It’s an awful thought that God would actually create some people for the very purpose of tormenting and torturing them for all eternity, but that’s what some Christians and churches believe, even today!
The belief that God predestines some people for hell comes from what I believe to be a misinterpretation of Romans chapter 9, which has been the subject of some controversy over the centuries. John Calvin and his followers used Romans 9 as proof of God’s predestining some people for heaven and some for hell (before they’re even born!).[i] This is not what Paul is teaching in the three illustrations he uses in this chapter:
- God loves Jacob and hates Esau
- The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, and
- Clay in the Hands of God
(Please note, it would be helpful for you to read Romans 9 before reading the rest of this blog).
God Loves Jacob and Hates Esau
The word translated as “hate” can also mean, “to love less” or “put in second place”. “Love” infers a positive relationship whereas “hate,” indicates a lack of relationship. It’s important to note that God’s choice of Jacob had nothing to do with salvation, but rather with who would be the Father of the Nation of Israel. This honour first belonged to Esau, but he chose short-term satisfaction over long-term blessing. “Esau despised his birthright” (Genesis 25:29-34).
The author of Hebrews describes Esau as a godless person “who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done” (Hebrews 12:16-17).
Romans 9 is not teaching about salvation but rather is speaking about the nations that resulted from Jacob and Esau. God has chosen people for greater or lesser degrees of service often based on their willingness, choices, and behaviour. Paul is addressing service rather than salvation.
The Hardening of Pharaoh’s Heart
The apostle’s second illustration is the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. Hardening is a symbolic word which means “to twist” in the same way as you would ring out a dishcloth. When you ring out a cloth, you find out what’s in it. Through the ten plagues, God twisted Pharaoh’s heart to squeeze out what was inside, simply revealing what was already there!
Clay in the Hands of God
The final illustration is “Clay in the Hands of God” quoting from Isaiah chapters 29 and 45 as well as Jeremiah 18. “Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use?”
Once again, the apostle is speaking about serving God rather than salvation. God does not create some people so that He can damn them to an eternal hell. If that were true, he’d be contradicting his nature as well as the entire intent of the Gospel that is very clearly for ALL people. Why would Jesus die for everyone if everyone could not access salvation?
The Apostle finishes this chapter by quoting from Isaiah 8:14 and 28:16, “As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.”
Zion was the hill in Jerusalem that lay opposite Mount Moriah on which the temple stood. On Zion was built the palace of David and the seat of justice. Sometimes Zion was applied to the whole city of Jerusalem as well as the Jewish people. Paul uses the symbolic language of a foundation stone that God would lay from and for the Jews. A rock of salvation for all, but to many of the Jews, it became a stumbling block because they wanted to be right with God by obeying the Law rather than by trusting in Jesus as their Messiah.
Paul continues this same theme in chapter 10 of how Israel came to miss salvation while the Gentiles found it. The Jews are zealous for righteousness, but their zeal is misguided. They’re trying to be right with God by obeying the entire law, but that’s impossible. Paul says, “It’s not that hard” because “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”
Being right with God is not impossible like trying to get up to heaven to bring Jesus down or to bring Jesus back from the dead. God has already done this for us by his power. Salvation is simple, accessible and available just like the words you speak. Being right with God is achieved by declaring Jesus to be Lord – words that flow out of a heart that believes God has done the impossible by raising Jesus from the dead. Paul uses the word “everyone” twice in this chapter to declare that the gospel is not just limited to some people.
God doesn’t make some people be objects of wrath to be eternally tortured, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). Now that’s Good News![ii]
[i] According to the Catholic Encyclopedia Calvin taught, “God for His own glorification, and without any regard to original sin, has created some as “vessels of mercy,” others as “vessels of wrath.” Those created for hell He has also predestined for sin, and whatever faith and righteousness they may exhibit are at most only apparent, since all graces and means of salvation are efficacious only in those predestined for heaven.” Others credit Augustine as the author of this heresy. In Christianity, the doctrine that God unilaterally predestines some persons to heaven and some to hell originated with Augustine during the Pelagian controversy in 412 CE.
[ii] Consider also 1 Timothy 2:3-4, “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” And 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord … is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” That is the desire of God.