What Keeps God from Saving All People?

If God desires all to be saved, what keeps Him from saving whom He desires to save? If God genuinely desires for all to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4), why doesn’t God save all people?

John Piper gives an answer:

“[The answer] can be illustrated … by reflecting … on 1 Timothy 2:4, where Paul says that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” What are we to say of the fact that God desires something that in fact does not happen?

There are two possibilities, as far as I can see.

1. One possibility is that there is a power in the universe greater that God’s, which is frustrating him by overruling what he desires.

Neither the Reformed nor the Arminians affirms this.

2. The other possibility is that God wills not to save all, even though he “desires” that all be saved, because there is something else that he wills or desires more, which would be lost if he exerted his sovereign power to save all.

This is the solution that I, as Reformed, affirm along with Arminians. In other words, both the Reformed and the Arminians affirm two wills in God when they ponder deeply over 1 Timothy 2:4…. Both can say that God wills for all to be saved. And when queried why all are not saved, both the Reformed and the Arminians answer the same: because God is committed to something even more valuable than saving all.

The difference between the Reformed and the Arminians lies not in whether there are two wills in God, but in what they say this higher commitment is.

What does God will more than saving all?

1. The answer the Arminians give is that human self-determination and the possible resulting love relationship with God are more valuable than saving all people by sovereign, efficacious grace.

2. The answer the Reformed give is that the greater value is the manifestation of the full range of god’s glory in wrath and mercy (Rom. 9:22-23) and the humbling of man so that he enjoys giving all credit to God for his salvation (1 Cor. 1:29).”

-John Piper, Does God Desire All to Be Saved? (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2013), 38-39.

One thought on “What Keeps God from Saving All People?

  1. Tough to dabble in this too deeply. We are tinkering with God-level mechanics using tools (logic and reason) that are at least dimensions lower than He. The only means of knowing anything on that level is by witness, and only the Godhead is sufficient there. That makes the Reformed view most reliable and true, yet I swear I “chose” to eat that last carrot at lunch…?

    I feel that there is a complimentarian view that posits that God is effectively in control of all people – objects of mercy and objects of wrath alike; yet, we are responsible and active in our actions. I envision this as I would myself drawing a stickman. The stickman can have adventures, tell stories, rise, and fall. I control these stories in every detail by my pen, yet within the limitations of the storyboard. He is his own person and the rules within the storyboard apply to him. He and I can feel as though we are independent because we are not able to perceive the higher dimensional mechanics at work in all lower dimensions. We can’t sense it, but the spiritual world is the intertwined reality behind the physical.

    Whether God gave us free will or not, God has given us the perception of free will and that probably the most interest question of all. If He’s in control, then why does He allow us to feel like we are making choices by ourselves?

    Thanks Erik,

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