God doesn't want to forgive!
Mark 4:10-12 has the apostles asking Jesus about his parables and he says, "The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables so that, 'They may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven.' "
What are we to make of that? The surface and shallow reading of the text would say that Jesus didn't want them to repent because he didn't want them to be forgiven and that's why he taught in parables. There are those who take just that view and don't mind saying so. Their claim is that before he created humankind God determined that the entire human family (after Adam) would be born morally and spiritually blind and deaf and incapable of turning to God. Out of the entire human family, we're told, God decreed that he would work a moral miracle on a tiny minority and not only would they be able to turn to God they would be unable to resist turning to God. The rest would remain morally and spiritually incapable of wanting to repent and therefore incapable of wanting to be forgiven. This text is used to support that awful doctrine.
Whatever else we are to say about that doctrine and how it uses this text, at least we have a clear picture: God doesn't want these people to repent because he doesn't want to forgive them. Make up your mind to this: the doctrine insists that before he made them God ordained them to be sinners and didn't want them to turn from sin because he didn't want to forgive them!
But if the doctrine were true Jesus would be making no sense. On a sheerly surface reading Jesus thinks his teaching in parables is what disables these outsiders. If the above doctrine were true, even if Jesus had spelled out the truth in baby-language with full explanation for every phrase, these people still couldn't have heard him because God ordained them incapable of it even before he made them. Jesus might as well have been talking to a stone wall. Parables or no parables they were born incapable of receiving truth and they were born that way because God purposed before he created them that they would be born that way.
The OT text Jesus works with here is Isaiah 6:9-10 and it is addressed to a nation that has chosen its treachery and its wickedness and has no intention of turning from it. 6:9 is laced with irony and we know that because God is commanding them to sin! God is commanding them to sin! [The speech is in command form—J.A Alexander.] Jesus in Matthew 23:32 scathes the worst kind of Pharisees and says, "Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers." On the surface we have Jesus ordering these men to sin (he uses an imperative) when it's clear that no such thing is happening. He knows what they will do because he knows them and though it saddens him without limit (23:37) he says to them, "Well, get on with it then!" God commands no man to sin! James won't even allow us to believe that God tempts men to sin (James 1:13) so you know Isaiah 6:9 is God speaking to a people bent on wickedness and he's saying something like, "Go ahead! Ruin yourself!"
When Zechariah sums up the past history of his people under the prophets before the fall of Jerusalem he says they stubbornly stopped their ears and hardened their hearts and wouldn't listen (Zechariah 7:7-11).
There is nothing in these texts (Mark 4 or Isaiah 6) about eternal reprobation and election for they are both dealing with people who have chosen to reject the word of God that called them to obedience. It's the case that when God sends a word to a sinner or a sinful people to repent or to obey in some matter that God knows how they will react and yet he sends the command. In sending the command God provokes a moral crisis in the one to whom the command is sent and for that reason the result is laid at God's feet. "Let my people go!" he said to Pharaoh even though he knew Pharaoh would refuse. But Pharaoh's refusal was Pharaoh's choice and not God's choice for Pharaoh. God has the sovereign and moral right to demand that Pharaoh obey even though he knows Pharaoh will refuse and that God will use his refusal to serves his own good purposes.
But no case of hardening in scripture refers to a pre-creation purpose of God. Hardening has nothing to do with eternal reprobation and election. God hardens only sinful nations or individuals that have freely chosen to be sinful.
Every good gift comes from the Holy Father and those who are blessed with faithful hearts have been blessed by him and all who those who hear the gospel of the kingdom and are "outside" are "outside" because they would have it so and not because God doesn't want to forgive them!
Notice in Mark 4:11 that Jesus said to those on the outside "everything is said in parables." The fact is that that wasn't literally the case—you only have to read the Gospels to see he wasn't speaking literally. He might well have been saying, "With hearts like theirs even plain speech isn't clear."
©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.
Many thanks to Ed Healy, for allowing me to post from his website, theabidingword.com.