Friday, February 25

Responding to Comments on Inability, Continued

Yes, I am finally getting back to this. The comment I am responding to today is from Robin Munn, and I'll post a chunk of the comment for you to read, and then I'll give my response:
The verse that I have trouble reconciling with that is 2 Peter 3:9: "The Lord ... is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance."

Since people in their natural state are unable to reach repentance on their own, but it takes action from God to bring them to repentance, then a face-value reading of this verse would seem to indicate universalism, that all men will be saved. After all, if God doesn't wish them to perish -- and He alone is able to change that -- then why wouldn't He?
It seems that by "face-value" reading, Robin means a reading that takes the "not wishing" in the verse to indicate the sort of will of God that God actively works to bring about. I don't think it's necessary to take it that way for the verse to be taken at face value. The word for "wishing" often has the force of longing rather than the force of resolve to do something. So it doesn't have to mean that God is actively working within those he is longsuffering toward to bring them to faith, but just that he is in no hurry to bring them to judgment because he it doesn't please him to bring judgment upon anyone. We see this same idea in Ezekial 33:11:
Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but prefer that the wicked change his behavior and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil deeds! Why should you die, O house of Israel?’
There is no pleasure for God in destroying the wicked, and yet that's exactly what, in the end, he does. He sovereignly wills their death even though it's not something he takes pleasure in.

There is another way this verse is explained, but it's not one I'm buying right now, although I've waffled back and forth on this in the past, and there's a possibility I'll waffle again in the future. Some notice that this verse is addressed to the "beloved", and so they restrict the "any" in the verse to "any of the elect", and if the verse is read this way then it's saying that Christ is waiting to return because if he came back before the elect came to faith, then some of the elect would perish. The last part of this statement is indeed true, but I don't think it's necessarily what this particular verse is saying. I find reading the verse that way is a little more forced than I am completely comfortable with.

If the verse is read in context, I think it's primary meaning is actually a combination of these two. It is specific to the group to whom Peter is writing, which includes believers and those who have so far proved themselves to still be unbelievers. Some of the group are being misled by the false teachers and doubting that the Lord would ever return because he's taking longer than they expected. Peter seems to be saying that instead of doubting God's promises because he seems slow to keep this one, they ought to see his slowness as a kindness toward them because it gives them opportunity to repent before he comes. I would see the force of the verb "wishing" to still be just "longing", rather than "resolving to work it out". I don't think Peter is saying that God is going to bring every single person in their group to repentence, but rather that the proper way for them to view God's restraint in judgment is that this gives them a real opportunity to repent, and that God gives them ample opportunity to repent because he takes no pleasure in anyone perishing. God's longsuffering gives them an opportunity to "strive to be found at peace, without spot or blemish, when [they] come into his presence. (2 Peter 3:14)" The patience of the Lord is their opportunity for salvation (3:15).

I suppose some will find this confusing, because they think that if people are unable to believe without God's intervention within them to give them faith, then unless God intervenes in this way there is no real opportunity for them to believe. I believe that every time someone hears the gospel, there is a real opportunity for them to believe. However, unless God intervenes to change their prejudice against the gospel, they will invariably squander that opportunity and reject the gospel. Every person hearing the message of Jesus in John 6 had the opportunity to believe it, but some didn't believe it, and they didn't believe it because "no one can come to [Christ] unless the Father has given him to come (verse 65)."
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