Note: This was written before the author’s conversion to Orthodoxy.
The rallying cry for Arminians goes as follows:
“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Pet 3:9). Further, He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4). Because God obviously desires the salvation of all men, but not all men are saved, then God obviously cannot will a man to repent and place his faith in Christ if he does not want to do so by his own free will.
We can dispatch with this line of reasoning quite easily.
Objection 1: Jesus us offers us an unequivocal example in the Scripture where He shows that God had the power to make people repent, but chose not to:
Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day” (Matt 11:20-23).
If God, without any exceptions, desired that all men would repent as the Arminians imply, He must therefore do everything in His power to bring a man to repentance. This is why they criticize Calvinists for asserting that God must be the operative force behind the conversion of a man, because if this is true then a god that desires all to repent will compel every man to repent.
However, isn’t it clear that their presupposition, that God is compelled to act in accordance with His desire that all men repent, contradict this passage? God purposely does not act in a fashion where He clearly could have made men repent. Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom would all have repentant sinners if Christ (or a preincarnate Theophany of Him) would perform miracles in their locales.
Yet, He did not do so. Was He impotent and thereby incapable? Of course not! Clearly, the Arminian objects in error, because God does not always do everything He can to make men repent. So, it would be true to say that though God desires that all men come to repentance, He obviously does not always will it to be the case because in those cities it was within His power to show miracles so that they would repent. However, he did not. In fact…
Objection 2: The Scripture is clear that God desires to harden men so that they will not repent, but instead come under judgment.
Jesus Christ quickly gives us the correct interpretation of Isaiah’s prophecy, saying, “For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, ‘He has blinded their eyes and He hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and be converted and I heal them'” (John 12:39-40).
Further, the very reason Jesus spoke in parables was so that men who were not given ears to hear would not repent:
Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, ‘You will keep on hearing, but will not understand; You will keep on seeing, but will not perceive; For the heart of this people has become dull, With their ears they scarcely hear, And they have closed their eyes, Otherwise they would see with their eyes, Hear with their ears, And understand with their heart and return, And I would heal them.’ (Matt 13:13-15).
Objection 3: Clearly, the Scripture does not contradict Scripture, so God cannot desire all to repent and yet not actually have that desire. Further, God cannot will not to show miracles in Sidon for the expressed reason that they come into judgment, but not desire to judge them. Therefore, we are compelled to interpret all these passages in such a fashion where the given interpretation to one does not requires us deny the truth found in the other passages.
How can we do this? Rather simply, actually. God desires all men to repent. In fact, He desires all men to be saved.
However, God is also just and righteous. The Scripture is replete with passages where God makes clear His desire to punish the wicked.
Therefore, God does not have two contradicting desires, but rather two different ones. He desires all men to be saved, but He also desires to bring into judgment men that have sinned against Him. We may call these “differing priorities.”
Men all the time have two different desires and there is no apparent contradiction in this. For example, a man may desire to eat ice cream every day. Further, the same man also desires to look fit. There is a point in time when one desire is going to outweigh the other, according to the overall intentions and priorities of the man. So, he can get real fat, never eat ice cream, or be somewhere in the middle depending upon what his will is given his own differing priorities.
And so, in God’s hidden counsel, He desires both mercy to all and yet accountability for all. He is gracious to some in so that though they are accountable, He may exercise His mercy. He holds others accountable, as it is not acceptable to Him that no one may be held accountable for his or her own sin.
In conclusion. When we take into account the interpretation of a couple cherry-picked verses that Arminians put forward in order to dispute Calvinism, we find several things. First, their interpretation contradicts the Scripture. Second, it forces portions of the Scripture to hold opposite meanings to other portions. Third, it requires the presupposition that if God, or a man, has a desire then one’s heart cannot be set on any other things. This is contrary to common sense, in which we juggle several different desires and according to our own purposes will emphasize some more than others.
Being that “the Lord is righteous in all His ways and kind in all His deeds” (Ps 145:17), then God is correct in His judgment when He is merciful to some and just in punishing others. He is kind in His choosing as to whom He hardens or shows mercy.