How do you respond to 2 Thessalonians 2:11–12?

Of those who disobey the truth Paul says, “…God sends them powerful delusions, leading them to believe what is false so that all who have not believed the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness will be condemned.”

This passage is sometimes cited as evidence that the delusions that unbelievers embrace are as much a part of God’s sovereign will as believers’ enlightenment. Yet, compatibilists insist, this occurs in such a way that unbelievers are responsible for their delusions though believers have only God to thank for their enlightenment. But there is a less paradoxical (less contradictory?) interpretation of this passage available to us.

First, we should note that the passage says that God “sends…powerful delusions…so that all who have not believed…will be condemned” (emphasis added). The delusions God sends aren’t an explanation for why unbelievers don’t believe. They are instead the way God responds to their unbelief: he condemns it.

Second, it is not too difficult to surmise how God might “send powerful delusions” in response to unbelief without directly attributing deception to God. Sometimes the intentions of evil spirits fit in with God’s intention to judge people (e.g.Judg. 9:23; 2 Sam. 24:1, 1 Chron. 21:1). There is a certain poetic justice in letting deceiving spirits delude people who have already demonstrated that they want to believe lies. It’s significant that elsewhere Paul says that Satan, “the god of this age,” blinded the minds of unbelievers (2 Cor. 4:4). I believe that this conception lies behind Paul’s word to the Thessalonians.

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