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.

Related Reading

What is the significance of Jeremiah 3:6–7?

Regarding Israel, the Lord says “I thought, ‘After she has done all this she will return to me’; but she did not return.” If the future is exhaustively settled in God’s mind, the meaning of this verse is unclear. How could God really think that something was going to happen if he foreknew with absolute…


How can you put your trust in a God who’s not in control of everything?

Question: I read your book Is God to Blame? and found it to be very compelling. It’s rocking my world. But I’m also finding I’m now having trouble trusting God like I used to. I used to believe that God ordained or at least foreknew all that was going to happen. Now I’m questioning this,…

How do you respond to 1 Samuel 2:25?

Eli’s sons “would not listen to the voice of their father, for it was the will of the Lord to kill them.” Compatibilists sometimes cite this text as an example of how God determines events for which humans are morally responsible. Eli’s sons were evil in not listening to their father, yet it was the…

Lighten Up: Your Church Should Welcome This Friend

Cartoon via

Are You a Church Misfit?

Romain Guy via Compfight Here’s a lovely reflection from Rachel Held Evans on the experience of finding that your questions are unwelcome in church. Evans is bumping up against this material as she reads Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior. I suspect this kind of experience is much more common that we’d like to admit. Can you…

If God anticipates each possibility perfectly, how does he differ from the “frozen God” of classical theism?

Question: If God anticipates each and every possibility as if each were only possibility, how does God ever experience novelty and adventure? It seems that a God who perfectly anticipated (from all eternity)  every single possibility as if it were the only possibility would not differ from the timeless “frozen God” of classical theism Answer:…