God’s delusion

In God, the infinitely good, creates evil, I examined biblically texts that indicated that because everything in creation only occurs by God’s decree, this must include “evil.” One kind of evil God sends is delusion. In this article I discuss the delusion God sends to the Richard Dawkinses of this world.

There are two kinds of atheism: practical and theoretical. In the former, one lives as if there were no God. The latter is of the intellectual kind. About 50 years before Richard Dawkins’ “The God delusion” (2006), Louis Berkoff wrote the following in his most excellent “Systematic Theology”:

“There are three kinds of theoretical atheism: 1. Dogmatic atheism, which denies flatly that there is a divine being; 2. Sceptical atheism which doubts the ability of the human mind to determine whether or not there is a God; and 3. Critical atheism which maintains that there is no valid proof for the existence of God. Dawkins seems to belong to atheism of the third kind. These three kinds of atheism often go hand-in-hand, but even the most modest of them pronounces all belief in God a delusion. Dawkins’ prime beef is with biblical Christianity. The reasons he gives for hating the God of the Bible are, of course, different to the reasons the Bible gives for his hatred. One reason is contained in the verse, which appears in both the “Old” (Tanach) and the New Testament: ” And the LORD said, “…I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion (Exodus 33:19; Romans 9:15).”

The above verse epitomises all of God’s actions toward mankind. Two of these actions are that God hardens the hearts of whom he wills, as he did with Pharaoh (Exodus 4:21; Romans 9:18), and God blinds eyes and deadens ears (Isaiah 6). Immediately after God reveals himself in a literal earth-shaking way to Isaiah, He gives Isaiah the commission to prophesy to the Israelites:


1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train] of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”

4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

Isaiah’s Commission from the Lord

8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” 9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

“‘Keep on hearing, but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
10 Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”
11 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”
And he said:
“Until cities lie waste
without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
and the land is a desolate waste,
12 and the Lord removes people far away,
and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.
13 And though a tenth remain in it,
it will be burned again,
like a terebinth or an oak,
whose stump remains
when it is felled.”
The holy seed is its stump.

God sends deafness, blindness, a delusion. How, you may ask, can a God who is Truth itself send a lie, indeed, lie? I attempt to answer that question.

When God sends deception, it is often irrevocable. It follows that redemption would be impossible; because God ensures that it is thus. We see this damnation, for example, in God’s dealings with King Ahab (1 Kings 22), who had forsaken the Holy One of Israel for Baal. God not only chose to allow him to follow his corrupt heart – which is man’s estate (la condition humaine) – but also decreed that Ahab wander further from Him, as we saw God doing with the majority of the Israelites in Isaiah 6 above. Also, In Ezekiel 14:9 God promised, “But if the prophet is prevailed upon to speak a word, it is I, the LORD, who have prevailed upon that prophet, and I will stretch out My hand against him and destroy him from among My people Israel.”

In 2 Thessalonians 2, God sends a delusion on those “who are perishing.” The context is probably the end of the “age” during the Tribulation and the coming of the “lawless one.“ The key verse is verse 11 (in italics):

2 Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers 2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness] is revealed, the son of destruction,] 4 who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. 5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? 6 And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

Verse 11. God sends a strong (energeia) delusion (plane – wandering, error). “Error” is derived from the Latin errare “to wander.” I am thinking of the wandering Jew, especially Jacques Derrida.

Compare the “delusion” of an Arminian (Albert Barnes, a New School Presbyterian) with a Calvinist.

Albert Barnes

“God shall send them strong delusion – Greek: “energy of deceit;” a Hebraism, meaning strong deceit, The agency of God is here distinctly recognised, in accordance with the uniform statements of the Scriptures, respecting evil; compare Exodus 7:13; Exodus 9:12; Exodus 10:1, Exodus 10:20, Exodus 10:27; Exodus 11:10; Exodus 14:8; Isaiah 45:7. On the nature of this agency, see the notes on John 12:40. It is not necessary here to suppose that there was any positive influence on the part of God in causing this delusion to come upon them, but all the force of the language will be met, as well as the reasoning of the apostle, by supposing that God withdrew all restraint, and suffered men simply to show that they did not love the truth. God often places people in circumstances to develop their own nature, and it cannot be shown to be wrong that He should do so. If people have no love of the truth, and no desire to be saved, it is not improper that they should be allowed to manifest this. How it happened that they had no “love of the truth,” is a different question, to which the remarks of the apostle do not appertain.”

Here is Exodus 7:13 and 9:12, which Barnes referenced but did not quote.

Exodus 7:13

Still Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.

Exodus 7:14

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go.

“The above verses harmonise with Barnes’ “It is not necessary here to suppose that there was any positive influence on the part of God in causing this delusion to come upon them, but all the force of the language will be met, as well as the reasoning of the apostle, by supposing that God withdrew all restraint, and suffered men simply to show that they did not love the truth.”

The Arminian knockout punch: Although the human will is flawed, it is never floored, that is it has the power to remain on its feet no matter what. Hence man does play a positive, if subservient role, in his own salvation. Although God, according to Barnes, is not the cause of delusion. the “force of the language (the Greek text of verse 11) will be met,” in that God merely “withdrew all restraint” and let men follow their love of their delusions. Man hardens his heart while God leaves him to his own devices. What, though, about Exodus 4:21 and 7:3, which Barnes, like a good Arminian, skips over in his list of “hardens.”

Exodus 4:21
And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.

Exodus 7:3

But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt.

So, before Pharaoh hardens his own heart in Exodus 7:13 “Still Pharaoh’s heart was hardened…,” God has already ordained (Ex 4:21, 7:3) that Pharaoh harden his heart, which, contrary to Barnes, does indeed make it necessary here to suppose that there was a “positive influence on the part of God in causing this delusion to come upon [him].”

Does this mean that Pharaohs heart, in its natural state, was pure and that God decided to poison it? Unless you reject the doctrine that we are all born in sin, God didn’t harden a pure heart. Both Arminians and Calvinists know from other biblical texts that everyone is naturally hardened against the truth (which is Christ) because they are born in sin (they have a sin nature; the doctrine of Original Sin). In passing, most orthodox Jews, all Muslims and all agnostics/atheists reject Original sin.

Barnes says “It is not necessary here to suppose that there was any positive influence on the part of God in causing this delusion.” On the contrary, the Greek grammar in 2 Colossians 2:11 is clear; God caused (energeia “power in action”) the delusion. He reinforced the delusion that was already there. To say that He merely removes his restraining hand makes God passive. He was, in Christ, passive once – at the cross and events leading up to it (the Passion means “passive“). Sometimes God merely removes his hand and other times he brings it down hard. As we are not able to distinguish between these two actions, it may be better to say that whatever occurs is ordained by God; yes, evil as well. “I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity (Hebrew ra “evil”), I am the Lord, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:7 ESV). Here is a modern example: the re-election of the US president Obama:

“Although I’ve been worried, says Tom Chantry, about this election for months, only in the aftermath did I realize that I never really thought our country would re-elect a President who has been such an abject failure by any and every measure. It just didn’t seem possible that we would do so, and so at some level I didn’t expect it at all. As the results rolled in, I found myself reeling, unable to take in the enormity of what has happened to our nation. I scarcely slept, unable to stop running through the implications of the disaster. I was, to put it mildly, knocked down and stunned.”

Has God removed his restraining hand and leaving the North Americans to their own delusions, or has God reinforced the American delusion? Can we ever know? In contrast to the Arminian, Albert Barnes’ interpretation of 2 Colossians 2:11, here is the view of the Roman Catholic Church’s nemesis, John the Bald (Jean Calvin).

“11 The working of delusion. He means that errors will not merely have a place, but the wicked will be blinded, so that they will rush forward to ruin without consideration. For
as God enlightens us inwardly by his Spirit, that his doctrine may be efficacious in us, and opens our eyes and hearts, that it may make its way thither, so by a righteous judgment he delivers over to a reprobate mind (Romans 1:28) those whom he has appointed to destruction, that with closed eyes and a senseless mind, they may, as if bewitched, deliver themselves over to Satan and his ministers to be deceived.”

In Calvin we have the positive intervention of God (“the wicked will be blinded”) as well as God removing his restraining hand (“he delivers over to a reprobate mind”). Whereas I homed in on the recent US election, Calvin homes in on the Roman Catholic Church:

“And assuredly we have a specimen of this [God delivering over to delusion] in the Papacy. No words can express how monstrous a sink of errors there is there, how gross
and shameful an absurdity of superstitions there is, and what delusions at variance with common sense. None that have even a moderate taste of sound doctrine, can think of
such monstrous things without the greatest horror. How, then, could the whole world be lost in astonishment at them, were it not that men have been struck with blindness
by the Lord, and converted, as it were, into stumps? That all may be condemned. That is, that they may receive the punishment due to their impiety. Thus, those that perish have no just ground to expostulate with God.”

John Gill echoes Calvin:

“And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion,…. Or “efficacy of error”, which God may be said to send; and the Alexandrian copy reads, “does send”; because it is not a bare permission but a voluntary one; or it is his will that error should be that truth may be tried, and be illustrated by its contrary, and shine the more through the force of opposition to it; and that those which are on the side of it might be made manifest, as well as that the rejecters of the Gospel might be punished; for the efficacy of error is not to be considered as a sin, of which God cannot be the author, but as a punishment for sin, and to which men are given up, and fall under the power of, because they receive not the love of the truth, which is the reason here given: and this comes to pass partly through God’s denying his grace, or withholding that light and knowledge, by which error may be discovered and detected; and by taking from men the knowledge and conscience of things they had, see Romans 1:28. So that they call evil good, and good evil, and do not appear to have the common sense and reason of mankind, at least do not act according to it; and by giving them up to judicial blindness and hardness of heart, and to the god of this world, to blind their minds; and without this it is not to be accounted for, that the followers of antichrist should give into such senseless notions as those of transubstantiation, works of supererogation, &c., or into such stupid practices as worshipping of images, praying to saints departed, and paying such a respect to the pretended relics of saints, &c., as they do; but a spirit of slumber is given them, and eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear, because of their rejection of the Gospel.”

J. Hampton Keathley three steps provides a pithy summary of the discussion:

“Note the three steps in falling for Satan’s lies and his end-time lie:

1. Those who are perishing will fail to love the truth; they will be negative toward truth in their pursuit of the darkness or unrighteousness (2 Thessalonians: 10, 12).

2. As the first step of judgment, God sends a deluding influence that they might believe the lie (vs. 11). The man of lawlessness is Satan’s ultimate lie (see John 8:44 and Rev. 13:1 ff).

3. This leads to God’s judgments, those experienced in the Tribulation and at the Great White Throne. The reason is failure to believe the truth, but this is really a judgment for failing to love truth.

Here is a moral law of the universe as established by a holy and righteous God: God gives the wicked over to the wickedness they have chosen as declared in Romans 1:18-28; Ephesians 4:17-19; and Proverbs 5:22.”

In conclusion, God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy (Romans 9), which is what election – divine election – is about. Many political elections, in contrast, are God’s appointed judgments on those who hate Christ, the Way, the Truth and the life.