Does God Fail if We Resist?

, posted by Godismyjudge

Hodge’s first argument1 against resistible grace is:

P1: God, being infinite, cannot fail in any of His “serious intentions”
P2: God ordains all things according to His purpose
P3: If God wants His grace to convert us, and we resist and stay unconverted, God fails
C1: so grace is irresistible

P1 & P2 are true but equivocal. P3 is false, so the conclusion does not follow.

If by “fail,” we mean that God intends for Himself to do something and it’s not done, then God cannot fail (Daniel 4:35). But God intends for us to do things that we don’t do. (Luke 13:34, Luke 19:41-42) In fact, God hates sin (Psalm 5:4) and sin is contrary to His will (Mark 3:35). So, is God failing every time someone sins? It’s really a question of what God’s intending. Hodge supposes grace to be irresistible, meaning, grace is a sufficient cause of conversion. If this were so, if God means to causally necessitate conversion (such that choosing otherwise is impossible), then anything short of conversion is indeed failure. But this is not what God wishes to do.

In the case of Christians, God intends to enable obedience (1 Corinthians 10:13). Does He fail? No. We are enabled to avoid sin. God further intends for Christians to avoid sin (1 Thessalonians 4:3-6). So God enables us to avoid sin, and wills for us to avoid sin. So then, if we sin, God failed, right? At first it appears that the answer is yes. We can distinguish cases in which God wants Himself to do something from cases where God wants us to do something. But in the latter case it does seem like God fails in getting us to do what He wants us to do. But before we answer, let’s look at P2.

P2 is true (Ephesians 1:11). God has an overall plan for everything. But God’s plan includes cases where we sin. How can this be? God’s permission. God can prevent sin by removing the option (Genesis 20:6, Psalm 19:13, Hosea 2:6). But when God chooses to not prevent sin, He permits it (2 Chronicles 32:31). This permission doesn’t mean that God approves of the sin, but rather that He wants us to choose between right and wrong options. Hodge also appeals to divine permission2, but this is unhelpful to the matter at hand, because he denies we can choose either good or evil3 and explains that the difference between permissive and efficient decrees is only the means God uses to render events certain.

If God permits us to sin and we do in fact sin, we still can’t say God failed, because God isn’t done yet. However we choose (good or evil), God can use our choice to accomplish His purpose. If we sin, God can either prevent us from accomplishing our sinful intentions (2 Kings 1:9-12) or He can bring a greater good out of our sinful choice (Psalm 76:10, Isaiah 10:5, Acts 4:27-28). Thus, God’s permitting sin, in order to bring about a greater good (which includes free choice), is part of His plan. And it’s in this bigger aim that God does not fail, even though He wanted us to avoid sin and we did not. P3 is false, because it misses this big picture aim of God.

Hodge also thinks God permits sin to bring about a greater good2. But his view of the greater good doesn’t include a world with creatures who are able to choose either good or evil.3 This leaves him with some unresolved problems.

1. God appears to be the author of sin
2. Without Libertarian Free Will, how is sin even a possibility?
3. A contradiction in God’s will (i.e. God wills and does not will sin)
4. God’s grace given to the reprobate is unsuited to their conversion
5. God’s calling is insincere


1 Hodge’s actual statements:
1. It proceeds on the assumption that events in time do not correspond to the purpose of God. This is not only inconsistent with the divine perfection, but contrary to the express declarations of Scripture, which teaches that God works all things according to the counsel of his own will. He foreordains whatever comes to pass.
2. It supposes either that God has no purpose as to the futurition of events, or that his “serious intentions” may fail of being accomplished. This is obviously incompatible with the nature of an infinite Being.
3. It not only assumes that the purpose of God may fail, but also that it may be effectually resisted; that events may occur which it is his purpose or intention should not occur. How then can it be said that God governs the world; or, that He does his pleasure in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth? (link)

2Sin, therefore, according the Scriptures, is permitted, that the justice of God may be known in its punishment, and his grace in its forgiveness. (link)

3This doctrine, that God cannot effectually control the acts of free agents without destroying their liberty, is so contrary to the Scriptures, that it has never been adopted by any organized portion of the Christian Church. Some theologians avail themselves of it for an emergency, when treating of this subject [i.e. the existence of evil], although it is utterly at variance with their general scheme. . . . [the idea that] without destroying liberty, God cannot prevent its abuse. If this be so, then God cannot govern free agents. He cannot secure the accomplishment of his purposes, or the fulfilment of his promises. There is no security for the triumph of good in the universe. (link)

4The decrees of God are certainly efficacious, that is, they render certain the occurrence of what He decrees. Whatever God foreordains, must certainly come to pass. The distinction between the efficient (or efficacious) and the permissive decrees of God, although important, has no relation to the certainty of events. All events embraced in the purpose of God are equally certain, whether He has determined to bring them to pass by his own power, or simply to permit their occurrence through the agency of his creatures. It was no less certain from eternity that Satan would tempt our first parents, and that they would fall, than that God would send his Son to die for sinners. The distinction in question has reference only to the relation which events bear to the efficiency of God. Some things He purposes to do, others He decrees to permit to be done. He effects good, He permits evil. He is the author of the one, but not of the other. With this explanation, the proposition that the decrees of God are certainly efficacious, or render certain all events to which they refer, stands good. (link)