When I was a relatively new Christian I came across a passage in the Bible that used to bother me every time I read it, until about seven years ago. The passage is from Isaiah 6:9-10, where Isaiah had just volunteered to go and speak for the Lord, and the Lord is telling Isaiah: “Go and tell this people [the Israelites]: ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.”
For many years my wife and I were members of the United Methodist Church in Sayville on Long Island, before moving to Florida in 1982. As you may know, the Methodists preach a social gospel that is not necessarily based on the entire Bible — they love to pick and choose which portions to emphasize and for some Methodists this extends to choosing which portions to believe.
For the 35 years that we lived on Long Island, they so thoroughly emphasized the fact that “God Is Love” that we tended to overlook the fact that there is another side of God — the side that cannot tolerate sin — the side that refuses to allow unrepented sin to go unpunished.
So, in that setting it was very difficult for me to understand why God would choose to tell Isaiah to “Make the heart of this people calloused, make their ears dull and close their eyes”. Why could God not have softened their hearts and opened their eyes?
And because I was a relatively new Christian when I first came upon that passage that difficulty remained with me until just a few years ago.
The mystery is really not that difficult to explain, if I had only read the background for the Isaiah passage or Jesus’s commentary on it. For example, in Chapter 5, Isaiah tells us a little of the background of the people to whom God is sending him. In verse 8 they are greedy for material wealth. In verses 11-12 they are drunkards who have no regard for the Lord. In verse 20 they deliberately choose the sinful life. And in verse 22 they are the recipients of bribes.
In Matthew 13:11-15, Jesus quotes this passage from Isaiah and explains in verse 15 that the people in the time of Isaiah and later in Jesus’ time had already become calloused.
Well, if I read those passages, I was still bothered by the fact that God could have straightened these people out if He had wanted to — softened their hearts, opened their eyes, and healed them. After all, God can do anything. So why didn’t he do this?
It wasn’t until one day when I came across Second Corinthians 4:4 during my morning devotions that I realized the answer. It reads: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
Here Paul is explaining that these people have either unwittingly or deliberately allowed Satan (or “the god of this age”, as Paul calls him) to blind themselves to the truth of the gospel.
And the answer to this question as I see it is that God created us to glorify and worship him in a meaningful way. He, of course, predestined everything — the Bible is chock full of passages that proclaim this — and he knew all along that not everyone would accept Him and become obedient to him. In fact, knowing this ahead of time, God elected to choose only certain people to become his followers — the Bible is also chock full of passages about these people who are called “God’s elect”.
Is this hard-hearted on God’s part? Is this favoritism carried to an extreme? No, not at all.
God could have made a different world and a different kind of people. He could have destroyed Lucifer instead of just casting him out of heaven. He could have been in the garden of Eden with Adam and Eve when the serpent came along. He could have prevented them from sinning.
So, why didn’t God do that?
Well, in the first place, since God created the entire universe and everything that is in it, it is up to Him to create it the way He wants it, and it is not up to Lou Stang to tell Him how to do it.
But there is much more to it than that. What God created is not only what He wanted to create, but I think that from His standpoint the kind of universe that He created is the only kind that would produce the kind of people that God wants to call His own. By allowing sin to enter, God is requiring Man to make a choice between sin and righteousness, between Satan and God. And in the process of making that choice, those who choose to follow God are stronger and more committed to Him than they would have been, had there been no battle to fight, no evil to overcome.
The other kind of a world that God could have made in which sin would never have entered at all would have produced robots — people who did not fully appreciate God because they were unaware of the alternative — people who took God for granted — who worshipped Him but only with their lips, not their hearts — who went through the motions of worship without the understanding of what they were really doing.
By giving Man a free will and the ability to choose, God knew ahead of time that some men would reject Him, but clearly He preferred this situation because in the struggle between evil and good, His chosen ones would have been made stronger for the ordeal, and their worship would be meaningful to them and acceptable to God.
So now I can read Isaiah 6:8-10, and all of the other passages that relate to this, and praise God for his wisdom and thank Him for having chosen me when he created the universe.
Yes, it is unfortunate that some choose to reject God. Yes, it is too bad that not all of our evangelism will fall on receptive ears. Yes, it is a shame that even some of our good friends will probably not make it to heaven. And it is downright painful to contemplate the possibility that even some of our dearly beloved next of kin will be left behind.
But let’s just remember that if it were any other way, we would not have had such a clear opportunity to see God’s helping hand at work in our lives. Let’s thank Him for being the kind of creator that He is. Let’s remember that we ourselves…our actions…our body language…our facial expressions…our demeanor…may be the only “Bible” that some of these dear ones will ever “see”. Are we really conveying the right message?
— Louis G. Stang, Jr.