Posted By MSH on October 5, 2012
While I won’t repeat what I said in Part 1, the comments to that post have left me thinking that some readers still don’t understand what I’m saying and not saying – and so are missing the point of the question. So, by way of review …
What I’m Not Saying and Not Asking
I’m not saying that an unbeliever can do things to please God so that the result is salvation. I’m not suggesting an unbeliever can merit saving grace (which is oxymoronic). I’m therefore not asking the question of whether an unbeliever can do something that results in their no longer being “under wrath” or under less wrath.
Consequently, verses that are clearly in the context of “coming to God” in a faith sense (like Hebrews 11:6) have nothing to do with either my question or the question. That verse (and others like them) cannot therefore be a rebuttal to my contention that unbelievers can please God.
What I’m Saying
What I’m saying is not complicated, though I can (again) tell from comments that readers are over-thinking it. I’m asking whether an unbeliever can do *anything* in life that makes God glad, or happy, or pleased. Does God ever look at something an unbeliever does and take pleasure in it? Or is it the case, as the theologians I quoted in Part 1 insist, that no matter what an unbeliever does, God takes no pleasure in it at all. I simply don’t believe that, and I think there are scriptural examples that support my view—and therefore deny the other (more common in evangelical circles) view.
Sketching My Argument
So how would I argue that unbelievers can do things in which God takes pleasure? I’ll start with what I think is clear case of my position.
When God came to the unbelieving Abimelech, the king of Gerar (we have no reason to view him as a believer), and told him not to touch Sarah, the wife of Abraham, consider what God says in Genesis 20:
3 But God came to Abimelech in a dream by night and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is a man’s wife.” 4 Now Abimelech had not approached her. So he said, “Lord, will you kill an innocent people? 5 Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my hands I have done this.” 6 Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that you have done this in the integrity of your heart, and it was I who kept you from sinning against me. Therefore I did not let you touch her. 7 Now then, return the man’s wife, for he is a prophet, so that he will pray for you, and you shall live. But if you do not return her, know that you shall surely die, you and all who are yours.”
Notice that God gives Abimelech credit for integrity. He doesn’t say, “Sure, buddy,” or (more to my point), “I know Abimelech, but don’t expect me to be pleased by true integrity when it comes from a pagan.” The comment by God makes it clear that, had Abimelech known Sarah was the wife of another man, he would never have procured her–since that would be wrong. His decision was based on personal, true integrity, and God acknowledges that. So are we to conclude God wasn’t pleased by it? I don’t believe that.
Other things I wonder about in this regard in include the following (some random selections):
1. In 1 Cor 7:12 Paul mentions the issue of a believer married to an unbeliever, then notes that if the unbeliever consents to remain married to the believer (as opposed to desertion or divorce) then the believer should not divorce the unbeliever. Are we to conclude that God was displeased when the unbeliever decided to preserve the marriage?
2. Eccl 7:26 says: “And I find something more bitter than death: the woman whose heart is snares and nets, and whose hands are fetters. He who pleases God escapes her, but the sinner is taken by her.” Do only believers resist sexual temptation? Hardly. I have to assume that this verse is broad; that it’s axiomatic – anyone who resists violating their marriage pleases God when they do so.
3. Cyrus the Persian – In Isa 45:1-13 it is clear that Cyrus not a believer (God says more than once that Cyrus doesn’t know Him) and yet he is God’s anointed servant. When Cyrus carried out God’s will, was God displeased? I don’t think so. If we reject the idea that all Cyrus did was predestined—that he could not resist doing God’s will—then how is it that believers can resist the Spirit (Eph 4:30; 1 Thess 5:19)? I’d think that unbelievers could do that if believers can, and so I have to conclude Cyrus could have done some things that would have irritated God while conquering Babylon and letting the Jews return. Had Cyrus changed his mind or not issued the decree to let the Jews return, God would have been angry. So how is it that God wasn’t pleased when Cyrus let them go? Just wondering.
4. How does it make any sense that, if the unbeliever has the law of God written on the heart, and has a God-given conscience to go with that law, that when the unbeliever obeys the conscience and the law of God written on the heart, God isn’t happy? I need an explanation of how that’s at all coherent–excluding the issue of earning saving grace.
5. How about utterly innocuous acts, done with no thought of attention, personal glory, or personal interest—in fact, good things done with literally no thought at all in many cases. By way of some examples (I’m using atheists in the examples, since they wouldn’t be doing things to earn brownie points with God—they don’t believe God is real):
- An atheist is in a store and accidentally knocks an item off the shelf. It’s a stuffed animal, so it isn’t broken. She picks it up and puts it back. Is God angry with her? If she did the right thing, is God glad? Did she not do the right thing?
- An atheist is taking a walk in the park. He spies a homeless woman. It’s just the two of them. Moved with pity, he reaches into his pocket and gives her the spare change. It’s all he has since he uses plastic 99% of the time. No one notices, he just does something nice. Is God angry with him? Did he do the wrong thing?
- An atheist/unbeliever gets angry when he overhears that a Christian he knows tell someone else that he knowingly cheated on his taxes. The atheist believes in being honest. Is God angry with the atheist’s feelings and his standard? Does it make sense that God would be angry with the unbeliever who honors His law when the believer did not?
- An atheist provides for her pet because she believes we ought to be kind to animals and not abuse them. Is God angry with her for doing that and thinking that? Is God glad she takes care of her pet? (You can’t say God doesn’t care here, since that would mean God would not be angry with her even if she abused her pet).
I could go on and on with examples. More theologically, I have a problem with the general idea offered by the theologians I quoted who try to assert God is still angry no matter what an unbeliever does because the unbeliever will always do a right thing with an imperfect motive. That is, there will be something about how they do it or why they do it that isn’t perfectly righteous in God’s eyes. Honestly, how many of us believers would be comfortable standing before God and telling him eye-to-eye that we obeyed him perfectly? Seriously–how can any human do anything perfectly in God’s judgment? It’s a dumb argument.
I think this whole issue and the position I’m shooting at is either an over-reading of the biblical idea of the “lost-ness” of humanity, or a careless reading of it. For me, it’s a good example of theologizing that doesn’t conform to careful thinking.