One of the most perplexing stances of Scripture is divine stubbornness. Are we to understand such a concept in light of eternal life or has Christianity twisted another profound truth?
Christianity has made God confusing. When I began studying Scripture as a young Christian I quickly gathered more questions than answers. The single biggest confusion I had was the belief of eternal life and how this life was meant only for the select few who believed, despite Jesus having died for the sins of every living thing. This was especially perplexing in light of the many verses that exampled divine stubbornness. Paul highlights this in the entirety of Romans 11, but I’ll note here the verses that most reveal this truth,
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, ears that would not hear, down to this very day.” (Romans 11:7-8 ESV)
For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their (Israel’s) disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. (Romans 11:31-32 ESV, bold mine)
Paul qualifies his thoughts with this statement a few chapters before,
So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. (Romans 9:12 ESV)
In the Gospels Jesus says many things to a similar effect (Matthew 11:25, 13:11, Luke 19:42, etc.). Divine stubbornness is an undeniable truth of God. He hardens and blinds whomever He wills and opens the ears/eyes of whomever He wills. This can be summed up in one truth: God is responsible for human belief. The question now is: how does this relate to the common Christian view of eternal life? How does Christianity account for the millions of people who have never come to believe? What happens to these people when they die?
What about Israel? The verse Paul was quoting in Romans 11:8 comes from Isaiah 29:10 (Paul’s letter to the Romans is dated at the mid to late 50s A.D., the book of Isaiah to 750 B.C.). This means this spirit of stupor has been with Israel for over 800 years. And what of the 2000 years since the death of Christ? When these Israelites pass away, where do they go? That is what Christianity has struggled for centuries to answer and that is what brings despair, hopelessness, and anger to so many broken people who have tragically lost loved ones. It is also the question that has introduced a vast, theological gulf within Christianity’s own borders….
The Free Will Creed (a.k.a Arminianism)
Arminianism is the theological theory of a man named Jacobus Arminius. Arminius rejected Calvinism’s view of predestination in favour of pure grace. But Arminius’ pure grace was not pure at all, because rejecting predestination meant heralding the doctrine of human free will. He believed Christ’s sacrifice and atonement was available to all, but only individuals who exercised their free will to believe it actually gained salvation. This is what most of Christianity believes today. You are saved because you chose to believe it and accept it, not because of what Christ did.
Arminians cannot stand the idea of God sending the majority of His creation to Hell, so they seek to rid God of all responsibility and place it on humanity. If you weren’t saved it is your own fault sings the Gospel of the Arminians.
What about divine stubbornness? Divine stubbornness, to the Arminians, happens as a punishment for sin. Because sin was rampant in one’s heart that person will then be locked it up in. It was their choice first, God only gave them what they wanted and reinforced it. However, Paul says something amazing in opposition to this concerning Israel,
So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!….Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, (Romans 11:11-12, 25-26 ESV)
Israel was locked up in stubbornness in order to bring the Gospel of the Uncircumcision to the Gentiles and the nations. But this is only temporary, for when all of the Gentiles (meaning all in the nations apart from Israel) have been grafted in, all of Israel will come to experience that same grace and salvation. And Paul chooses his words carefully. He does not mean all who will be living from that point on, he means and says all. All that are dead and all that are alive and will be. This is a huge hint into what the truth of divine stubbornness reveals, but we aren’t quite there yet.
Arminianism is absurd in light of the above. If the unbelieving Israelites are immediately sent to Hell, then they would have tasted a few thousand years of it before they’re pulled out and saved. And if they’re pulled out by no act of their own, then Arminianism falls apart (we will soon touch on what this “Hell” actually is so don’t take this too literally, but this example will do for our purposes here).
Arminianism doesn’t just falter Scripturally. It has another side-effect that often goes unconsidered: If one is saved and goes to Heaven then is it ultimately to their credit. This will be strongly denied, but if ending up in Hell is the result of making the wrong decision then being saved is likewise the result of making the right decision. In the end, we are the ones who do the salvation work and if we can choose to accept it we can therefore choose to reject it and render the cross meaningless. If this is true then the cross becomes nothing more than an inanimate symbol and Jesus a mystical role model.
The Oh Well Creed (a.k.a Calvinism)
On the other side, Calvinism is the theological theory of a reformer known as John Calvin. Calvinism has many things right, most notably the sovereignty of God, election, and predestination. The truth of divine stubbornness is likewise not a hurdle for Calvinism, since it fits hand and glove with election. It understands election through the acronym TULIP, which are:
- Total Depravity
- Unconditional Election
- Limited Atonement
- Irresistible Grace
- Preservation of the Saints
Calvinism understands that all are totally depraved and unable to seek God, that election is of no work/choice of our own, that the practical effect of atonement is only for the elect, that the elect cannot resist grace, and that no one can lose their position as the elect (should I say “elect” one more time?). However, notice a terrifying, unavoidable consequence of the TULIP: election is framed as eternal salvation. I have not yet met a Calvinist and reformer who has said otherwise. Thus the question arises again: what happens to the unbelieving when they die? Calvinism once more turns the cross into an inanimate symbol and Jesus into a role model. The mechanic of Calvinism and Arminianism is the same: salvation revolves around a choice. Not the cross, not the work of Jesus, but a choice. Either the cross has saved all of humanity or it did not accomplish a single thing. One cannot herald the cross while proclaiming that either man chooses or God chooses whom it effects.
What happens to those predestined for eternal torment and separation? Exactly that. God is responsible for damning the majority of His creation to an eternal Hell and the cross has not done a single thing to avoid this horrific outcome. This is why I call Calvinism the “Oh Well Creed.” God sending the non-elect to Hell is not a problem for it, because He is God and He has “reasons.” We aren’t supposed to know these reasons so all we can do is throw up our hands and simply trust Him. This sears the conscious of all who believe it, allowing one to talk about divinely ordained eternal suffering and not bat a single eye at the horror that entails. Is it not a wonder that so many cannot believe it?
Aside from mechanics, Calvinism and Arminianism also agree with the same end. Only a few will actually be saved. The rest of creation will suffer eternally for their sins, thus completely disbelieving in the finished work of the cross. Additionally, this does not give us an answer as to how all of Israel will be saved.
Is this the good news of Christianity? Is it really unavoidable? The two thoughts of Christianity fail in numerous, damning ways. But we will uncover a truth that religion has completely missed and rejected. It will set you free from every doubt and despair the church has ever caused and divine stubbornness will finally be understood in the glory of God’s amazing plan for creation.