Excuse the lowercase g in the title. It’s a stylistic affectation that I have always used in this blog. (I’m putting off my homework tonight to ruminate about this.) I thought that a bit of musing I made about this subject while I was young could be useful. I have read some of Calvin’s Institutes and found them logically problematic while devotionally stimulating. I have no bones to pick with Calvin himself, but his theories have participated in too many holy wars.
Now to the question: Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart. To listen to a TULIP Calvinist, God was revealing in Romans 9 that some people are purposively sent to hell to prove a point, and as Jerry Wallis suggests, the sharp edge of a consistent TULIP Calvinist requires the destruction of some people to prove he is God. Immediately, I reject any characterization of God that smacks of pettiness. God doesn’t need any of us to do anything for his glory to be completely full. The God that would condemn some to hell and choose beforehand to bring some to heaven, is just philosophical determinism in sheep’s clothing. I reject it out of hand. I actually reject the god that Calvinism requires. He doesn’t qualify.
So it seems that Pharaoh, on the TULIP’s account is doomed to hell. But I offer an alternative. Reading the Bible through “in a year” this year, I just passed the account in Exodus where Moses recounts the plague events. Over and over Pharaoh rejects Moses’ plea and keeps the Israelis in Egypt. The Bible says that God is the one who hardens Pharaoh’s heart. Does God therefore have a personal vendetta against Pharaoh? Or, does he count Pharaoh among those who are predetermined to go to hell, and so uses him to resist the Israeli’s? After all, who cares about Pharaoh’s soul?
But I think if we examine the story, we see that the purpose of God in hardening Pharaoh’s heart has nothing to do with Pharaoh himself. He is not a sociopath when he mourns the loss of his firstborn. He is actually human. The arrogance of the TULIPs makes them think they know the eternal destination of Pharaoh. They are certain that God’s hardening was personal and that God was getting glory in the negativity of Pharaoh’s circumstance.
I will argue that God hardening Pharaoh’s heart had everything to do with demonstrating to National Israel that the God who they were only peripherally acquainted with, YHWH, was the real and demonstrably sovereign Lord of Creation, not Ra and his pantheon of subordinate gods. We know, since they tried to return to Egypt and built replica’s of Egypt’s gods, that they were henotheists. They were not loyal to YHWH and needed something of a boost in their faith to make the move. God provided that boost by the miracles he did in Egypt and the desert. The demonstration of the plagues was not Pharaoh centered. It was Israel centered.
So where does that leave Pharaoh? Well, just about the same place we are all in. We have sinned; we have hurt and offended the creation, people, and God himself. But, we are redeemable in Christ. These arrogant determinists write Pharaoh into oblivion because of his bad behavior (yes, motivated by God). But which one of us has not done what Pharaoh did on some small scale. In fact the hardening of the TULIP’s heart against those who are obviously damned, looks an awful lot like Pharaoh’s hardened heart against Israel.
I appeal finally to the thief on the cross beside Jesus. Did Pharaoh have a moment of repentance before he died? We’ll never know. Honestly, we won’t, despite all the howling of the TULIPs who condemn themselves by their haughty absolutes and deterministic god. What a sorry lot, even with the devotional appeal of Calvin, and the wonderful propositional logic of their declarations.
Are they going to be saved. I don’t know. Some of them will be, I’ll wager. But I don’t know who of them will be; God knows. Like Socrates, though, I am smart enough to know that I don’t know. I’m not smart enough to know whether I will persist until the end with Christ, even though I think I’m elect, elect in and because of the Son of God.
Finally, I take a page out of C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. In The Last Battle when the Calormene servant of Tash came to the doorway, Aslan let him in because the servant’s faith was more worthy than Tash, his proclaimed god. With respect to mercy, I believe God is generous. With respect to vengeance, I believe God doesn’t wish things to come to that, though he will exact vengeance on those who positively refuse his proffered gift. And though he exacts vengeance on some, I don’t believe it is with joy, or pleasure. Regret is the emotion that I think most closely resembles the disposition of God in that case.
Don’t take me as mean-spirited, I think it is the TULIPs who are. I reserve further criticisms of Calvinism until later. I’ve exposed my soft underbelly quite enough for tonight.