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Answering The Atheist
April 11, 2004 / Volume 4, Issue 15

THE ATHEIST'S COMPLAINT:
Does God want some to go to hell? Some verses show that God wants all to go to heaven (1 Timothy 2:3-4; 2 Peter 3:9), but others indicate that He wants some to go to hell (Proverbs 16:4; John 12:40; Romans 9:18; 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12). Is there a contradiction?

RESPONSE:
Since it is abundantly clear from the first two verses mentioned that God wants all to be saved, let us focus on the texts which the questioner supposes to say that God wants people to go to hell.

Whether any will be cast into hell is not the issue, but whether it is God's desire (ie. whether He delights) in the punishment of the wicked. None of the verses supplied indicated that God wishes to send men to hell.

The Proverb writer acknowledges that some will be condemned. All have sinned and are therefore worthy of death (Romans 3:23; 6:23). However, not all will be reserved for the day of doom, as God has supplied forgiveness and life in Christ Jesus. Verse 3 commands that we commit our works to the Lord. Those who will not will be cast into hell.

In the context of John 12:40, Jesus had performed many signs before the people, but they did not believe. As John explains their unbelief, he draws on thoughts conveyed through the prophet Isaiah. The question is, how did God blind their eyes and harden their hearts? It was not a case of honest people being mistreated by the LORD, but of those who had no concern for His way, and Him allowing them to walk in the darkness which they chose.

The text in 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12 is much the same as this from John 12:40. Notice, in verse 10, these were deceived because they did not receive the love of the truth. Verse 12 reveals that rather than believing the truth, these would rather have pleasure in unrighteousness. Thus, God left them to their own devices (compare Romans 1:24, 26, 28).

Romans 9:18 is a summary statement of the verses which precede it. The questioner would do well to read the verse in context. The case Paul uses with regard to God hardening whom He wills is Pharaoh. If one will look at the Exodus record, it will become clear that God did not exert some negative influence on Pharaoh, but left him to his own self-destructive course. By God's command, and Pharaoh's stubborn rejection of the same, his heart was hardened.

There is no contradiction.

This article is a response to Skeptic's Annotated Bible