Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Has God done all he can for the unsaved?

This question really occurred to me during a conversation about God and his influence in people’s lives. At first, unsurprisingly, for the atheist the answer is clearly “no.” For he thinks that God does not exist, and so does nothing for the “unsaved.” However, even if God were to exist (and Christianity to be true), there are those who remain lost and hence God did not do all he can. For the Christian, surprisingly, the answer at first blush seems to be “no.” This is because Christians traditionally believe God is sovereign; the average believer interprets that to mean that God can do anything. Whether this entails forcing people to believe or bringing it about so that everyone may freely choose to believe, the reasoning goes much the same as the atheist’s: if there are any unsaved, then God is not doing all he can for them. If he were to do all he could, then all would be saved.

However, the more robust and intellectually satisfying answer is that God cannot do the logically impossible (as he is Truth itself). There is good reason to suppose that in response to the question, “has God done all he can for the unsaved?,” the answer is “yes.” First, we ought to examine what God has done.

First, God has sent his Son into the world to die for it.

This can be biblically shown from verses such as John , 1 Timothy , Acts , etc. Christ died for sinners; he paid the ultimate price so that people could go to Heaven. If that does not show God’s willingness to redeem the lost and love for those people who will eventually and finally reject him, I don’t know what would.

Second, God wants all men to be saved.

This is a crucial point. Some may read the former point and object, “but this only shows God’s love for those who will be saved!” While that would be ignoring the point I made concerning the death of Christ (who died to pay for even the sins that would not ultimately be officially done away with due to man’s rejection), it is a point worth exploring. 1 Timothy 2:4 states of God, “Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” That sounds like a God who loves all mankind to me.

Next, God draws all mankind to himself.

This is supported biblically by John 12:32. I have also written a blog post recently concerning this issue. In any case, God does not leave it up to mankind to figure out on his own. He actively works in the hearts of every man, woman, and child.

Finally, God has left a witness of himself.

In Matthew 28:19-20 and Acts 1:8 believers are commanded to be witnesses of Jesus Christ. This means we are to spread the good news of the Gospel to everyone, without regard to race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or personal preference. Everyone needs the Gospel. So not only does God draw people to himself with the Holy Spirit, but he also has commanded us to tell people about him.

Now in the face of this it seems God is vindicated. Honestly, what more can he do? A number of challenges remain, however. In this first part we will deal with two of them, leaving the others for the follow-up post.

1. Even if God draws all men, it seems he may draw some more than others.

Though I do not surmise there is much evidence for this objection, I think it may actually be true. William Lane Craig agrees when he writes, “in fact, many of the unsaved may actually receive greater divine assistance and drawing than do the saved.”[1] Who is to say that God is obligated to draw everyone in equal amounts? After all, it is fair for them to have any shot at the Gospel so long as they get that very shot. It is loving for God to offer them the Gospel by drawing them even once in a small way so long as it is true that it is not feasible for God to actualize a world in which the unsaved person is saved. This is because the drawing at all is motivated by love.

Suppose God knows that person X will not accept God in any feasible world in which God would instantiate him, or suppose X would only accept salvation in feasible worlds which were overall undesirable for God (such as worlds in which only a very small number of people exist, or worlds in which the same number exist but there are volumes more instances of sin and suffering). In this case, because the world cannot be instantiated without making it much worse, morally speaking, it is not unloving to draw the man once; for God has demonstrated his love in both ontological and epistemological ways and the man will not be saved in this actual world regardless of what God does. Hence, God has in these cases done all he can for the unsaved.

But suppose that one of these conditions do not apply, or that even if they do God may be said not to have done all he could. Well in that case, why can’t the Christian simply say, “I agree. God does all he can, and if he draws some more than others then he is not doing all he can. Therefore, God does not draw some more than others.” The point is this: without strong evidence for the objection at hand, it is available for the Christian simply to concede the inferential point and conclude God does not do the action at hand.

2. God hardens hearts in some and not in others.

The claim seems to go like this: God hardens the hearts of some people (e.g. Pharaoh of Egypt, as revealed in Exodus). This hardening ensures the person will not be saved. God cannot possibly be doing all he can to save him this way!

First, the circumstances of this hardening should be pointed out. Atheists, skeptics, and many of my Christian brethren forget the biblical record only shows God’s hardening of hearts in response to sin and rebellion in the life of the subject. Exodus clearly indicates Pharaoh also hardened his own heart (Exodus ). When the term is used of God, it indicates a strengthening; when it is used of Pharaoh, it indicates a causing to be insensible. The point is that Pharaoh caused his heart to harden, while God confirmed it. If Pharaoh would not believe, and yet had God working positively in his life at some point (as discussed in the prior point), it can only be because Pharaoh would not (in the sense of choice of the will) believe! Since God cannot force a free choice, he can be said to have done all he can in this case.

                [1] William Lane Craig, The Only Wise God (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2000), 137.

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  1. I am debating in a forum whether man has free will or not. One poster asked me what is was that God knew before the foundation of the world to send His Son. He basically is stating that since God has foreknowledge, we have no freedom to choose our actions.

    1. Hello,

      I would ask him why he thinks that God can only know something if he causes it. If your opponent replies that is not the case, then I don't see any other reason for assuming God knows something because he caused it. In fact, if the above-question is false, it means, by definition, God can know something because it is true, and not simply because he caused it, which destroys the entire objection. So suppose he bites the bullet: ask him why he thinks it must be true, and evaluate that!

    2. Hello,

      Thought I would through out a few questions of my own just for conversation's sake.
      Is God omniscient based upon His own unchangable nature? Can God learn anything new? Can God forget anything?

      I assume we would agree that God derives nothing of His being from anything other than Himself, and that immutablity is an attribute of God's being. If these are true then it seems to be a good and necessary consequence to conclude (deduce) that God's knowledge is grounded upon God's knowledge of Himself.

      For prior to God having caused any of His decree to coming into being through the works of creation and providence, nothing existed other than God Himself.

      How then could it be otherwise that God could know anything other than what God has Himself decreed to come about?

      If we say that God "looks" into the future to "learn" what is to come about concerning anything at all, then doesn't that make there to be some external standard outside of God and His will to which God must examine to have full knowledge of what is true? If this is so, what is this Standard and how did it come into being? If this is true, then would it not be true that God does learn new things and his knowledge is mutable?

      Since I think we would continue to agree that the first things mentioned are true; that God knowledge is immutable, then that God derives nothing of His being from His creation, then it seems to me that it can be nothing other than to conclude that God knows something becausee he caused it.

      To quote from the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter III which I take to acurately represent what Scripture teaches concerning these things:

      "I. God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.

      II. Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions; yet has He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such conditions."

      So, in response to the initial person's post, I would argue that it depends on what is meant by "no freedom to choose our actions" If by freedom we mean that our choices are free from God's divine decree, then, our choices are not free at all.

      Thanks for considering,


    3. Hi David, thanks for commenting!

      I think a lot of your questions need to be explained more. For instance, what do we mean when we say "based"? If we are asking, "is the property of omniscience, ascribed to God, an essential (and hence, necessary) property of his nature, or is it a property he could have lacked?", then I think the answer is yes, it is based on his nature. However, that is not how you seem to be asking it. You seem to be asking "is the content that makes up the property of omniscience informed, determined, or caused by God's nature?" In that case, I think I would answer no. Many, if not most, of the statements you make following this suffer from the same ambiguity, and thus I think we have an insuperable communication problem unless or until those ambiguities are solved. :)


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