Bondage of the Will,
3. Hey tough guy, what about Pharaoh, huh, huh? Luther is moving to consider Erasmus’ treatment of specific texts which we might point to for destruction of “free-will”, as Erasmus defines it. One of the first that comes to mind is God’s hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus 4:21. Erasmus claims that it is God’s patience with Pharaoh which will make him every more obstinate. Luther begs to differ.
Erasmus cites Origen and Jerome in his defense; this is too bad because, as godly as those men were, they were the harbingers of some horrible Bible-study methods (Luther calls it “absurd and clumsy”, and he’s not wrong). Luther points out how Erasmus’ version of Exodus 4:21 makes Pharaoh the hardener of his own heart, not God, which is the exact opposite of what the Bible says. This would also mean that God’s mercy and patience really equate to punishment, not opportunity to repent (if Erasmus is right about Ex. 4:21, anytime God is patient with you, it’s a sign that He’s out to get you…hmmm).
Luther follows Erasmus’ argument to its end: what if God does harden with His patience? Then it is God’s mercy which removes free-will from men. Then God’s mercy becomes a cruelty instead, a turn of thought the Scriptures know nothing of. Erasmus valiantly tries to redeem this odd version of God through his own logic, but Luther powerfully responds, reason storms and contends, in order to clear God of blame, and to vindicate His justice and goodness! But faith and the Spirit judge otherwise, believing that God is good even though he should destroy all men.
So, in the end, a defense of man’s free-will is a spiritual issue, coming from a heart of pride and faithlessness. While it may indeed be harder to believe what Scripture sets out plainly about God ruling over all the affairs of men, that type of hard faith is exactly the type the Spirit provides. Many things seem, and are, very good to God which seem, and are, very bad to us. Thus, afflictions, sorrows, errors, hell, and all God’s best works are in the world’s eyes very bad, and damnable. What is better than Christ and the gospel? But what is there that the world abominates more?
4. You still need an answer? How does Luther explain God’s action of working evil in men? To quote bad comics everywhere: What’s up with that?
First, Luther notes, God’s Word ought to suffice for us here. But in case reason demands more, here’s a shot: (1) God is omnipotent/sovereign (still with us?). (2) Satan & fallen man cannot will good, but are stuck pursuing their own desires. (3) Satan & fallen man are still under God’s omnipotence. (4) When God works with the ungodly, apart from regenerating them, He works with them as they are; ungodly cannot produce godly, so the result of God working through ungodly men is ungodliness. It is like a man riding a horse with only three, or two, good feet; his riding corresponds with what the horse is, which means that the horse goes badly.
God cannot suspend His sovereignty; He cannot pause being God, so He must rule even in Satan’s heart, even in the hearts of fools. As a result he sins and errs incessantly and inevitably until he is set right by the Spirit of God. There you have it.
5. Hard to handle – Working with evil instruments isn’t the same thing as hardening them, so next to consider is this act of hardening. What goes on when God hardens someone’s heart?
Luther makes sense of it like this: before conversion, our passion is totally directed inward, we are worshipers of the self, seekers of our own desire. When God acts in the world, He often does things that run contrary to this self-love tendency of man. When the most basic, deepest tide of the soul is fought against without the converting power of the Spirit, it is only reasonable to expect a hardening, a further turning from the One who’s trying to get me to deny myself. God doesn’t need to make new evil in man in order to harden them; He only has to interact with them while withholding Spiritual regeneration and *poof*, they’re hardened.
We again must believe Scripture when it tells us God does not tempt anyone with evil or do evil Himself. So we balance that with seeing that God is able to use evil instruments toward His holy purposes. Here, instead of adding more logical puzzles to the mix, let us worship the God who can even use His enemy’s plans for His own glory!