Monday, April 16, 2018

Does God take pleasure in the death of sinners?

Here's a popular Arminian prooftext:

Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? (Ezk 18:23; cf. 33:11).

But for some odd reason, this is not a popular Arminian prooftext: 

And as Yahweh took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you. And you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of it (Deut 28:63).

One commentator says:

The construction of v63 signals a new and shocking dimension in this litany of horror…Moses begins by speaking shockingly of a change in Yahweh's disposition toward his people. Where previously Yahweh had delighted in causing Israel to flourish, now he will delight in their destruction. This notion is troubling to modern readers, but read within the ancient conceptional environment, it contrasts sharply with the notions of Israel's neighbors. Where others attributed such calamities to demonic forces and hostile deities, Yahwism refuses to take the easy way out. These statements reflect the other side of Yahweh's passion: When his people trample underfoot his grace, his passions will be ignited against them. D. Block, Deuteronomy (Zondervan 2012), 660-61.

For his part, Currid says it may be "hyperbolic" to highlight the seriousness of the infidelity (449), while McConville says the verse is a "biting rhetorical twist" (408). The basic point is that we need to be consistent. If we interpret Ezk 18:23 literally, then we need to interpret Deut 28:63 literally. If, on the other hand, we interpret Deut 28:63 anthropomorphically, then we need to interpret Ezk 18:23 anthropomorphically. 

Likewise, I don't see Arminians brandishing this text:
25 Moreover, I gave them statutes that were not good and rules by which they could not have life, 26 and I defiled them through their very gifts in their offering up all their firstborn, that I might devastate them. I did it that they might know that I am the Lord (Ezk 20:25-26).
As Christopher Wright explains in his commentary, the statement is sarcastic. That, however, should warn us about automatically taking statements in Ezekiel at face value. We need to make allowance for his rhetorical techniques, including perlocutionary register. 


  1. John Piper does a good job of addressing all of those texts in his book “The Pleasues of God”.

  2. I think this is a really interesting point. I've read Deuteronomy I don't know how many times and it never occurred to me to make this connection with the Ezekiel passage. I'm wondering if you can say a bit more about this though. Let's take both passages literally. (I'm actually not sure what that amounts to in contrast to an anthropomorphic interpretation. Is it that the latter is a report of what God is doing from the perspective of an author's *experience*, which is may or may not be accurate what God is doing, whereas a literal interpretation is committed to God taking pleasure in these thing?) Then I can see someone saying, "Ah hah! Yet another contradiction in the Bible. To the question, 'Does God take pleasure in destroying some people?', Ezekiel says 'No' and Deuteronomy says 'Yes'." Can you say a bit more, since we are talking about being consistent with these passages, about why taking both in a certain way (literal or not) does not result in this problem? Thanks!

    1. 1. If both are taken literally, then it generates a prima facie contradiction. I'm using this as a wedge tactic to force freewill theists to be consistent. It would be arbitrary to take the Ezekiel passage literally but not the Deuteronomic passage literally. Special pleading.

      2. If taken literally, possibly the tension could be relieved by arguing that the context is different. I don't think that's a promising avenue.

      3. What the freewill theist should do is to admit that neither passage ought to be taken at face value.

      4. There is a rhetorical element to the Deuteronomic passage. The parallelism.

      5. Strictly speaking, I'm really referring to anthropopathy rather than anthropomorphism. That's a complex issue. Some emotions are indexed to human experience. God is incapable of some emotions.

      That doesn't mean it's false to attribute any emotion to God. But that requires us to engage in abstraction.

      6. In terms of divine judgment, I think the Bible uses emotive language as a colorful way of expressing ethical attitudes. Literally speaking, God takes moral satisfaction in exacting justice.

      I hesitate to say that God literally rejoices in the destruction of sinners. That doesn't mean I agree with the Arminian interpretation because they still operate with an emotive paradigm.

      7. That said, there may be something appropriate about rejoicing in the destruction of at least some sinners. I'm not at all sure it would be wrong to enjoy seeing a vicious dictator receive his comeuppance.

      A lot of movies have villains the audience is expected to hate, and take delight when the villain gets his just deserts. Perhaps that attitude has a divine counterpart.

      On the other hand, God is so vastly metaphysically superior to creatures, including morally evil creatures, that there may be too much of a gap for God to have a reaction that's even analogous to a human reaction in that regard. A vicious dictator is by nature our peer. A wicked man. God doesn't relate on the same plane.

  3. OK. That makes sense to me. I appreciate it!