There are several verses claiming that God does harden hearts, even seemingly to commit sin. Paul had written several verses that seem to indicate that God is unjust - hardening and deceiving certain people. Let’s look at them. Afterwards, we will try to answer each:
1. 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. [see Ezekiel 14:9; Revelation 17:17]
2. Romans 9:17-18 (ESV) For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” [quoting from Exodus 9:16] So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
3. Romans 11:7-10 What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written, “God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see and ears that would not hear, down to this very day.” [quoting from Isaiah 29:10; 6:9-10] And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever.” [quoting from Psalm 69:22-23]
Let’s start with the first example. This one is relatively easy to explain. In this case, it is clear that God hadn’t deceived the innocent but rather those who were already practicing self-deception. They had refused to “believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” They had committed their lives to the darkness in favor of the light (John 3:19-20).
However, as Paul explained elsewhere, this is a gradual process of rejecting the truth. Only after continually rejecting the light, God gives them over to the desires of their heart to believe those things they want to believe and do:
· Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:24-28)
God simply allowed them to pursue the life that they had long wanted. In many instances, God led conquering kings to accomplish His very purposes, the very things that these kings wanted to do (Isaiah 10). Somehow, God is able to lead humanity through their freewill choices:
· The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will. (Proverbs 21:1)
He has also opened the hearts of kings to show compassion for His people (Ezra 6:22).
This brings us to my second example – God hardening Pharaoh’s heart to accomplish His purposes through him. Again, God was not unjust. Rather, He gave Pharaoh just what he wanted.
Pharaoh wasn’t a puppet in God’s hands. He too had been a willful, purposeful moral agent who had hardened his own heart:
· But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart and would not listen to them, as the LORD had said. (Exodus 8:15)
· Still Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said. Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go. (Exodus 7:13-14)
If we are going to understand the justice and righteousness of God, I think that we have to accept the oft-mentioned Biblical fact that God is able to direct us, even through our freewill choices. As some have correctly commented: “Hell is God giving us what we want.”
Let’s now go to the final example:
· And David says, “Let their table become a snare and a trap, a stumbling block and a retribution for them; let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see, and bend their backs forever.” [Paul quoting from Psalm 69:22-23]
Why had David uttered such a damning curse on Israel? Because Israel had hardened their hearts and had given themselves over to rebellion! Immediately before these verses, David had written:
· You know my reproach, and my shame and my dishonor; my foes are all known to you. Reproaches have broken my heart, so that I am in despair. I looked for pity, but there was none, and for comforters, but I found none. They gave me poison for food, and for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink. (Psalm 69:19-21)
These were not innocent people. Rather, David had been cursing the very people who God already given over to the hardness of their own hearts, as we had read in Romans 1. In light of this, David was merely asking God to give them the darkness that they had already chosen for themselves.
Justice requires understanding. If we neither understand human motives or God’s motives, how can we indict God’s justice? Nevertheless, we do.