Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can crush my heart. Public and private discourse are often shut down, not by engaging each other’s’ ideas, but by ad hominem attacks on the person—“bigot, sexist, homophobe, etc.” None cut quite so deep as “hater.” Now imagine that you are the Creator of the universe, the all-just, all-loving God of the Bible. How many jarring and inflammatory epithets have been hurled at Him? Part of the reason for that is that the emotions of God are complex. What would one expect from a Deity that claims top position in the pantheon of gods? But He is complex, and we would do well to avoid the trap of assigning human understandings and definitions to God. God is capable of feeling and yearning and expressing those longings in ways that defy complete understanding. For example, we read in Romans 9, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau I hated.” How can that be? How can a loving God “hate” someone? The answer is wrapped up in the very nature of God.
Another example. Can or does God ordain things to happen that He hates to see happen? Yes! The prime example is the murder of His own Son, Jesus Christ. Was God “happy” to see His son treated in that way, pleased over such a gross miscarriage of justice and then delighted in the fact that Christ actually became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21)? And yet we read: But the LORD was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the LORD will prosper in His hand (Isaiah 53:10 NAS). For God, to be pleased to crush His Son AND pleased to prosper Him is not contradiction. He can do both at the same time.
All this leads us to the “question” that was put to me regarding 2 Peter 3:9. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. So then, how does this verse square with the overwhelming evidence in Scripture that God “elects” some to salvation, and “hardens” others (Romans 9:18)? If he doesn’t want anyone to perish, then how can He choose that some would perish? The answer is that God can desire one thing while at the same time willing the opposite. There is no contradiction for God. God DOES want everyone to repent. He is intentionally postponing the return of Christ precisely to give more time for more people to repent. His heart “breaks” at the thought of people who willfully reject His free offer of grace. Yet He ordains that only some will accept that offer, while others will be hardened to it.
Is this some sort of game? Is God “playing” with us? Does God think this is fun(ny)? No. The fact remains that people go to Hell because they choose to reject God’s free offer of salvation. And the fact remains that God elects some to salvation and hardens others. And the fact remains that there is no way for us to perfectly reconcile those two facts to our human satisfaction. So where does that leave us?
1. Be content. For those of us who love God and who long to experience the full measure of life “in Christ,” we often feel the need to defend God. We want to remove every obstacle that might keep someone from coming to faith. Of course, IT IS ESSENTIAL THAT WE ALL BE PREPARED TO GIVE A GOOD DEFENSE OF OUR FAITH (1 Peter 3:15). But there are many things about God that remain beyond our complete understanding. This is one of them. As for this one, let God be God. Rest in the confidence that the very God who remains “beyond” us is the same God who will be irresistible to those He has called.
2. Be humbly grateful. If you are a believer, it would behoove you to fall on your face and thank God for giving you the faith to believe and the grace to be saved. That is ALWAYS the human emotion that should be the response to the teaching of election (Ephesians 3:7-8; 1 Corinthians 1:26-31; Ephesians 2:8-9).
3. Be stunned. God is Holy. The word “holy” literally means “other, heavy, substantial…” God is not like us, just as surely as we are like Him. While we are made in His image, we do not MIRROR Him, we reflect His glory. We are not identical to Him, but we echo Him. But He is so completely perfect and righteous and just and loving that we could not possibly begin to comprehend His holiness. THIS IS WHY WE WILL SPEND ETERNITY WITH HIM, because it will take that long to begin to know Him fully! That God can long for one thing and then act in ways that are at cross purposes to His longing is simply another indication that He is God and we are not.
4. Be a witness. “Witness” is a legal term. We testify to what we know and what we have seen. We must be witnesses to this great and glorious God who has, before we did anything good or bad, chose us to experience His grace unto salvation. While we were still sinners, He saved us! Every people on earth must hear this good news. Election is not our prerogative, or even our concern as it relates to others. Our calling is to “go and make disciples.”
In the final analysis, God DOES desire that every person should repent. This is precisely why He has not sent His son to earth a second time…yet! But that day is fast approaching. Our concern must be to worship Him and glorify Him to the end that many more WILL come to repentance. As for who responds to the witness we bring, God knows. And that is where we must leave it, in the complex, infinite, unsearchable mind of God.