glory of his grace more fully in relation to the justice of his wrath.

If she pursues the question further and asks, “Why would God move forward with this plan to communicate his grace at such a cost?” the only thing I know to say, Leah, is we must trust God’s infinite wisdom in this. He has done all things well (Mark 7:37). The judge of all the earth will do right (Genesis 18:25) so that, number one, no one will perish who does not justly deserve to perish. Two, in heaven there will not be the slightest suspicion that God has acted unjustly. And three, all who are saved will know they deserve to be in hell. We know this and the fact that we are not in hell and some are justly in hell while we are in heaven will not make us doubt God, but will make us amazed with thankfulness of this utterly undeserved grace.