Spending Time with Jim McGuiggan

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Does God deceive people?

Karen asks if God ever deceives people? There are scriptures that say so and that means we should answer yes to the question. It doesn’t matter how humane we are or how sensitive we are to the trouble of other poor souls, it’s never wise to think that we’re more sensitive and caring than the God who has come to us in and as Jesus Christ.

If a text plainly teaches that God deceives ( or "blinds") people then we should receive it as true. I understand that we can’t truly believe what our moral sense insists is wrong and we shouldn’t be expected to. But it isn’t the first time our moral sense of things needed to be developed nor is it the first time that we changed our minds on what we thought was righteous. Besides, my suspicion is we’re too quick to tell ourselves that we understand the complexities of many texts. God doesn’t carry out his work of blinding in a vacuum. There’s absolutely no reason to believe that his casting a veil over truth is sheerly arbitrary.

Yes, but who says that God deceives and blinds? Scriptures speak of God hardening the hearts of Pharaoh and his soldiers so that they would not do the will of God (Exodus 4:21; 7:3; 14:4,17). I've developed this topic some in the remarks on Exodus. Hit this link if you want to go there. Then there's this text from John 12:39-40. "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.' " (See numerous other texts such as 2 Thessalonians 2:11 and Romans 11:7-10.)

We don't like texts of that sort, but this isn't a cafeteria where we pick and choose according to taste. If some truths are an acquired taste then we need to acquire it! We should have some sense of uneasiness if we profess to place ourselves under the judgement of scripture and then find ourselves sitting in judgement on the scriptures when the texts don't suit our sophisticated tastes. Besides, perhaps if before dismissing texts as sub-Christian (or even sub-humane) we spent time with the larger biblical picture we wouldn't judge them wicked.

God is very definitely involved in the hardening process but it isn't one-way traffic as Exodus 8:15,32; 9:34, 1 Samuel 6:6 and elsewhere shows. Check a concordance. God is never said to harden anyone righteous. Nor is he ever said to blind anyone seeking his will or doing what is right. The people he hardens and blinds are those who are determined to do their own will. 2 Thessalonians 2:10 and 12, for example, say he deceived them who "refused to love the truth" but "have delighted in wickedness." You understand, it's more than that God simply "allows" such people to be wicked. God is in this up to his sovereign but gracious neck. Three times Romans 1 says "God gave them up to...." These are divine decisions and whether we like the Bible or not in these places, it's the kind of Bible the Spirit of God supervised and gave to us.

Finally, however complex the matter is, we're assured that this strange divine work is to be seen in a redemptive context. Hardening Pharaoh and the Egyptians was to bring God glory as a redeemer as the story of it travelled even as far as Caanan (Joshua 2:8-11). Yes, that introduces further complexities but that's my point, the canvas keeps getting bigger and bigger. Think noble things of God! Romans 11:11-12 shows that God's blinding Israel was not spite or morally evil but redemptive in purpose. And 11:32 shows that the divine "giving them up" in chapter 1 was not spite or vengefulness. Even the blinding of evil people, which leads to their choosing further evil, is of God and it is redemptive!

And what of those who delight in evil and whose evil brings God's goodness to even more people? It is no credit to them that God can bring good out of their evil. Those who persist impenitently in choosing evil will pay the price of eternal destruction.

We should be afraid of no text! We shouldn't apologize for God! We shouldn't think his ways are easy to trace (see Romans 11:32-36). We shouldn't allow his critics to intimidate us. The Hebrew--Christian scriptures and the God of those scriptures have been around a very long time. We should be patient with critics, especially when we're well aware of our own history. Think noble things of God!

Spending Time with Jim McGuiggan