Calvinism and Ezekiel 18:32; 33:11?

Question
Is God pleased with the death of the wicked (Ezek. 18:32; 33:11)? How do you personally deal with the death of the wicked? How does it change you? Doesn't this deal with universalism?
Answer

There are some texts in Scripture that are difficult to understand. Two of these are:

Ezekiel 18:32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!

Ezekiel 33:11 Say to them, As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?

First, regarding the actual meaning of Ezekiel 33:10-11. These verses focus on the responsibility of those covenant people who heard the messages of the watchman (Ezek 18:21-32). In Ezekiel 33 an exhortation is followed by the principle of individual responsibility. The people said, "Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?" (Ezek 33:10). God replies that individuals have the opportunity to repent and are commanded to do so. He says, "Turn! Turn from your evil ways!" (Ezek 33:11). This was a call to repent so the house of Israel could be healed and restored. God was careful to warn of judgment and to call his covenant people to repentance as he takes no pleasure in their death because of covenantal disobedience (cf. Ezek. 18:23, 32). So, the Ezekiel passages actually deal with the church and not all humanity.

Second, there are some other verses that bear upon this issue of understanding God and his pleasure (and lack thereof) of the death of the wicked. Here is a sampling:

Deuteronomy 28:63 Just as it pleased the LORD to make you prosper and increase in number, so it will please him to ruin and destroy you. You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess.

Psalm 135:6-11 The LORD does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths. He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth; he sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses. He struck down the firstborn of Egypt, the firstborn of men and animals. He sent his signs and wonders into your midst, O Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants. He struck down many nations and killed mighty kings Sihon king of the Amorites, Og king of Bashan and all the kings of Canaan.

Proverbs 1:24-26 But since you rejected me when I called and no one gave heed when I stretched out my hand, since you ignored all my advice and would not accept my rebuke, I in turn will laugh at your disaster; I will mock when calamity overtakes you.

Ezekiel 5:30 Then my anger will cease and my wrath against them will subside, and I will be avenged. And when I have spent my wrath upon them, they will know that I the LORD have spoken in my zeal.

Revelation 18:20 Rejoice over her, O heaven! Rejoice, saints and apostles and prophets! God has judged her for the way she treated you.

These are just and righteous statements from the living God, as sin deserves and must be punished. Reviewing all the verses above, we should understand that in some sense God does not delight in the death of the wicked, but in another sense, to satisfy his justice, he does. As seen below, this is not contradictory, but complimentary. We call this God's will of disposition. See "What are the Wills of God?" below.

God Does Not Delight in the Death of the Wicked

As a former police detective, I have observed the death sentence being given out. While the sentence was just and deserved, I never observed a judge saying, "Ha, Ha, Ha, I get to kill another one." The judge's sentence is given out in grief - at times even with literal tears! Individuals who witness an electrocution leave with a very real heaviness of heart. It is not a memory one desires to reflect upon. It saddens the heart, but none-the-less justice must prevail!

God is love (1 John 4:7-8). It is his very nature. He is patient and merciful (2 Pet 3:9). Those he must punish were originally created in his own image. Similar to a human judge, God grieves (perfect righteous and just grief) when his justice must be meted out. So, in one sense, the death and suffering of the unrepentant is no delight to the Lord. Nonetheless, his perfect justice must be meted out!

God certainly cares (Matt. 6:25-34; 1 Pet. 5:7). He actually understands (Psa. 103:13-14; Hos. 11:8-9). He is truly compassionate (Neh. 9:16-17; Psa. 103:8-14; 145:8-9; Isa. 49:13; Matt. 9:36; 20:34). He really loves (Mat. 5:45; 1 John 4:7-8, 16) - so much so that he stretched out his arms and died for his people (Rom. 5:8; i.e. John 15:13).

God Does Delight in the Death of the Wicked

In another sense, God is not grieved by the death of the wicked. When a warranted sentence is given in a courtroom, justice has been done. A crime is worthy of its time. There is some relief. There is some comfort. The truth has been heard, received, and believed, and a just verdict has prevailed.

God's justice (Ezek. 18:4) is even more righteous that of a just judge upon this earth (Gen. 18:25). No judge or jury knows the facts as well as God does (Psa. 44:21; Luke 16:15). God knows the heart; he knows the sin behind the sin. He knows all our motives (Prov 16:2). God is the righteous judge (2 Tim. 4:8). Righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne (Psa. 97:2). He judges and governs with justice and righteousness (Psa. 9:8; Acts 17:31). God is the righteous Father (John 17:25), the Son is the righteous advocate (1 John 2:1), and the Spirit is sent to convict the world of righteousness (John 16:8-10). God is righteous, and he always acts only in keeping with what is just. "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?" (Gen 18:25; cf. Deut 32:4; Heb 12:23).

The King is mighty, he loves justice (Psa. 99:4). So, when a sinful, wicked, unbelieving person is judged, what God rightfully delights in is the vindication of his truth and goodness and his own glory and honor. Rightfully, God rejoices in the demonstration of his justice, power, and the infinite worth of his glory (Rom. 9:22-23).

Universalism

Universalism is a false doctrine. Though it grieves God to condemn some for eternity (2 Cor 5:10; cf. Matt 25:31-46) he must. God is holy, holy, holy (Isa 6:3). He can't look upon evil (Hab 1:13). Even a Christian's sin had to be placed upon Christ and wiped out (Acts 3:19; cf. Psa 51:1; Isa 44:22). So, God must judge sin. Those that come to Christ have their sins washed away and those that don't bear them for eternity.

Personal Reflections:

How do I personally deal with the death of the wicked? While I am grateful their evil activities have ceased (Prov. 11:10), I am also grieved that such have entered an eternal Hell (Luke 13:5). I am also humbled that without Christ (his grace alone), there would I go also (Rom. 8:29-30; Eph. 2:8-10). Their death encourages me to pray again for families that have suffered a deep loss (1 Thess. 5:17), to weep with them that weep (Rom. 12:15), to plant and water the seeds of the Kingdom of God (1 Cor. 3:6-9), and by God's grace and mercy be enabled to live a more faithful witness exampling the life of Christ (Eph. 5:1).

Related Topics:

Calvinism and Joshua 24:15?
Calvinism and Psalms 69:28?
Calvinism and Isaiah 55:1-3?
Calvinism and Matthew 11:28?
Calvinism and Matthew 13?
Calvinism and Matthew 23:37?
Calvinism and John 3:16?
Calvinism and John 6:33?
Calvinism and Acts 7:51?
Calvinism and 2 Corinthians 5:14-15, 19?
Calvinism and 1 Timothy 2:4, 6?
Calvinism and 1 Timothy 4:10?
Calvinism and Titus 2:11?
Calvinism and Hebrews 2:10?
Calvinism and 2 Peter 2:1?
Calvinism and 2 Peter 3:9?
Calvinism and 1 John 2:2?
Calvinism and Revelation 3:5?
Theological Flowerbeds - DAISY vs. TULIP
Do human beings have free-will?
Matthew 13 and Election
Will all mankind eventually be saved? (Isn't election unjust?)
Does God Use Evil to Accomplish His Purposes?
What is Reprobation?
What are the Wills of God?

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM).