As many know, the last two years I have been teaching a weekly women’s Bible study at RTS Charlotte designed to reach the community outside the formal seminary classroom. Every Wednesday, 120 plus women gather together to study the book of Romans, and it has been a delight.
What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened. As it written, ‘God gave them a spirit of stupor, eyes that would not see.
In light of a passage like this, it is natural for folks to wonder whether God really wants people to be saved. Why would he “harden” someone and send them a “spirit of stupor” if he wants to save them?
But, our answer to these questions depends on what we mean when we say that God “wants” something. And when we talk about what God wants we inevitably must talk about the “will” of God. And this is a subject that requires some careful nuance.
Historically speaking, theologians have distinguished between three different sorts of “wills” for God:
1. Decretive will. This refers simply to what God decrees or ordains by his sovereign will. And we know from Eph 1:11 that God ordains whatsoever comes to pass. So, in this sense, we can say that a hurricane, for example, is God’s “will.”
2. Preceptive will. This refers simply to what God has commanded, his precepts. So, God’s “will” is that we honor our parents, keep the sabbath holy, not commit adultery, etc.
3. Dispositional will. This refers to that which pleases or delights God. E.g., “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Lord God” (Ezekiel 18:23)
When these three “wills” of God are considered, we can see that God, from one perspective, does not “want” (dispositional will) the wicked to perish. But, from another perspective, God has decreed that some will be saved and some will not (decretive will).
This is not that different than what we do even on a human level. A human judge in a court of law may not “want” to send a criminal to prison for life, but he will still do so because he is a just judge. So, in one sense he doesn’t “want” to do it; but then in another sense he does “want” to do it.
In the end, therefore, there is no contradiction between the doctrine of election and the fact that God does not delight in the death of the wicked. For this reason the second half of Ezekiel 18:23 is true: “Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declare the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?“