We can only think accurately about how God relates to the evil actions of humans (and to His own acts of judgment), if we respect an important distinction concerning God’s will.
Along with God’s sovereign and revealed will, one must consider God’s dispositional will. This dimension probes deeply into God’s heart toward His creation.
II Peter 3:9 reveals God’s heart
The apostle Peter reminds us that God is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” Obviously this aspect of God’s will refers to something other than the sovereign or predetermined will of God because some people will perish. What it tells us is that God is not inwardly disposed to or delighted by people perishing — even though in His judgment He will cause some to perish.
R.C. Sproul explains
“All things being equal, God does desire that no one perishes, but all things are not equal. Sin is real. Sin violates God’s holiness and righteousness. God also is not willing that sin go unpunished. He desires as well that His holiness be vindicated. When the preceptive will is violated, things are no longer equal. Now God requires punishment while not particularly enjoying the personal application of it” (Following Christ, pp. 217-18).
A classic O.T. statement
Ezekiel 33:11: ” `As I live,’ declares the Lord, `I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live’ ” (c.f. Lam. 3:33a).
God issues some moving pleas for human repentance. Consider Ezekiel 18:30-32 as it gives us a window into the heart of God:
“`Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, each according to his conduct,’ declares the Lord God. `Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you. Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,’ declares the Lord God, `Therefore, repent and live.’ “
The same emphasis in I Timothy 2:3-4
“This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
D.A. Carson observes:
“Despite everything it (Scripture) says about the limitless reaches of God’s sovereignty, the Bible insists again and again on God’s unblemished goodness. `The Lord is righteous in all His ways, and kind in all His deeds’ (Ps. 145:17). `His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He’ (Deut. 32:4).” In struggling to understand this aspect of God’s will, one might argue, “If God is sovereign and He desires that all be saved and none perish, why doesn’t God decree what he desires?”
Certainly an absolutely sovereign God could have decreed a world without the possibility of sin. Yet remember several things:
- First, when God originally created the earth and man, He declared all He provided to be “very good.”
- Secondly, the apostle Paul wrote, “For by one man sin entered the world and death by sin…” (Rom. 5:12).
- Thirdly, and most importantly, God has decreed a world without the possibility of sin– the new heavens and new earth. “Nothing impure will ever enter it” (Rev. 21:27; cf. Rev. 21:3-5; II Pet. 3:13). Only those who (in this world) have confessed with their mouth “Jesus is Lord” and believed in their heart that God raised Him from the dead will enter this perfect world.
This all reveals the extent of God’s respect for human responsibility (cf. Josh. 24:14-15). And this is partly why Scripture is quick to warn humans not to take the kindness of God lightly.
Consider the words of Romans 2:4-6
“Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds.”
Respect for this dimension of God’s will can protect you from serious misunderstandings about God. God is willing to judge evil but holds back his wrath so that more people might come to salvation.
Look closely at Romans 9:22-23:
“What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so in order that He might make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory.”
If God operated the world on a principle of immediate judgment, who would be saved by His grace? None! No, not one!
What is your standing with God?
- Are you trusting Him for salvation through Jesus alone (John 14:6)?
- Are you relying on God’s sovereignty?
- Are you diligently seeking God’s revealed will in scripture?
- Are you respectful of God’s dispositional will— His unblemished goodness?
See also – “The God who hardens hearts“