I have a little aside here, based on something we were talking about during the Q and A time. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how doctrines — or another way to say it, ideas about God — relate to being saved or having a saving personal relation with God, or enjoying personal communion with God. I feel like, as I think about this, two things just keep rising with equal urgency. I think the history of the church is in some measure falling off on one side or the other when heresies happen.
Two Errors to Avoid
The two things are this: You’ve got to break through ideas and doctrines to the person, and the other one is that you can’t abandon the ideas and the doctrines because it is precisely through them that you get to the person. This is why the Emergent Church exists, I believe. If your background has been doctrinaire and stodgy, and it felt like there was no warmth to it, no personal relationship to it, no sweetness to it, no tenderness to it, no reality of heart and soul and mind and emotion to it, and it was all very doctrinal, you’re leaving.
What are you looking for? You’re going behind doctrine. You’re going under doctrine. You’re going around doctrine. You’re getting rid of this thing called doctrine because it has done nothing but mess you up. You’re on a quest for reality, and you’ll never find it that way.
On the other hand, you’ve got folks who completely avoid doctrine, don’t talk about doctrine, and they’re just totally into experience with all kinds of dreams, visions, prophetic words, and miracles, and immediacy is where it’s at. Immediacy, not mediated relationship but an immediate relationship. That’s a dead-end street because there’s no way to tether it in. You can’t shape it. You can’t give it any biblical form.
So I hope God will be merciful to us, and that He will not let us sink into a morass of subjectivity that has no contours, no borders, and no biblical control, or guidance, or faithfulness, just more buzzes, more experiences, and pushing the limits always, and trying to figure out more clever ways with smoke and mirrors and everything possible to get more stuff going on in here without having to do this doctrine thing. I hope the Lord will deliver us from that.
Over here, I hope that those of us who live our whole lives trying, Sunday after Sunday, to use words, sentences, ideas, and things called sermons, what’s faithful to this book, will never find ourselves terminating with pleasure, intellectual pleasure, on the ideas themselves. Calvinists are prone to like to think. It is a demanding vision. People who like to think often have a hard time distinguishing between the pleasures of thinking about God and the pleasures of knowing God. And that’s the challenge over here.
All of that is in response to your question about, “How much do you have to know and get right in order to be right with God?” It’s not a simple thing.
Incarnation and Inspiration
Here’s one more observation about that, as long as I’m on a roll here. This is so front-burner to me. It helps me a lot to compare the inspiration of the Bible to the incarnation of the Son of God. If you walk up to the Son of God, Jesus in the flesh, and say, “Show us the Father,” Jesus is going to say, “Have I been so long with you and you don’t know me?” (John 14:9). You might say, “Well, but what I meant was I want to see beneath you. I want to see behind you. I want to see through you. I want . . .” And Jesus will say, “You can’t go to him that way. It’s me in the flesh or no other way.”
Now, the analogy is with sentences, verbs, subjects, and objects in the Bible, which is divinely inspired. If you go to this book and say, “Show me the Word of God,” the Word is going to say, “Have you read me so often and you don’t know me?” And you’re going to say, “But I mean behind you, beneath you through you, beyond you. I want something other than you.” The Word will say, “There is no other way. Through, yes, but not instead of.” There are pretty profound things going on there between incarnation and inspiration. Think about it.
We’re still on unconditional election. Now here’s the key question between the two big systems: Is God’s election based upon his foreknowledge of your freely chosen faith? That’s the classic Arminian position. They would say, “Yes, there’s election. It’s in the Bible. We can’t deny that.” But if you go to this passage here, Romans 8:30–32, you will see this:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Stop there. It’s a pretty natural reading, isn’t it, to say that predestination is based on foreknowledge, and to assume that election is signified by the word predestination and not by the word foreknowledge? That would be the classic text for where an Arminian would conclude that first there’s foreknowledge, and then there’s election or predestination, and then there’s calling, and then there’s justification, and then there’s glorification. Now, the question is, is that what foreknew means here?
Does foreknow in this text mean that God is aware ahead of time of what we, by our ultimate self-determination, will do in response to the gospel — namely, believe? And foreseeing that free, ultimate, self-determining choice, he then says, “On the basis of that, I now, in eternity, elect you to be mine.” And so, election would fundamentally be a response to my free choice. Is that what’s happening?
Now, up till now, if you’ve been on track with me till now, you would simply say, “It can’t be because we’ve seen in irresistible grace and total depravity, and so far in John, that God’s enabling us to believe is based upon his election, not the other way around.” However, let’s just hold that and let this text have its say and ask, “But could this mean that?” And if so, then we might have to adjust everything else we’ve seen so far.
A Primer on Foreknowledge
Now let me do two things. Let me give you a little biblical primer on the kind of knowing that may be meant here and probably is, and then look contextually at something here that won’t let it work that way. Here are some texts on the kind of knowing that’s implied.
Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord” (Genesis 4:1).
This kind of use of the word know is not uncommon in the Bible. To know is to have a relationship with, connect with, or, in this case, have sex.
Here’s the significant one. In Genesis 18:17–19, the Lord said:
Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have chosen (known, yadá) him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice . . .
Now, that’s the ESV translation, but it’s the Hebrew word yadá, which would be, “I have known him that he may command his children and his household after him, to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice.” There God is saying, “I have known him that he may do this.” So knowing there is virtually synonymous with election as this translation is suggesting.
Then Amos 3:2 says to Israel:
You only have I known
of all the families of the earth;
therefore I will punish you
for all your iniquities.
What does he mean when he says, “I’ve only known Israel. I don’t know Midian, and I don’t know the Canaanites. I don’t know the Jebusites, I don’t know Moab, and I don’t know Edom. I just know you”? What does he mean by that?
The answer is, “I’ve only formed a relationship with you.” The closest thing we have in English might be the word acknowledge. If we have a discussion here and I say, “I acknowledge you,” what I mean is that I choose you to speak next. If everybody has their hand up and I acknowledge you, that’s the closest I can think of to the use of the word know or the stem know in English to this kind of knowing. To acknowledge is to set one’s awareness on someone in a choosing way.
Knowing Beyond Knowledge
It’s hard to do it in English, but there it is several times in Hebrew. Here’s one more from Psalm 1:3–6:
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
Now, what does that mean? It doesn’t mean he’s unaware of the way of the wicked. So awareness is not the issue here with this kind of use of the word know. It is relationship and acknowledgment. It means you see and you put your knowledge, your consciousness, your relational choosing upon something. The Lord knows the way of the righteous. He attends to it. He acknowledges it. He owns for his own.
Foreknowledge and Election
Now, let’s go back to Romans. We should at least consider the possibility when it says here, “Those whom he foreknew, he predestined,” that it means those whom he acknowledges, those whom he chose.
Then the word predestined is not equal to election. It never does mean election. Predestination means you are destining the elect for a certain future, and in this case, it is conformity to Jesus. My interpretation of this (Romans 9:29) is that foreknow here is synonymous with election. Those whom he chose, those whom he foreknew, he predestined. Now, are there any clues in the text to that effect? Here is the clearest one to me. You have to let yourself now feel the entire flow of the text so that you’re reading along. You have other things Paul has said in the book in your mind, or in 1 Corinthians, especially about the call of God. Let me remind you of 1 Corinthians 1:22–23, which says:
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:22–24).
That means the call effected the view of the cross as true, powerful, beautiful, and no longer a stumbling block, and no longer foolishness. It’s the call that did that. The call creates sight. The call creates life, as it was when Jesus said, “Lazarus, come forth” (John 11:43). That’s the kind of call that is meant by Paul when he speaks of the call to salvation.
God’s Effectual Calling
Now keep that in mind, and we read on:
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son . . . And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified . . . (Romans 8:29–30).
Everything up until now in Romans has taught one thing about justification: It is by faith alone. Romans 5:1 says:
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul is saying, “Every single person, no exception, who’s called is justified.” Big things are being assumed here. What? Faith. Every one of those called people believed. Really, every single one of them. Everyone who’s called is justified. There are no dropouts. There are no exceptions. The called are justified, which must mean the called have their faith effected by the call, which means God is not foreknowing self-wrought faith. That’s what turned this text for me. It won’t work. It just won’t work in the flow. Once you get down to realize all the called are justified, and only believers are justified, therefore all the called are brought to faith and it is not a contingency, like a few of them believe, and a few of them don’t because they have their ultimate self-determination.
No. They don’t have ultimate self-determination. When God calls effectually, they see, believe, and are justified, and there are no dropouts, and there are no exceptions. All those who are called are justified because all those who are called believe. And therefore, Paul cannot be operating with the Arminian notion that what God foresaw in the preaching of the gospel was that the gospel would be sounded forth and something other than a sovereign call would bring about faith and justification. It won’t work.
My answer to this classic text brought up against unconditional election is that it’s not a successful counterargument. This word foreknow here, both in the wider meaning of the Bible and in the immediate demands of the context, doesn’t mean God was aware ahead of time of human beings using ultimate self-determination to put their faith in Christ and thus deciding who will populate the people of God apart from God’s choosing. It won’t work.
Appointed to Eternal Life
When you come to a text like this one in Acts 13:45–48, you get a profound confirmation of it. Paul had been preaching in the synagogue and this is what follows:
When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying,
‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles,
that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ”
And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.
This is election. The Arminian scheme that says, “God foresees faith, bringing about predestination,” contradicts this text, clearly. It is the appointing to eternal life that brings faith about. As many as were appointed to eternal life, believed. Just the fact that Luke chooses to say that should amaze us because he didn’t have to say it. He could have just said, “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying God, and many put their faith in the Lord.” And we would think, “That’s just wonderful. Praise God. The Gentiles are believing. Awesome. They’re becoming part of the people of God.” But Luke, for reasons that I assume prompt the existence of this seminar, out of his way, says, “The ones who believed, if you have any question about why they believed, the answer is they had been appointed to eternal life.”
Jesus said, “The reason you do not believe is that you are not of my sheep (John 10:26). I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also (John 10:16). They’re appointed to eternal life. You go preach in synagogues. You go preach in marketplaces. My sheep hear my voice and they respond.”
The Justice of God in Unconditional Election
I’m going to try to develop very briefly Paul’s argument in Romans 9 for God’s justice in unconditional election. He starts in Romans 9:3 saying:
For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
What that means is that Paul is saying, “My kinsmen (that is, my Jewish kinsmen) are damned. They’re cut off from Christ and under the curse. If it were possible, I would take their place.” But lest you be too shocked that Jewish people, God’s own people, could be lost, he says:
But it is not as though the word of God has failed (why not?). For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel (Romans 9:6).
In other words, not all Jews belong to true Israel — that is, the elect. Then he argues for that on the basis of Abraham having Ishmael and Isaac, and Isaac being chosen, not Ishmael. And then he argues for Isaac and Rebekah having Jacob and Esau, and God choosing Jacob, not Esau. He gives these illustrations where those who are physically seed do not become spiritual heirs. He’s showing the electing distinctions of God when it comes down to Romans 9:11–13 with these twins in the womb:
Though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad — in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him (not faith, but him) who calls — she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
She was told the older will serve the younger. God reversed the expected order in the womb and predicted who he would choose. This is a quote from Malachi 1:1–3. This hatred here, as shocking as it sounds, if you look at it in context — you can hear my sermon on Malachi 1 — really is morally suitable because even though the choice was made of Jacob over Esau before they were born, the warrant for God’s judgment is fully demonstrated in the wickedness of the people themselves as they develop.
Is There Injustice on God’s Part?
Now, there’s the problem — unconditional election of Jacob over Esau, unconditional election of Isaac over Ishmael, and unconditional election of all those who are in true Israel. Romans 9:14 says:
What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part?
In 1979, I spent nine months doing nothing but trying to figure that sentence out, and wrote the book, The Justification Of God. If you want to read 240 pages of explanation of that verse, that’s what I did. I’m going to give you the fruit of that study in five minutes, regarding what I think this means.
Is there then injustice? Paul is not oblivious to our problems, right? He’s not oblivious to what his teaching sounds like. He knows our problems, as someone might say, “You say before they’re born or have done anything good or evil, ‘Jacob, I loved, Esau, I hated’? You’re unjust.” That’s what he hears people saying. And so he asks, “Is there injustice on God’s part?” And he answers, “No.” His reason is mind-boggling. Here’s his argument:
By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”
What kind of an argument is that? That restates the problem, or does it? It might take you nine months to figure that out, if you don’t get snooty with the Bible. There are so many commentaries that get snooty at this point. They just mock the Bible on Romans 9. It’s just appalling how many Christian pastors and teachers there are who mock the Bible, who look at its plain assertions and scoff that anybody could believe them. Well, I don’t want to be in that number. It’s scary to be in that number. I want to be respectful and say, “Paul, I don’t get it. I need help. Help me understand this argument because you said, ‘No, there’s no injustice in your free choice of Jacob over Esau, because Moses said, “I’ll have mercy on whom I’ll have mercy, and I’ll have compassion on whom I’ll have compassion.” ’ Are you just saying, ‘Shut up? That’s the way I do it?’”
He has a right to say that. He can say that to me, but it looks like he’s written some things that are trying to help me. His writing, and he’s trying to help me. He’s not saying, “Shut up.” He goes on and on with trying to help me here. And so I want to get help.
God’s Free Choice
What I did was I went back and I read this passage in context. Here it is. This is the place that he quotes, as a defense, that God is not unjust in choosing Jacob over Esau freely, apart from anything in them. This is Moses dealing with God about whether he’ll go up with them into the promised land. God is upset with them because of their sin, and Moses is pleading that God won’t leave them alone and will go with them. And so he says:
And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:15–20).
I think the answer is in there somewhere. It’s in there somewhere — the answer as to why Paul would quote this as an explanation that there is no injustice on God’s part in choosing Jacob over Esau before they were born, and I’ll try to sum up the argument like this. It took 240 pages to defend it. I believe that in asking to see God’s glory, God, in fact, does, in this response, provide a glimpse of his glory and something right at the heart of what his glory is. He is Yahweh. You remember, in a very similar grammatical structure as this, Yahweh arose from the statement, “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:13–14). That is a very similar grammatical structure to, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious.”
He is saying, “The Lord is my name, and here is what my name at its heart means (or at least includes): I am free.” What does this mean? “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” What’s the point of saying that? The point of saying that is to distinguish God’s choices from those who show mercy on the basis of what others do, and who are gracious on the basis of what others do. God chooses to be gracious to whom he chooses to be gracious. God’s willing is traced back to God. God wills because he wills. He chooses because he chooses.
I’m arguing it belongs to the very definition of the glory of God that God be free like that in all of his action — that he be free; that he not be constrained by any powers or contingencies from outside himself; that when God chooses a thing, he chooses it freely, never constrained by others. He’s never constrained by forces outside himself. It’s his glory to be free. It’s his Godness to be free, which means when he chose Jacob over Esau, he did it in absolute freedom. He was not coerced, constrained, limited, or decisively affected by anything in them.
God’s Unswerving Commitment to His Glory
Is he unjust to do that? No, because he is acting in complete freedom, as Moses said. In that context, this is what it means to be infinitely glorious, which left one last step in the argument. What’s the meaning of justice in God? What’s the meaning of righteousness in God? I’m rebuilding arguments from the inside out. I’m trying not to come on this. I’m trying to think the structure out from the inside. And my conclusion is, in Paul’s mind, the heart of the righteousness of God is his unswerving allegiance to always uphold his glory — his unswerving allegiance always to display, vindicate, magnify, and uphold his glory.
Here’s the argument. God’s justice, or righteousness, is his unwavering commitment to uphold and display the worth of his glory. I developed lots of texts to try to show that.
Second, his freedom from all external constraints is an essential aspect of his glory. Therefore, to act in freedom is essential to his glory, and thus to his righteousness.
Therefore, know that in exercising that freedom for the upholding of that glory in choosing Jacob over Esau, he is acting in complete justice. He was doing what justice demanded of him — that is, what the infinite worth of his glory requires.
If he had not acted in freedom here, he would have been unjust — that is, he would not have justly acted in accordance with the worth of his glory. End of argument. That’s heavy. It may be that you just will say, “Okay, maybe, and I’ll just accept that God is right and good and true in what he does.”
Questioning Unconditional Election
Let me draw this part to a close on election — and in fact, finish election, and that’s all we’ll do in this session — by looking at a few texts that call unconditional election into question. There are texts that are raised immediately in opposition to everything we’ve been saying. This is the first one. Paul says:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:1–4).
So if you say that you’re a Calvinist or that you believe in unconditional election, a Bible person, even if they’re sympathetic with you, will wonder what you do with this. They will think, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a minute. If God chooses Jacob over Esau before they were born, how does this text work? Doesn’t he desire Esau to be saved? And you said he chose Jacob over Esau before they had done anything?” That’s a good question. You ought to ask that question.
I. Howard Marshall has written a scholarly commentary on it, and here are some very telling words. He’s not a Calvinist, but he’s usually a pretty good exegete. He says:
To avoid all misconceptions, it should be made clear at the outset that the fact that God wishes or wills that all people should be saved does not necessarily imply that all will respond to the gospel and be saved.
That’s true, so Arminians and Calvinists agree on that. He continues:
We must certainly distinguish between what God would like to see happen and what he actually does will to happen.
That surprised me coming out of his mouth. That’s right. You should say that. But it just surprised me because he’s setting himself up for big trouble.
Both of these things can be spoken of as God’s will.
Absolutely, they can and they are in the Bible. Do you see what he’s saying? I didn’t expect him to. I thought only Calvinists talk this way, that you have one level of willing he would like to see happen (he desires all men to be saved), and you have another level of willing. He continues:
The question at issue is not whether all will be saved, but whether God has made provision in Christ for the salvation of all, provided that they believe, and without limiting the potential scope of the death of Christ merely to those whom God knows will believe.
I have no problem with that. No problem. I’m okay. I don’t think limited atonement even contradicts what he just says here, if you listen very carefully. I have zero problem with everything he’s written on that page.
God’s Gift of Repentance
But nowhere in the entire essay does Marshall mention the one text in the pastoral epistles that point most clearly to these two wills and what they are, namely this text right here. So let’s read it:
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth (2 Timothy 2:24–25).
Sounds familiar. It sounds really familiar, like 1 Timothy 2:4, which says, “They may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.” So since it sounds so familiar, one is prompted to go back and do this. Let’s compare 1 Timothy 2:4 and 2 Timothy 2:25. First Timothy 2:4 says that “God desires all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (eis epignōsin alētheias). Second Timothy 2:25 says that “God may grant them repentance unto a knowledge of the truth” (eis epignōsin alētheias). That is remarkable.
Marshall poses the question of whether any text in the pastorals would lead us to believe that “faith and repentance are the gifts of God who gives them only to the previously chosen group of the elect.” He poses that question on page 66 of his book, and he concludes there is not, even though the text that comes closest to saying this very thing he skips totally. I don’t like that — not from scholars, I don’t. Scholars should know better. Look at this. He is posing the question, “Is there any clue in the pastoral epistles that this wish of God here that all people would come to a knowledge of the truth is somehow only given by God to certain people?”
The answer is absolutely yes, there is a text. It says that very thing, namely, 2 Timothy 2:25 — “God may grant them repentance unto a knowledge of the truth.” You can’t even bend the words. They’re the same. The pastoral epistles show us how we dare not interpret 1 Timothy 2:4 — “God desires all people to be saved” — to imply he does not give repentance to some. We can’t take it to mean that. So how shall we take it? What shall we say?
Human Free Will or God’s Free Choice?
Here’s the upshot. Both Calvinists and Arminians agree that not all are saved because God desires all to be saved. So we’re all on the same page there. We say, and I’m saying, he desires all to be saved. Both agree that some other purpose of God intervenes to prevent this desire from being fulfilled. That’s what Marshall said. Another purpose intervenes to prevent this one from saving everybody. The Arminian says that God’s purpose to grant ultimate self-determination intervenes.
If you asked an Arminian — this is not a caricature here, just a bonafide, intelligent, born-again Arminian — “Why do you think everybody’s not saved if God wishes everybody to be saved?” his answer is free will. That’s his answer, meaning God has a purpose that you have free will, and that’s more important, all things considered, than everybody being saved. Because they would say you make robots out of everybody if you save everybody. So God’s purpose is not that we would be robots, but would have genuine self-determination, and that purpose intervenes and prevents his wish that all be saved from coming true.
Now, the question is, “Is that a good explanation? Is that a biblical explanation?” It’s an explanation, it’s just not a biblical one, because self-determination is not taught in the Bible. It’s assumed. It’s brought to the Bible by philosophical presuppositions that most Arminians are born with, as all of us were born with them. It’s the assumption that we have ultimate self-determination, and you can’t have moral accountability without it. The Calvinist says that God’s purpose, which intervenes and prevents this from happening, is to save in complete freedom and for the glory of his name, those whom he has chosen.
So God has a genuine desire. You may have a hard time dealing with that. I do. I’m going to say it. At one level, God desires all people to be saved, just like Arminians say. Then Arminians say, “But he doesn’t save all people because he ranks free will in the general scope of things to be more important than to save everybody.” Calvinists say, “That’s not the biblical answer. The biblical answer is that God elects unconditionally whom he will save for his purposes, to glorify his freedom and his name. And therefore, that’s why, in his wisdom, he doesn’t save everybody that he desires to save.”
He Does Not Afflict From His Heart
These are the other two texts that will be brought up in response.
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance (2 Peter 3:9).
I would simply say the same thing about that text that I did about the other. It’s true. He doesn’t delight in the death of the wicked, but he has purposes for why that desire is not realized. Here’s the Ezekiel response:
Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? (Ezekiel 18:23).
God’s deepest pleasure is not in the death of the wicked. God doesn’t delight in hell the way he delights in heaven. He doesn’t delight in damnation the way he delights in salvation. They’re not parallel, not equivalent emotions in the heart of God. Here is one of the clearest texts about that, and I’ll stop with this one. This one helped me so much. It’s clues like this that make you shape your brain around the Bible rather than bringing to the Bible what it has to mean. This is Lamentations 3:31–33. It says:
For the Lord will not
cast off forever,
but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion
according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
for he does not afflict from his heart
or grieve the children of men.
All you Hebrew knowers can see that this phrase is “he does not afflict form his heart (mileb’o). He does not afflict from his heart, or grieve the sons of men. What does this mean? Literally, it is, “He does not afflict them from his heart.” What an amazing phrase for God. He does afflict them, but it’s not coming from his heart, which means there are levels of willing in God.
He can desire that all people be saved. He can desire that people not perish. He can take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, and he can will it for wise, holy, and just purposes. This aspect of his desiring, knowing, and willing will be subordinated to the larger picture of glorifying his name by the preservation of his freedom, which is an essential part of his glory and the definition of his justice.