I was talking with an atheist and he said this about the verse, "This seems to support Predestination and the violation of free will."
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Great question. Simply put, all God needs to do to harden a person is withhold his unmerited favor - that is his grace - from a person. We know from scripture that at the core of our being, our hearts are already black with sin and that apart from Christ they will remain that way. God is not obligated to continue to extend his favor towards any of us apart from Christ and his Holy Spirit abiding in us. When God withholds his favor to a nonbeliever whose heart is already in bondage to sin, he or she will just get harder (against God) and act more egregiously. Now, does this support predestination and violate ones freewill? No. Most non-believers live in a world apart from an understanding of the affect of sin in their lives. What they often don't realize is the extent to which their wills are already compromised and in bondage to sin. We inherited our bondage to sin from Adam and then acted on it of our own "free" will, but, unknowingly, our will was already corrupted by sin. Sure we can make decisions, but our decisions, no mater how good they seem to be, are always anchored, one might say mired, in one's heart and its corrupted sin nature. The act of hardening a person does not violate a person's freewill, his/her heart was already in bondage to sin and the individual merely acted on what was already in his fallen heart. You could even say that withholding grace frees a person's sin nature to act freer, that is, more conspicuously bad. Volumes have been written on this subject, but Martin Luther's "Bondage of the Will" is a great place to start.
To me, this verse simply means that God is God and we are not. He created us and when He has a purpose for which He wants to use anyone to accomplish, He has every right to do so. That does not mean that He decides to punish the innocent (though none are innocent), rather that It is His choice whom He uses for both mercy and wrath. I believe when God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, Pharaoh already had a stubborn nature and God used that stubbornness to accomplish what He wished to accomplish. (In this case, Glory and renown to God for the miraculous ways he rescued His people) But even if He created that hardness (stubbornness) on the moment He had every right to do so and who are we to question Him. (Again, not that I am apologizing for God, He does not need defending, but Pharaoh had the free will to have been a believer and follower of God but by his actions he clearly was not and deserved everything that happened to him).
Wow the two biggest "hot button" issues in Christianity in one question; predestination and [God] violating man's free will. First of all lets see what the dictionary defines as predestination: (noun) "the divine foreordaining of all that will happen, especially with regard to the salvation of some and not others." In other words God predetermines everything that will happen on earth and especially in regards to eternal salvation. A problem with this definition is this makes God the author of evil. But the scriptures are quite explicit that God is never the author of evil. "And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good..." (Genesis 1:31). "God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone" (James 1:13). "God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). "God is not the author of confusion" (1 Corinthians 14:33). If all of this is true, (and it is) He cannot in any way be the author of evil. An alternate definition held by some Christians however, is that predestination means that God has chosen to do something based on what he sees in the future. In other words before God created the world He looked into the future, saw what was going to happen and then predestined that it would happen. Here again, God is the author of evil in this definition too. As stated above this is not even a possibility. There are two problems I have with this view. First of all this means that God had absolutely nothing to do with a man's salvation. Salvation was first initiated by the man, then God stepped in and "helped" him along in his decision (which means he really didn't have free will) and so the man can boast all of his life that he actually saved himself which is impossible. Secondly, God is sovereign! This attested to in the 294 times the word appears in the NIV such as “Ah, Sovereign LORD, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you." (Jer 32:17). I could ramble on for days about predestination but I won't. On to F\free will. Do we have a free will? First of all lets get the dictionary's definition of the word free: (adj) "not under the control or in the power of another; able to act or be done as one wishes." So if anyone is not under the power of another he or she truly has free will. "Wherein in time past you walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience." (Eph 2:2). Satan is not the ultimate ruler, but he is a prince in the sense that “Evil men set him up for their sovereign, and are wholly at his beck and obedience.” (Trapp) So the mind of the regenerated individual has a choice. Choose righteousness or choose sin. The unregenerated man, however, can only choose sin or according to the strongest inclination at the moment. If he is married and has made a vow to remain faithful to his wife and is tempted to sin by a former girlfriend, he may choose to remain faithful to his wife but only because he knows if he is caught he will pay for it big time. However if his strongest inclination at the time is otherwise he will sin with her. So only the born again Christian is free to do righteousness. Sinners cannot do righteous acts.
Exodus 4:21- "And the LORD said to Moses,'When you go back to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in your hand. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.'" Pharaoh already disrespected God. He had his own gods. God used Pharoah as an symbol of resistance to God's will. Genesis 45:4-7.Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. And he tells them, not to be sad or angry, because what happened was God's plan. Romans 9:17,18 - "For scripture says to Pharaoh, 'For this reason I have lifted you (Moses) up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.' Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens." We must remember God looks at the heart. (1 Samuel 16:7) Ephesians 1:4,5 - "...just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.." Ephesians 1:11, "in Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined...according to the council of His will..." John 12:27-41 - Our Lord Jesus is troubled. He is about to sacrifice Himself, to complete the plan designed in ages past. Verse 40, 41 - "He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they should see with their eyes, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them. These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him." God, Himself was on that cross in human form. This is a prophecy of people's unbelief! Like Pharaoh, some will reject God's love and harden their hearts. God can use anything,for His purposes. Any who chose to reject Jesus, rejects God (verse 45-50) We decide our eternity, but we have a predestination.
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