Since high school, it has been my practice to read through the Scriptures each year. Upon readings in more recent years, I have been struck repeatedly by strong expressions of divine exasperation. Of course, I acknowledge God’s awareness of what free choices human beings will make, and I recognize that God can use free human choices and rebellion to accomplish his sovereign purposes. Humans can harden themselves (e.g., Mark 3:5) and then God, if he chooses, may add to this hardening (e.g., Mark 4:12); that is, human self-hardening gives way to “phase two” when God withdraws his grace and further removes humans from repentance, “giving them over” to the consequences of their own self-initiated resistance to God’s grace. Let me add here that Kenneth Keathley’s book Salvation and Sovereignty (B&H Academic) does a fine job of expounding on themes surrounding this divine-human interplay. I further recommend the work of Thomas P. Flint and William Craig (which also offer a Molinist account) for those who want to go even deeper into these areas.
I am hoping to do some writing in this area of divine exasperation, and I thought that I would check with faithful Parchment and Pen readers to get your take on the following verses. As I read them, they strongly suggest God’s legitimate expectation of spiritual fruitfulness, repentance, or obedience. That is, what hinders their repentance is not God’s withholding grace so that they cannot repent. Indeed, abundant grace has been given that justifies the expectation of repentance—even if God in his foreknowledge knows it is not forthcoming. Despite God’s initiating grace, humans continue to “resist the Holy Spirit” (Acts 7:51)—to grieve him (Ephesians 4:30) and quench him (1 Thessalonians 5:19). God commands all people without exception to repent (Acts 17:30); so presumably God’s initiating grace is available for all to do so.
What is your take on the following sampling of verses that reflect “divine exasperation”?
- Genesis 4:6-7: “Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.’”
- Psalm 81:10-11: “Open your mouth wide, and I [God] will fill it.” Israel’s response? “But my people did not listen to My voice, and Israel did not obey Me….Oh that my people would listen to Me…!” God goes on to say that if they did listen, he would subdue their enemies and feed Israel with the finest of wheat (vv. 13-16).
- Isaiah 5:1-7: “Let me sing now for my well-beloved a song of my beloved concerning His vineyard. My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill. He dug it all around, removed its stones, and planted it with the choicest vine. And He built a tower in the middle of it and also hewed out a wine vat in it; then He expected it to produce good grapes, but it produced only worthless ones. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between Me and My vineyard. What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones? So now let Me tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard: I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed; I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground. I will lay it waste; it will not be pruned or hoed, But briars and thorns will come up. I will also charge the clouds to rain no rain on it.” For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel and the men of Judah His delightful plant. Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; For righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress.”
- Jeremiah 5:3: “O Lord, do not Your eyes look for truth? You have smitten them, but they did not weaken; you have consumed them, but they refused to take correction. They have made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to repent.”
- Jeremiah 5:21-25: “‘Now hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see; who have ears but do not hear. Do you not fear Me?’ declares the Lord. ‘Do you not tremble in My presence? For I have placed the sand as a boundary for the sea, an eternal decree, so it cannot cross over it. Though the waves toss, yet they cannot prevail; though they roar, yet they cannot cross over it. But this people has a stubborn and rebellious heart; they have turned aside and departed. They do not say in their heart, “Let us now fear the Lord our God, who gives rain in its season, both the autumn rain and the spring rain, who keeps for us the appointed weeks of the harvest.” Your iniquities have turned these away, and your sins have withheld good from you.’”
- Ezekiel 6:9: “How I [God] have been hurt by their adulterous hearts.”
- Ezekiel 18:23, 32: “Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked?” “Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies…. Therefore, repent and live.”
- Matthew 23:37: Jesus laments over Jerusalem: “How I longed to gather you . . . but you were unwilling.” (It appears that it wasn’t Jesus or his Father who was unwilling!)
- Luke 7:30: Israel’s religious leaders had “rejected God’s purpose for themselves.”
- John 3:16-17: “God so loved the world [which stands in opposition to God/Christ] . . . God did not sent His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.”
- Romans 10:21: “All day long I have stretched out my hand to a disobedient and obstinate people.”
- 2 Corinthians 5:20: “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”
- 1 Timothy 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9: God “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”; God “is not willing that any should perish, but that all come to repentance.” Surely the sense of the text cannot be turned around to mean that God is willing that certain people should perish and not come to repentance!
- 1 John 2:2: Christ died for the sins of “the whole world [holou tou kosmou]”—the same “whole world” that lies in the hands of the evil one (1 Jn. 5:19) and that Satan leads astray (Rev. 12:9).
- Revelation 2:21-22: Regarding the Thyatiran false prophetess “Jezebel,” Jesus says: “I gave her time to repent; and she does not want to repent of her immorality. Behold, I will throw her on a bed of sickness, and those who commit adultery with her into great tribulation, unless they repent of her deeds.”
What do you all think? If these are not genuine expressions of divine exasperation and genuine divine calls to freely repent in response to God’s grace, how are we to understand them? I’d appreciate your input.