I have yet to hear a compelling explanation of why these words appear in 2 Thessalonians 2 (verses 7-14). Emphasis, of course, is mine:
For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It seems to say pretty clearly that God chooses some people to believe in him, and forces other people not to believe in him. Kinda throws a monkey wrench in the whole business of evangelizing, for one thing. (Are you trying to mess up God’s plan?) Beyond that, it seems terrifically, monstrously unjust. Those whom God deludes into believing the wrong thing get punished for eternity, while those whom God decides to implant the correct beliefs get to be saved and “obtain glory.” In order to deserve reward or punishment, though, you need to be morally responsible for the things you did. Being forced by an omnipotent being to believe something would clearly not qualify for moral responsibility.
I’ve heard two responses to this from Christians when I point it out to them. One:
The people God sent a strong delusion first chose to follow Satan instead of God. It says, ‘they refused to love the truth. Therefore….’
I see where this is coming from, but I don’t think it ultimately answers my objections. First, it redirects the debate to one that’s about God’s omnipotence and the existence of Satan. Surely if God didn’t want people to be tricked by Satan and his false signs and wonders, there are myriad ways he could have achieved that — beginning with not creating Satan in the first place.
Beyond that, though, what is this attitude really saying about God’s approach to humanity? Imagine a little child saying to a parent, “I hate you! I’m gonna run away and never come back!” Would the parent then be justified in kicking the kindergartener out of the house, leaving him to fend for himself on the streets? After all, he started it, right? In this case, let’s even grant that the person was purposely acting against God, rather than seeing Jesus’ and Satan’s different sets of “signs and wonders” and merely getting confused. God is telling this person, “You want Satan? I’ll give you Satan!” and making it impossible for them to change their mind in the future. Rather than sending a strong delusion, an omnipotent and benevolent God could have and would have sent an illuminating understanding of reality. (Remember, we’re temporarily granting that Christianity is true here.) Instead, he chose to cement their damnation. So, regardless of who acted first, this is rather a dick move on God’s part.
The other, bizarrely common response I’ve heard is:
Yeah, well, it’d be so nice and simple to be a five-point Calvinist! Hahaha!
Naming it doesn’t refute it. If your holy, divinely-inspired book flatly states that the five-point Calvinists have got this one right, why aren’t you one? Perhaps because it’s nasty and unjust?
Of course, most Christians can’t square these verses with their faith. But they won’t choose to amend their beliefs to include a capricious, unmerciful God as their scripture describes, nor will they be sufficiently uncomfortable with the dissonance between their scripture and their beliefs to reject the entire religion as nonsensical. The only other option, as far as I can see, is to embrace the irrationality of it and pretend it’s a complete non-issue. But that’s the real delusion.