By the same token, God, and only God, knows how to predestine people to hell without violating their free will. In the story of the plagues, the Scriptures tell us that the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Exod. 9:12; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10). In fact, the Lord told Moses before he returned to Egypt that he, the Lord, would harden Pharaoh’s heart (Exod. 4:21), which means that God had predestined Pharaoh’s heart to be hardened. That was God exercising his choice (election). This did not preclude Pharaoh’s free will, for the Scriptures also say that Pharaoh hardened his heart (Exod. 8:15, 32; 9:34). That was Pharaoh exercising his free will. Both election and free will were working at the same time. I have heard it said that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart because Pharaoh hardened his heart, but that is not what the Scriptures say. And, as we shall see, that is not the conclusion Paul drew in Rom. 9. The Scriptures simply say that both God and Pharaoh chose to harden his heart.
We understand that people can freely choose to spend eternity in hell by refusing to receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior; however, many people balk at the idea that a loving God could predestine people to hell. Yet logic says that he does. Since there are only two places in which a person can spend eternity, if God does not predestine a person to heaven, then, by default, he has predestined that person to hell. Calvinism accepts that logic; Arminianism does not. But even if we adopt the Arminian position that God looked down through history and saw who would choose to be saved and so predestined them, does not that also mean that he looked down through history and saw who would NOT choose to be saved? So why did he create them, knowing full well that, by creating them, he was automatically condemning them to spend eternity in hell? Whether you are a Calvinist or an Arminian, the fact remains the same: God could have avoided sending anyone to hell by simply creating only those who were predestined to be saved. But he did not. Why not?
The Scriptures not only clearly teach that God predestined people to destruction, they also tell us why he did:
The Lord has made all for Himself,
Yes, even the wicked for the day of doom (Prov. 16:4)
What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.” So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.” Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens (Rom. 9:14-18).
What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles (Rom. 9:22-24)?
The Scriptures say that God created the wicked for himself, meaning that he created them for his own purposes. His purposes include making known his power, his name (that is, his character), and his wrath. Christians lately have been emphasizing one facet of God’s character, his love, at the expense of another facet, his wrath. He predestined some, “the vessels of mercy,” to heaven to show everyone his mercy and his love. But he also predestined others, “the vessels of wrath,” to hell to show everyone his wrath.
He also created them to show the vessels of mercy “the riches of His glory.” If God had simply created only those who were predestined to heaven, then telling us that we could have spent eternity in the lake of fire would have been meaningless. And living a life of righteousness here on earth would also have been meaningless since everyone was going to get saved anyway. The only way to make salvation meaningful was to make the possibility of not being saved a real possibility. That meant a real lake of fire, a real outpouring of his wrath, and real vessels created to receive that wrath.
But if God predestined people to hell, why does he hold them accountable for their sins? He does so because, as we saw with Pharaoh, they can still exercise their free will. Yes, God chose to send them to hell before the foundation of the world, and yes, they freely chose to go to hell. Election and free will worked together in condemning them, just as election and free will worked together in saving us.
At least, that’s my answer to the question based on pulling some Scriptures together. The Scriptures themselves address this question head on and give us an even harder answer:
You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor (Rom. 9:19-21)?
We keep forgetting that God is God and he can do whatever he wants. He does not have to answer to us for what he does. He predestined some people to go to heaven. That is his prerogative. He also predestined some people to go to hell. That is also his prerogative.
Some people, when confronted with the truth that God has predestined people to hell, either doubt God’s love or reject this truth altogether, for how can a loving God send people to hell? But that is not the Scriptural response to this truth. When we realize that God did not have to predestine us to spend eternity in heaven with him, that God could have chosen to predestine us to destruction but did not, our response should be thankfulness and praise: “Thank you, God, that you chose me even though you did not have to do so.”
Praise the name of the Lord;
Praise Him, O you servants of the Lord!
You who stand in the house of the Lord,
In the courts of the house of our God,
Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good;
Sing praises to His name, for it is pleasant.
For the Lord has chosen Jacob for Himself,
Israel for His special treasure (Ps. 135:1-4).
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy (1 Pet. 2:9-10; italics mine).
To be continued…