What is God like? Is He the equivalent of some cosmic kid pulling the wings off of a fly? Does He wear a radiant, white lab coat to conduct experiments behind the scenes on unsuspecting man? Does He place people in situations that He is fully aware they will fail at, only so He has a reason to punish them?
What are we to make of situations in the Bible, such as those found in Exodus where God “hardens Pharaoh’s heart”? Why would God create Adam and Eve and tell them not to eat of the fruit if He knew full well that they would? Does God set people up for failure and then penalize them when they mess up?
Some would say that arguments such as these make God a bully, but one does need to examine the broader context of scripture. Does the rest of the Bible point to a God that enjoys seeing people fail? The preponderance of scripture points to God as being loving, selfless, merciful, just, and righteous. I understand that someone outside the faith might view this as begging the question, but we need to examine the entirety of scripture before we construct a theology.
So what about “God hardening Pharaoh’s heart”? Exodus 9:12 clearly says, “The LORD hardened the heart of Pharaoh.” Then, once Pharaoh’s heart is hard, God sends a bunch of nasty plagues into his life for having a hard heart. Poor Pharaoh, he just can’t win.
The question we must ask is, did God literally give Pharaoh an unresponsive heart, or did Pharaoh become closed off to God due to his own volition? The truth of the matter is that Pharaoh chose to harden his own heart. Egyptian Pharaoh’s believed they were divine. For Pharaoh to bend the knee toward God would mean admitting that he was not God. Instead of submitting to God he chose to resist. God gave Pharaoh every opportunity to submit, but Pharaoh continued to resist and with each plague he hardened his heart more toward God. Norman Geisler puts it this way. “The sense in which God hardened his heart is similar to the way the sun hardens clay and melts wax. If Pharaoh had been receptive to God’s warnings, his heart would not have been hardened by God.” God did not override Pharaoh’s freedom of will, rather God worked within the choice made by Pharaoh not to submit and allowed his heart to be hardened towards God. The difficulties God sent into Pharaoh’s life caused his heart to be hardened, but Pharaoh could have responded by surrendering to God. Pharaoh was perfectly culpable for his actions and could have avoided taking his divine dose of medicine had he chose a different response.
So what about Adam and Eve? Of course God knew exactly how they would respond when He gave them one rule to abide by. This by no means implies that God caused them to break the rule He established. It really boils down to the decision of whether man should be free to choose whether he will follow rules, or whether God should have preprogrammed everyone to obey.
I have asked a multitude of people the question, “Would you rather have free will with the potential for suffering and pain or live a predetermined life devoid of any problems?” I have never had anyone respond with the desire to live a life without freedom. We all see the value in having our freedom, and this is precisely how God created us.
I think those of us that are parents really have a grasp of this whole scenario. When my wife and I decided to try and have a child we knew he would do bad things, mess up, and potentially choose a destructive path at times. Even in light of knowing the risk, we still chose to have a child. It was no different for God. You see, love takes risks. God knew what the plight of man would be. He knew some would choose to disobey and decide not to return His love. He loved man enough to give Him the freedom to choose.
But the story doesn’t end there. Even though God knew that man would disobey and death would enter the world, He made a way for man to be brought back unto Himself. He had a plan for full restoration and has sought man ever since the fall. Before Adam and Eve ever sinned, God had determined the way that man could be restored should they choose. Why? “Because God so loved the world?”
God does not set us up for failure. He simply gives us the potential to choose.
“Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.” – Joshua 24:15
Walk good. Live wise. Be blessed.