by Vance Stinson
Scripture assures us that God is righteous and just (Psalm 36:6), and that His mercy endures forever (Psalm 118:2-4). John tells us, “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and James tells us that God is not the author of sin or the source of temptations that lead to sin but is invariably the giver of every good and perfect gift (James 1:13-18).
Yet, some passages seem to say that God is the author of evil and that He sometimes acts unjustly: He “turned [the enemy’s] heart to hate His people, to deal craftily with His servants” (Psalm 105:25). “He turns [the king’s heart] wherever He wishes” (Proverbs 21:1). He “has made all for Himself, yes, even the wicked for the day of doom” (Proverbs 16:4). “He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens” (Romans 9:18). The model for “whom He wills He hardens” is the Egyptian Pharaoh of the time of the Exodus (verse 17). In Exodus 4:21, God explicitly states, “I will harden his [Pharaoh’s] heart” (cf. Exodus 7:3; 10:20).
If, as James says, God is not the author of sin or cause of temptations, how can He make the wicked for the day of doom, turn hearts to hatred, or harden men’s hearts? Are these passages contradictory?
The key is in understanding how God hardens men’s hearts. He hardened Pharaoh’s heart by sending and withdrawing plagues. This does not mean that God put a rebellious spirit (hardness) in Pharaoh’s heart; it means that a rebellious spirit arose within Pharaoh’s heart in response to God’s actions of sending and withdrawing the plagues. In one sense, then, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart; in another sense, Pharaoh hardened his own heart. In fact, the text states that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (see Exodus 8:13,32; 9:34; cf. 7:13,22).
An employer may make an employee angry by refusing to give him a promotion he thinks he deserves, but the anger arises within the employee’s own heart; it’s not put there by the employer. Similarly, God turns the hearts of kings by performing actions that cause kings to turn their own hearts. He hardened the heart of Pharaoh by performing acts that caused Pharaoh to harden his own heart.
But what about Proverbs 16:4? How does God make the wicked for the day of doom? The Amplified Bible brings out the correct meaning of this passage: “The Lord has made everything [to accommodate itself and contribute] to its own end and His own purpose—even the wicked [are fitted for their role] for the day of calamity and evil.” God doesn’t make men wicked; He makes sure wicked men receive punishments appropriate for their deeds.