A Question about God's Judgment
June 15, 2023, 3:00 PM

Question: What does it mean that God does not delight in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11)? One source had this to say: “But the death of the wicked is a tragedy because that person’s chance to be saved and live forever with God has passed.” Except if God didn't choose said wicked person from eternity past to be saved, then they never had a chance to begin with when God created said person. He created them for the sole purpose to destroy them. Correct?

Answer: Thank you for your question, it's a good one. There are two ways we can look at this: (1) The theological way, and (2) the experiential way. Let's look at these in order.

First, the theological way. While our theology must be drawn from Scripture, our theology also informs how we look at Scripture and interpret it. By that, I mean, if we've rightly handled the word of truth and our theology is sound, then our theology influences how we interpret Scripture. This is the whole point behind what we see in confessional churches. A church that subscribes to a confession of faith (e.g., the Westminster Confession of Faith, or the London Baptist Confession of Faith) will preach and teach in accordance with their confession. If their confession is found to be wanting in some area, then it is amended to be back in accordance with Scripture. 

Why do I mention all of this? Because theologically, we believe that God is sovereign over salvation (according to Scripture, see Romans 9:18). We also believe, according to Scripture, that God has elected those who are saved before the foundation of the earth (see Ephesians 1:4). Theologically, we call this the doctrine of Divine (or Sovereign) Election; God has, in eternity past, chosen those who will be saved based on nothing they have done or will do, but only out of mere grace. Moreover, those whom He does not elect, will be judged according to their works. In all of this, God receives the glory: Glory in the salvation of the elect and glory in the damnation of the reprobate.  That's what Paul teaches in Romans 9: "What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory" (Romans 9:22-23 NKJV).

That's the theological way of looking at it, let's now consider the experiential way. The Bible is not just a book of theological truths, but a story of redemption. Many of our theological truths are drawn from Scripture's story of redemption. The Bible contains narrative, poetry, proverb, prophecy, didactic writings, etc. All of which is written so that we may know God through Jesus Christ our Lord. The Bible is God's self-revelation to us. It doesn't reveal God through static, theological principles, but through His interaction with His covenant people, Israel and then the Church. When we read the Bible, we are having God revealed to us. It's much like in Exodus 34:5-7, when God reveals His name to Moses, and it's a list of God's qualities and characteristics (a God who is gracious and merciful and slow to anger). So, while theologically, we know God will condemn the reprobate to eternal judgment, experientially we know that God takes no delight in this (see Ezekiel 33:11). Now we have to take that passage in its context. This is a plea to apostate Israel. These are God's covenant people, and He has no desire to see them judged. God desires that the wicked repent from their evil ways and turn to the Lord. This is God's heart to the unbeliever. God is not some cold, calculating Deity who dispassionately saves the elect and judges the wicked. 

If you want to really see the heart of the Father, look to Jesus. Jesus, John says, came to make the Father known (John 1:18, the word for "known" is the word from which we get "exegesis," so Jesus exegetes the Father, He explains Him). Jesus tells Phillip, in response to his request to show them the Father, that if you have seen Jesus, you have seen the Father (John 14:9). The heart of the Father is no more on display when Jesus tells the parables of the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost son (Luke 15). In each of these parables, God is the seeker, the One who seeks for the lost coin, sheep, son. In particular, we see the Father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, running to his son when he sees him in the distance. This is the heart of the Father. We also see the heart of the Father who goes out to the older brother at the end of the parable. The older brother represents the Pharisees, the ones who were grumbling at the sinners coming to Jesus. The Father's appeal to the older brother is Jesus' appeal to the Pharisees: "Won't you join in the celebration of lost people coming to faith?" Now, we're told that Jesus knew those who were His, so it's not like He's wishing for reprobate people to become elect. He is expressing His feelings toward those who are lost and facing judgment.

Maybe an example might help to show that two things can be true at the same time. Suppose a parent is dealing with a misbehaving child. A good parent disciplines his child, so that the child will avoid that which is evil/wrong and choose that which is good/right. A good parent doesn't want to discipline the child. A good parent takes no delight in disciplining the child. But a good parent must discipline the child. Why? Because it's the right thing to do. Now all analogies regarding God break down as some level, but God judges the wicked, not because He takes pleasure in doing so, but because He is holy, righteous, and good. If God failed to judge the wicked, then He would cease to be holy, righteous, and good. Justice demands that the wicked are judged. Justice, however, does not demand that God take delight in doing so. But overall, God is glorified in the salvation of the elect and the judgment of the wicked.

I hope this helps.

~ Pastor Carl