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Does God Desire what He does not Decree?

March 5, 2007

1 Timothy 2:4 says that God desires all men to be saved.   Calvinists explain this verse in one of two ways.

1) “All men” does not mean each and every single person, but it means people from every tribe, tongue and nation.  It means Gentiles, not just Jews (cf. 2:7)

2) God desires what he does not decree.

Now I believe that #1 rightly explains this particular verse.  But I still believe that #2 is true and is necessary to explain verses like these:

Ezekiel 33:11 As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?

Luke 19:41-42 And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.

As Calvinists, we believe that God does not set his electing, covenant love upon everyone.  But we still affirm that there is a general love of compassion that God has for all those created in His image as seen in these verses:

Matthew 5:44-45 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Mark 10:21-22 Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Last week I learned to my dismay that there are a few Calvinists who deny this distinction between God’s desire and God’s decree.  They therefore say that there is no sense in which God desires the salvation of any but the elect and so they deny that there is a “sincere offer” of the gospel to anyone but the elect. This seems impossible to me.   God must desire things that he does not decree.  For example, when you sin, was it God’s will for you to sin?  In a “from all eternity God did unchangeably ordain all whatsoever comes to pass” sense, yes it was.  But is there not any sense in which it was not God’s will for you to sin?  Does God desire you to sin? 

Here’s an article by John Piper titled “Are there two wills in God?” 

And here’s a verse for your further study:

Deuteronomy 29:29 The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.

What do you think are the secret and revealed things in the context of Deuteronomy 29-30?

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Oddball permalink
    March 8, 2007 11:19 pm

    Obviously, by definition, no one can say for sure what the secret things are, but my hunch is that they must not flatly contradict the revealed things . . .

  2. March 9, 2007 9:34 am

    Acts 4:27-28 truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.

    Was it God’s will for Herod and Pontius Pilate to conspire to kill Jesus? Yes and No. Is that a contradiction? I don’t think so.

    The point of the post, however, is to challenge those odd few who would actually say that there is no sense in which it was NOT God’s will for Herod and Pilate to kill Jesus.

  3. Oddball permalink
    March 16, 2007 12:21 am

    Like Justin Martyr, I would argue that what God predestined to take place was the redemption of the world, not the evil choices of the specific individuals involved, though he certainly foresaw them:

    “But that you may not have a pretext for saying that Christ must have been crucified, and that those who transgressed must have been among your nation, and that the matter could not have been otherwise, I said briefly by anticipation, that God, wishing men and angels to follow His will, resolved to create them free to do righteousness; possessing reason, that they may know by whom they are created, and through whom they, not existing formerly, do now exist; and with a law that they should be judged by Him, if they do anything contrary to right reason: and of ourselves we, men and angels, shall be convicted of having acted sinfully, unless we repent beforehand. But if the word of God foretells that some angels and men shall be certainly punished, it did so because it foreknew that they would be unchangeably [wicked], but not because God had created them so.”
    – Dialogue with Trypho, Chapter CXLI

    Even if God orchestrated every detail of Christ’s crucifixion, it’s a very unique case, since it’s arguably the only event in all of human history that was absolutely essential to God’s plan of salvation. I’ve often wondered if this might at least in part explain why Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

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