Prepared For Destruction/Hard Hearts? A look at Romans 9
(Part of the "Predestination vs. Free-Will" series)
Romans 9:22-23: “What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath – prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory . . .”
Ah, the big chapter! (Read it all if you want to.) The one that really does make it sound like God decides whom to make for heaven and whom to make for hell. If you're a Calvinist, that is.
But I don’t believe this passage is talking about individuals being specifically, deliberately created for destruction.
First off, it is talking specifically about the difference between two bloodlines: the Israelites (descended from Jacob) and the Edomites (descended from Esau). God chose Jacob to be the favored bloodline, the chosen people through whom He would glorify Himself and bring Jesus and salvation to the world. These verses are saying that God has the right to decide which people to favor (to give a special role to and have mercy on) and which to not, who to use for great purposes and who to use for common, menial purposes.
And it’s talking about the eternal destinies of two different groups: Israel (representing those whom He foreknows will believe in Him, who are adopted as sons, and who will experience glory) and non-Israel (those who won’t believe and who will experience wrath).
And it's also saying that God has the right to “adopt” anyone He wants to be His sons, even those not from Israel, and that He has the right to condemn even Israelites if they do not come to faith in Him. Being part of Israel does not guarantee salvation, nor does being a Gentile guarantee damnation. God has the right to have mercy on whomever He wants, even a Gentile.
While I think this passage is talking more about His plans for Israel/Jacob and “Non-Israel”/Esau, I would apply it to mankind in general like this:
From the very beginning, God determined that there would be a group that chooses Him, a group that was “prepared in advance” for eternal glory. And He knew that there would be a group that would not choose Him. And this group is destined for destruction, following Satan to hell.
He’s made a “going to heaven” team and a “going to hell” team. The eternal destinies of these two teams have already been decided from the beginning: one to glory and one to destruction. The path has been laid out. The team captains have been set before us (Jesus and Satan) and they are saying, “Which side do you choose to be on?” The different groups were created, the destinations were planned, but the individual people choose which team they want to join. He does not force us on one group or the other. We choose.
Yet He still lovingly made and patiently deals with those who will end up rejecting Him and who are headed for destruction.
[Actually, to be accurate, as fallen humans, we are all born on Satan’s team, born separated from God. But Jesus offers the chance to get off that team and join His, to obtain salvation. But if we do not make a choice to join His team, we automatically stay on Satan’s side and will remain separated from God for eternity. So not making a choice to join God is making a choice to stay separated from Him.
John 3:18: “Whoever believes in [Jesus Christ] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
This warning is for all those who think, “I didn’t deliberately choose to be against God, so I guess I’m okay.” Heaven is not our default destination. Hell is. Take this seriously.]
Update: I’ll be honest, as I reread this Romans passage recently, I was still a little disturbed about the “prepared for destruction” phrase. It really does sound like they were deliberately made to be destroyed.
And as I went to bed one night, I prayed that God would give me eyes to see. I really do want to understand what He means here, even if it means learning I have been wrong. And the thought came to me (Thank you, Lord) that I need to look up this phrase in Strong’s concordance. And now this phrase does not trip me up anymore.
Apparently, older Bible translations say “fitted” for destruction, not “prepared” for destruction. And according to Strong’s, “fitted” in this verse indicates a strong correlation between someone’s character and their destiny. It is written in such a way to imply that the objects of wrath prepared themselves for destruction. Not that God fashioned them that way.
Thankfully, this confirms what I think the rest of the Bible teaches, that we determine our eternal destinies by our choice. We cause ourselves to go to hell or heaven based on whether we choose to be adopted into Israel or not. Mankind was “prepared in advance for glory,” but we destine ourselves for destruction when we reject God’s offer of salvation. Honestly, I am so excited to have looked this up. Thank you, Lord, for the guidance!
But (you might wonder) what about Romans 9:16-18? “It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: ‘I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.” Doesn’t that mean that He decides who will become a believer and who won’t?
I don’t think so. I think these verses are talking about God’s right to use certain people for His special purposes (not necessarily about salvation), such as using Pharaoh to display His power. And, yes, part of that was hardening Pharaoh’s heart. But did God override Pharaoh’s free-will to do this? Did He create Pharaoh to have a hard heart?
No. If you read about Pharaoh and the plagues, you’ll see that Pharaoh hardened his own heart and wouldn’t listen during the first several plagues in Exodus. And it wasn’t until the sixth plague, the plague of boils, that God hardened his heart.
Basically, God handed him over to the hardness of his heart, gave him what he wanted. It’s not that God gave Pharaoh no choice, but that He actually gave him over to the choice he made to harden his own heart. God didn’t force him to be what he was. God knew what he was and what he would decide, and He chose to use him because of it. God doesn’t force us to be who we are; He simply confirms who we are and the choices we make and then He uses it for His purposes.
And it’s important to note that the concordance says that “hardens” in this verse is basically a punishment, a consequence of hardening your own heart first. And as a result - and after much long-suffering and patience on God’s part - He hands you over to the choice you made to be hardened. God bears with us for so long before He decides to hand us over to our hard hearts, a hardening that we first chose.
But then what about verses like John 12:39-40 that make it sound like God hardens the hearts of whomever He desires?
“For this reason, they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere: ‘He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn – and I would heal them.’”
I used to wonder about this one too, thinking it meant that God hardened hearts based on His own whims, that maybe He did indeed give some people no chance to believe in Him. But then it helped me to look back a couple verses.
“Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. . . . For this reason, they could not believe.” (John 12:37, 39)
As I now see it, God did not just decide to harden their hearts for no reason. They had a chance – the best chance – to believe in Him, and they did not.
"Would not" led to "could not."
[Honestly, this verse came alive to me in a new way as I contemplated our resignation from our church because of our Calvinist pastor. We had sent a letter to the elders expressing our concerns about his dogmatic Calvinism, but it seems that they all approve of him. And my husband and I realized that there is no reasoning with them over this. We can't make them see the truth if they don't want to see it. Until Calvinists are willing to admit they might be wrong, until they take off the Calvinist glasses when reading the Bible, they won't be able to see the truth of Scripture. Because they don't want to see the truth. They don't think they can possibly be wrong. And so nothing we say can change their minds - until and unless they are willing to have their minds changed. They do not want the truth, so they can not see the truth! No matter how clear it is! No wonder Jesus hid truths in parables and refused to do miracles in front of certain people. If they don't want to see the truth, they will only turn and destroy any truth you show them. Pearls before swine. Jesus knew it was pointless to reason with those who don't want to be reasonable, to share truth with those who don't want it. And my husband and I are realizing this too. So instead of trying to convince those at our church who want Calvinism of the dangers of Calvinism, it's time for us to simply leave and hand them over to their Calvinism. What a shame. For us and for them.]
It’s not that they didn’t believe because God hardened their hearts; it’s that God hardened their hearts because they did not believe. Once again, it’s a retributive hardening. A deserved punishment.
Same thing with Pharaoh during the plagues, as we already saw. Pharaoh hardened his own heart and wouldn’t listen during the first several plagues in Exodus. But then God handed him over to the hardness of his heart. Basically, God hardens someone who chooses to first stubbornly harden themselves. God confirms and solidifies their decision to not believe.
Besides, 2 Corinthians 4:4 tells us who blinds the hearts of people so that they cannot believe. And basically, it’s not God.
“The god of this age [Satan] has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
Satan blinds. But Jesus opens the eyes of anyone who turns to Him.
“But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” (2 Corinthians 3:16)
Well, then, what about verses that talk about God “opening minds and hearts”? Doesn’t that sound like He causes them to believe in Him, which also means that if He doesn’t open their hearts and minds then they cannot believe in Him?
Acts 16:14: “. . . The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.”
Luke 24:45: “Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”
As I was contemplating the whole “predestination vs. free-will” thing, I would run across verses like these. And it would make me really pause and contemplate, wondering if I really am understanding all of this wrong. Maybe God really does decide who believes and who won’t believe, because if He doesn’t open your mind and heart then you have no chance of believing. Do you?
So how does He decide whose mind/heart to open and whose to not? Is it really His own preference, with no responsibility or influence on our part? Are we completely at the mercy of His decision of who to enlighten and who to not?
But as I read these verses again and prayed for eyes to see, I began to see something else. God doesn’t arbitrarily decide whose minds and hearts to open, with no influence from us. He opens the hearts and minds of those who already believe or who show a willingness to believe.
Go back a few words in Acts 16:14: “One of those listening was a woman named Lydia . . . who was a worshipper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” (Emphasis is mine.) The Lord didn’t open her heart to believe, for she already chose to believe in and worship God. He just opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message, whatever that means in this case (possibly about being baptized).
And in Luke 24:45, He wasn’t opening the minds of unbelievers so that they could believe in Him. He was opening the minds of the disciples, of those who already believed in Him, so that they could understand the Scriptures and what His death meant. Big difference.
I think, in general, this is like the “God hardens the hearts of those who refuse to believe” principle above. But in this case, He opens the hearts and minds of those who are already willing to believe.
[Listen to what Tony Evans says in his sermon - Divine Encounters (from about the 9-minute-mark to the 12-minute-mark). Hear what he says about how God works, about how God reveals Himself to Moses in a burning bush but how He waits to speak to him until Moses responds to the burning bush. God gives us the initial call, but He waits to see how we choose to respond to Him before revealing more of Himself. Likewise, remember that God called to Samuel three times when Samuel was a child, but He waited for Samuel to respond to His call before He said more. God gives more of Himself to those who want more of Him. He responds to how we respond to Him.]
Basically, He follows our lead. If we harden our hearts and refuse to believe, He solidifies our decision. But if we are willing to believe and are seeking Him, He opens our hearts and minds so that we can understand more about Him and faith and Scripture.
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