Saturday, February 05, 2011

Does God Send Delusions? (2 Thess 2:11)

The KJV 2 reads (Thess 2:11-12):

"And for this cause God shall send them strong
delusion, that they should believe a lie: That they
all might be damned who believed not the truth, but
had pleasure in unrighteousness."

This verse and others like it contained in the Bible
can understandably result in some confusion if the biblical usage
of divine permission is not reckoned with properly.

The Greek of 2 Thess 2:11 is

KAI DIA TOUTO PEMPEI AUTOIS hO QEOS ENERGEIAN PLANHS
EIS TO PISTEUSAI AUTOUS TWi YEUDEI.

The NWT renders the Greek of this passage thus:

"So that is why God lets an operation of error go to
them, that they may get to believing the lie . . ."

This translation seems adequate in light of the way
that God (YHWH) is often said to cause events which He
really permits to happen. Examples of this usage occur
in the OT (Gn 3:16; Jer 8:10) and even Paul employs
this type of language in his writings (Cf. Rom
11:7-8). The point of Thessalonians therefore seems to
be that God permits those following the man of sin to
experience Satanic error and delusion. But surely the
God of truth does not send forth error, does He (Ps
31:5)?

The apostle Paul writes that it is impossible for God to
lie (Tit 1:2). I consequently find it hard to accept C.W.
Wannamaker's suggestion in The Epistles to the
Thessalonians: A Commentary on the Greek Text (pp.
261-262) that God wittingly sends forth delusion to
those who reject the Christian message of salvation in
order to ensure they will never accept the
Gospel of God's Kingdom and His dear Son (Compare 2
Cor 4:3-4). It seems more plausible to me (as
Rotherham notes in his Emphasized Bible) that God
allows those who reject the good news to be deceived.
God Himself, however, does not serve as the "deluding
influence" (contra Wannamaker). On the grammatical and exegetical level, this point also seems to be sustained.

George Milligan (St. Paul's Epistles to the
Thessalonians: The Greek Text with Introduction and
Notes) though disagreeing, cites the post-Nicene
Bishop Theodore of Mopsuestia who writes:
"Concessionem Dei quasi opus eius."

Greg Boyd (an open theist) also pens the following:

"This passage is sometimes cited as evidence that the
delusions that unbelievers embrace are as much a part
of God's sovereign will as believers' enlightenment.
Yet, compatiblists insist, this occurs in such a way
that unbelievers are responsible for their delusions
though believers have only God to thank for their
enlightenment. There is a less paradoxical
(contradictory?) interpretation of this passage
available to us.

First, we should note that the passage says that God
'sends...powerful delusions...so that all who have not
believed...will be condemned' (emphasis added). The
delusions God sends doesn't explain why unbelievers
don't believe. It only explains how God responds to
their unbelief. He condemns it.

Second, it is not too difficult to surmise how God
might 'send powerful delusions' in response to
unbelief without directly attributing deception to
God. We saw earlier (Judg. 9:23; 2 Sam. 24:1, 1 Chron.
21:1) that sometimes the intentions of evil spirits
fit in with God's intention to judge people. There is
a certain poetic justice in letting deceiving spirits
delude people who have already demonstrated that they
want to believe lies. This conception may lie behind
Paul's word to the Thessalonians."

Oftentimes, God is said to cause things that He simply permits. It would not be just to harden someone's heart and then condemn them for remaining obstinate. Nor would God overstep His own laws. Deut 32:4 calls Him the "rock." He is the faithful and steadfast Creator of all things, who does not waver from His own standards of justice (1 Pet 4:19).

1 comment:

sabrina said...

Interesting commentary, Edgar.

I find that Reformed Christians typically argue that the concept of God's sovereignty demands that one must accept that He actively controls all events; and that nothing can occur which is not His will.

Passages such as the ones you discuss here are utilized to support this belief, but as you note this interpretation creates a conflict with Biblical descriptions of God's character. It also necessitates rather convoluted exegetical gymnastics in order to accommodate the many Biblical accounts where God and his spokesmen literally plead with humans to be obedient, accompanied by if/then choices and consequences.

It is far more logical to subscribe to the conclusion which you mention here; namely, that in situations where God allows something to occur the Scriptural prose sometimes speaks of Him 'causing' the phenomena.

Kent