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#669 Why Doesn’t God Terminate Would-Be Apostates?

February 16, 2020

Hi Dr Craig,

I've been studying the Perseverance of the Saints and I found your paper on the subject very thought-provoking. I have been wrestling with this subject as of late and there appear to be certain difficulties with the traditional understanding of Perseverance, some of which you have highlighted in your paper. However, I would like to ask about a difficulty I see on the other side. My question pertains to reconciling God's loving nature with the teaching that Christians can become lost.

If God loves his children enough to send Christ to die for them, why wouldn't he simply take the life of the believer *before* they apostatize (given his foreknowledge that if they're kept alive, they will apostatize). After all, God is in control of when we die and Scripture repeatedly affirms that God loves his sheep deeply and desires none of them to be lost. It seems to me that it is well within God's capabilities, and that it is more consistent with his character, to take one's life while they are still in a 'state of grace'. My mind jumps to 1 Corinthians 11:32 which appears to repeat this sentiment. If he is able to, why doesn't he? I would love to know your thoughts on this as I have a hard time reconciling God's love with his allowing apostasy to occur, especially when it appears it could be prevented.



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Dr. craig’s response


This is a really thought-provoking question about which I’ve never really thought, Nader! So let me offer just a couple random thoughts here that may stimulate further thinking about the subject.

One way to respond to the question is to affirm that this is exactly what God does. He ends the lives of would-be apostates before they fall permanently away. The obvious challenge to this response is that we seem to have good examples of people who do apostatize. But here we have to differentiate from such alleged cases and people who temporarily fall away and then eventually repent and come back to faith (like the apostle Peter). How do we know that persons in Scripture who seemingly apostatize (like Demas) do so irrevocably and do not come back to Christ, even on their deathbeds? Moreover, we must differentiate from permanent apostates people who never had genuine saving faith in the first place but merely a counterfeit faith (like Judas). In cases of counterfeit faith apostasy does not truly enter the picture. So on this view, although it is possible to apostatize and forfeit salvation, no one ever actually does so. As you explain, this is a Molinist viewpoint rather like the views I describe in my article. I suggested that God might provide gifts of grace that He knew would be effective in winning the free perseverance of the saints; you suggest that if that’s not feasible, then He just kills off the would-be apostate. The implication of both views is perseverance of the saints along with libertarian freedom.

An alternative view would be to say that God has morally sufficient reasons for allowing someone to freely apostatize despite God’s every effort to save Him.  For God’s concern is not with just an isolated individual but with a whole world of free creatures whom He seeks to draw freely to salvation. It may be that if, for example, He kills off Joe before he can fall away, then his little daughter Sherri, embittered by God’s taking her daddy prematurely, refuses to come to faith in God or maybe even falls away from faith herself—in which case God has to kill off Sherri, too, before she can do so!  I think you can see how quickly this can get out of hand. Maybe Sherri (or her child or grandchild, etc.), had God not killed off Sherri’s father and, hence, Sherri herself, would have become a great hymn writer or Christian doctor who would help to bring thousands to Christ. Rather than a single apostate in hell, one might wind up with multitudes in hell instead!  When we remember that God’s goal is to bring an optimal number of people freely to salvation, it’s not at all implausible that such a world would include some apostates.

- William Lane Craig