How do you respond to Proverbs 16:4?

“The Lord has made everything for its purpose,
even the wicked for the day of trouble.”

Calvinists often cite this verse to support the conclusion that some people are created wicked for the expressed purpose of being sent to hell. Since Scripture teaches that God is love (1 John 4:8, 16), that God loves all people (John 3:16) and thus does not willing afflict anyone (Lam. 3:33) or will their damnation (Ezek. 18:30–32; 33:11; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet 3:9), we should seek for a different interpretation.

An alternative interpretation is not difficult to find. Proverbs 16:4 is using the language of moral order. God set up creation such that good is (eventually) rewarded and evil is (eventually) punished. In this sense the “purpose” for the wicked is found in the “day of trouble” that shall come upon them. It’s significant to note that the verb translated in the NRSV as “made” (paw-al’) can be translated as “works out” (as in the NIV), an observation that confirms our interpretation. God steers the wickedness of agents so that their end eventually fits the moral order of creation. Moreover, the word translated as “purpose” (ma’ neh) can be translated as “answer.”*

The meaning of the passage, then, is that God works things out so that the end of the wicked “answers” their wickedness. They eventually reap what they sow. We thus need not accept the diabolic picture of God creating certain people for the expressed purpose of having them suffer endlessly in hell.

Note
*See D. Clines, “Predestination in the Old Testament,” in Grace Unlimited, ed. C. Pinnock (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1975), 122.

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