In “Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart? On the failure of a popular apologetic response” I noted the theological and ethical problems that arise with God acting upon Pharaoh (i.e. “hardening his heart”) so that he will act in an evil and unwise manner. The question, as I noted, is simple: “if God is perfectly good, why would he act upon the will of a human being to lead that human being to engage in an act of evil?”
I suggested that the problem lay with what I called the “No Determination to Evil Principle (NDEP)” which can be stated as follows:
“A perfect being would not override a person’s will with the end of ensuring that the person chooses an evil course of action.”
At this point I’m going to offer the first of two proposed solutions. And this first solution directly challenges NDEP. Despite the superficial attraction, it seems to me that NDEP is far from obvious. In fact, I think a little bit of reflection can show NDEP to be false.
The core issue here is that a perfect being could override a person’s will to choose evil if doing so would be to the overall benefit of the person so determined.
You might be wondering: how could it ever be to one’s benefit to choose evil? But I don’t think it is hard to imagine circumstances of this type.
Let’s say that Charmaine is walking along one day when she sees a man sitting on the sidewalk, begging for money. She considers for a moment whether she should buy him a meal. However, a moment later her heart experiences a bit of divine hardening and she moves on, having done nothing. If the parable of the Good Samaritan represents the heart of God, how could God intervene in this case to harden Charmaine’s heart against doing the right thing?
Here’s one possibility. The man begging for money is, in fact, a serial killer who uses his sorry state as a ruse to reel in his next victim. By hardening Charmaine’s heart in this instance, God saves her life. He can then convict her of her decision to walk by at a later date thereby forming her a character of compassion even as he saved her life.
Is it possible that God might have hardened Pharaoh’s heart in a way that ultimately benefited Pharaoh? In Exodus 14 we read the following:
16 Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. 17 I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. 18 The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.”
The interesting thing about this passage is that God is described as hardening the hearts of Pharaoh and his army to lead to the knowledge of God not only among the Israelites but among the Egyptians as well. And if the Egyptian citizenry come to the knowledge of God through this tragic event, it is fully possible that Pharaoh and his army — all those who had their hearts hardened — likewise come to the knowledge of God through this event. Yes, it is through an event that ultimately leads to their death. But if one believes that this life is but the forecourt for eternity, one will have a very different perspective on death than if one believes this life is all there is.
Consequently, it may be that every time God hardens the heart of an individual it is for the overall benefit of the person whose heart is hardened. And that is one way to explain why a perfectly good God would act upon the will of a human being to lead that human being to engage in an evil act.