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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Why doesn't God save everyone?

I've never done this before, but in responding to a comment on my previous post I got so long-winded (OK, I've done that before), that I felt compelled to make a second post as my answer. I've included the anonymous question below.

I agree with your argument [in The High, Holy Ideal of Man's Autonomy], but it's ironic because it's a pretty strong case for Universalism, which as an adherent to Reformed Theology, you obviously do not believe in.The question then, could be posed to you, if God desires the salvation of all men, and is willing to "stack the deck" in favor of that, then why cannot all be saved, in your view? Why stop at a few "elect"? Is it simply because your interpretation of the Bible necessitates it? And if so, wouldn't it be a worthy endeavor to consider perhaps an alternate interpretation? And if an interpretation exists, which can satisfy both God's will that all be saved, and still honor the free will of man, shouldn't that be the position we take?

Universalism is probably the last idea that I could accept on biblical grounds simply because of the sheer volume of passages that seem to be unequivocally clear about the reality of a future, eternal judgment for the unrepentant. So if I am trying to find a harmony between ideas present in the Bible, I feel compelled to reconcile the more common and dominant themes first. In this case, the reality of hell before the idea of God's will that all be saved.

Now for the idea that God desires the salvation of all men, I believe the Bible speaks of the will of God in a couple different ways. Or rather, there are a couple different wills of God. Let me explain. We are all familiar with the will of God that cannot be suppressed, resisted, or confounded, what I call his sovereign will. However, I see a second kind of will spoken of in the Bible. This second kind of will is subject to the behavior and obedience of mankind and is satisfied only to the extent that a certain group is able to live up to such desires. I call this God's moral will since, as often as it is used, it's satisfaction is contingent on a morally right response by a person or persons.

Let me give some examples:

For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. - 1 Peter 2:15

It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable. - 1 Thessalonians 4:3,4

The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. - 1 John 2:17

And even from the mouth of Jesus . . .

Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother. - Mark 3:35

If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. - John 7:17

Notice that in every instance, the possibility is there (either implicitly or explicitly) that the subjects could choose to act in defiance to the will of God. This, then, is certainly not the sovereign will we usually think of. In fact, the two verses that you alluded to don't even use the word "will" at all, rather they are translated as "wishes", "wants", and "desires" which I believe fits the distinction I am making.

So then the obvious question (and one that has been addressed by much wiser men than myself) is: why is it not God's sovereign will that everyone is saved? I would point out (and everyone would agree) that God's mercy and grace are glorified and magnified in the saving of undeserving sinners. However, the opposite is also true. God's justice and judgment are glorified and magnified in the condemnation of deserving sinners. Notice, no one is receiving injustice from God. He gives grace to some and justice to others, but injustice to no one.

So why doesn't God deal equally with all men? Romans chapter nine deals with this extensively, but there is one phrase in particular that will help us here. In verses 11 and 12 we read "Yet, before the twins (Jacob and Esau) were born or had done anything good or bad--in order that God's purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls--". Thus, God calls some and not others in order that his own purpose in election might stand. This may seem arbitrary, but if God's purpose and call are magnified in such a choice, it is the furthest thing from arbitrary. And again, there is no injustice done here, those not called receive only what they deserve.

Incidentally, this also answers two other big questions that many people have: "Why did God make anything?" and "Why did God decree/allow evil to enter the world?" (or some variation thereof). By creating the universe and beings with free will and then permitting the fall, we see the stage set for the glorification and magnification of all of God's attributes through the course of history past, present, and yet to come.

So I believe this all comes back to the glorification of God and the magnification of his divine attributes. His grace and mercy are glorified and magnified in salvation, his justice glorified and magnified in judgment, and his purpose in election glorified and magnified in calling some and not others. And in all this, mankind receives no worse than what we deserve (justice) and no better than what we don't (salvation).

Want to read more? I recommend John Piper's longest-titled book Spectacular Sins and Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ. Click here for a free pdf. dowload of the entire book!


Roy said...

Isaiah 46:10
Declaring the END from the beginning, And from ancient times things that are not yet done, Saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, And I will do ALL MY PLEASURE,’

People like you twist and turn the word of God and make it seem like it is God's PLEASURE to send/allow/drag His creation to hell. And since he has already declared the end from the beginning, you would say that this was His plan from the very beginning. If God wills, desires, pleasures in the salvation of all, then guess what? --> He will do ALL his PLEASURE AND He WILL "work ALL things according to the counsel of His will" (Ephesians 1:11)

Jared said...

I can appreciate that these are difficult passages to consider/reconcile, but namecalling doesn't get us started down a path of biblically profitable discussion.

You do realize that your whole argument hinges on a really big IF. "If God wills, desires, and pleasures in the salvation of all". Certainly I wouldn't disagree with your point, IF.

And that's the big question, isn't it? In fact, by your own logic, if God's will, desire, and pleasure cannot be thwared, and the Bible demonstrates undeniably that some will finally end in hell, what must we conclude?

I agree with you, it is all about the IF. And you will have to convince me from scripture what the end will be for mankind, and what God's will, desire, and pleasure is.

Anonymous said...

if someone evil was to build a doomsday machine , a nuclear weapon capable of destroying the whole of mankind --would god intervene?

oh yeah -- like he did in hiroshima and nagasaki :)

keep believing in your magic man guys!

Anonymous said...

hell,heaven,last judgment. its all happening right now in every single idividual

Nathanael said...

Hey, thanks for that! It is good to think through and it is helpful to have others thinking through it as well. I'd agree with you, biblically I think this is an unavoidable conclusion - God is sovereign. People disagree, and maybe we're wrong, but it seems that there's so much evidence in the bible for it. One verse which I come back to (and it isn't an excuse not to look into things, but a comfort when when we don't understand) is Isaiah 55:9 - "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." - God is God, we are Human, we can't expect to understand it all. But it is good to look into it and explore God's word!

What I'm working through is the same question, but if God is glorified in both saving and judging, then why not save all people and it's better for everyone. Obviously he has a reason and it is good and perfect, but that's what I'm working through.

Nathanael said...

Keep posting and keep being biblical!

Jared Totten said...


Good for your working through this stuff! You asked "if God is glorified in both saving and judging, then why not save all people and it's better for everyone?"

I've wrestled with that question as well, and here's a few thoughts (one from me, and two from Romans 9):

1. If God is both glorified in saving and judging, and yet decided to not eternally judge anyone, then he's not exercising all of his glory-revealing attributes. I can't think of any other attribute that God has--that reveals his glory--and yet he restrains himself from ever exercising it.

2. "in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls" v. 9 My interpretation: God elects some and not others so that his glory in sovereignly electing might be seen.

3. "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, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—" v. 22,23 My interpretation: God, showing his wrath and power against vessels of destruction is a good thing. It's hard for me to even say, but I don't see a way around it.