Defeating God’s Will

Written by
J.D. Atkinson
Jun 22, 2024
J.D. Atkinson

Defeating God’s Will 

Do we have the power to thwart the will of God? Yes, according to most Christians. 

Mainstream Christianity teaches that once we die, God will deliver those who believed in Jesus into paradise. The rest will be locked in a fiery place of torment called hell, with no hope of escape. After that, even if a poor repentant soul were to call on God for help — even after a trillion years of torture — she would simply be ignored. Or worse, according to one famous sermon: 

"God will be so far from pitying you when you cry to him, that it is said he will only laugh and mock."1 

You might be wondering how such a horrific outcome is even possible. Maybe you’ve asked a believer or a church leader for help understanding how God could abandon His creatures just when they need Him most. If so, you’ve probably heard answers like these: 

• “God would love to let everyone into heaven, but He isn’t going to force Himself on anyone.”
• “God will never violate our freedom to choose.” 
• “God doesn’t want anyone to go to hell, but people send themselves there.” 

In other words, they say each of us has the power to thwart God’s will

To fully understand the power we wield against God, we must first understand a few things about God Himself. In the struggle to determine who makes it into paradise (and who lands in hell), two of God’s attributes are seemingly at odds: power and love. God is all-powerful (Psalm 115:3) and all-loving (1 John 4:8). So maybe: 

1. God has the power to save everyone, but He doesn’t love us enough to override our free will; or
2. God really loves us and wants to save everyone, but He doesn’t have the power to pull it off. 

It seems God faces quite a dilemma. 

So, is it true? Can we simply overrule the Creator of the universe? Can those He created derail His plans, and spoil his design? 

Understanding freedom 

You are free to do whatever you please. There are no constraints on your ability do anything you wish. This autonomy is commonly referred to as “free will.” 

Your freedom is completely unlimited. Well, almost. We can’t choose our ethnicity, which is a product of our genetic makeup. So things like hair, body type, and eye color are outside our control. But aside from these limitations, you can do anything you wish. Except, of course, defy gravity — you can’t simply choose to fly. Or breathe underwater. Or teleport. Or live forever, or never get cancer, or never do anything wrong. 

And you didn’t choose to exist, did you? You had absolutely no input on whether you were born. Or when. Or where in the world you showed up. Or to which parents. You simply arrived, trying to navigate the world around you. 

In total freedom, of course. 

Perhaps “free will” is a bit of a stretch, no? Maybe the term “free choice” is more appropriate. Each day you can choose which clothes to wear, whether to go to work or not, and the words you use to express yourself… but there are enormous constraints imposed on us that we simply have no control over. Not to mention the nagging requirements to survive: we must eat, drink, and sleep each and every day. But at least you can choose what you consume and when you sleep, right? 

One could argue that it’s unfair for God to impose these existential burdens on us, or to instill in us the deep-seated desires to seek friendships, find a mate, and reproduce… yet He has. And it is just as reasonable to assume that He has also left inside each of us a God-shaped void that only He can fill — a desire to know our Creator. 

How free are we, really? 

The will of mankind 

Saul of Tarsus was confronted by Jesus in a blinding light on the road to Damascus. But Saul wasn’t seeking God. In fact, he was on his way to persecute, beat, and deliver up Christians to be killed. Yet this man had been chosen by God before he was born (Gal 1:15) to receive divine knowledge: insight that would lead him to convert to Christianity, change his name to Paul, and author many of the letters that form the New Testament. 

Paul definitely wasn’t saved because of anything he did, because faith itself is a gift from God (Eph 2:8–9). So doesn’t it seem a bit unfair that God would undermine Paul’s freedom in this way, rather than simply leaving him alone to do as he pleased? He appeared to enjoy his hobby of hunting Christians before God intervened. Should we be upset with Jesus for showing Paul the truth against his will? 

And what about Pharaoh? God said He “hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants” (Ex 10:1) — and then sent plagues to punish the nation of Egypt for their choices! Is this fair? 

The accounts of Paul and Pharaoh are examples of God clearly meddling with certain people’s freedom to choose. And if He can do it to them, He can do it to you

"Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden." (Romans 9:18) 

It seems our “free will” isn’t quite as powerful as we imagined. 

Is the game rigged? Can God simply do whatever He pleases? Isaiah wrote, “For the Lord Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?” (Isa 14:27). God has made it clear that mankind is utterly powerless to alter His plans. 

"All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: 'What have you done?'" (Daniel 4:35) 

Clearly, God can do whatever He wants, and we can’t do anything to stop Him. He can influence us however He wishes to bend the outcome to His will.2 

Our influence is definitely limited. But what about forces of evil, such as Satan himself? Can the adversary thwart God’s will? 

Evil unleashed 

Where did evil come from? Why does the adversary exist, and who gave him all his power? 

These may sound like tough questions, but the answers are clear: God created everything that exists (Col 1:16). This includes good and evil (Isa 45:7), and the adversary himself (Isa 54:16; Job 26:13). To conclude otherwise, we would have to believe that Satan simply popped into existence without God’s foreknowledge or permission — which contradicts either God’s omniscience (all-knowing) or His omnipotence (all-powerful). 

When Satan wanted to test Job by destroying his life, he had to ask God for permission first (Job 1:6–12). And when he wished to test the disciples and “sift them like wheat,” he again had to ask God before doing so (Luk 22:31). If the adversary were operating freely and without constraint, why would he need to request permission from God? 

All things that take place must happen in accordance with the will of God. And God is certainly ready to intervene as needed to bring His plan to pass. 

Satan’s freedom is subject to the will of God — just as it is for me, you, and every other member of God’s creation. We are free to make choices, but our sphere of influence is limited to whatever outcome God is willing to allow. 

"The king’s heart is like a stream of water directed by the Lord; he guides it wherever he pleases." (Proverbs 21:1) 

God is in control… not us. 

What God wants 

Okay, no one can stop God. So what it is that He wants? 

God simply “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” And for this reason we are told to pray for the salvation of all (1 Tim 2:1–6). 

He is all-powerful and all-loving, but recall the dilemma God faces: Where does one end and the other begin? Does He lack the power to save all people? Or does He lack the love

The truth is that God lacks nothing. Since God’s power and love are boundless, He can and will save all. He told us that’s exactly what He wants, and He told us that no one can stop Him. Can it be any clearer? His mercy and justice will work together to bring about His promise “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:10–11). 

This result brings glory to God, so it can’t occur with a hell full of rebels shaking their fists at God as He gloats over them. This is the outcome whereby the God of love, through Christ’s blood at the cross, has won over the hearts of all — the only outcome in which He could be glorified

And it sounds like He really means it, too: 

"By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear." (Isaiah 45:23) 

Does this mean every last person will be saved? Absolutely, because no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3; Rom 10:9). 

God promises that the Word that goes out from His mouth will not return to Him empty, but will accomplish what He desires, and achieve the purpose for which He sent it (Isa 55:11). So what exactly did God send His Word to accomplish? It’s simple: 

"For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost." (Luke 19:10) 

Yet most Christians insist Jesus will fail. 

Many believers seem to hold themselves in high regard, like little gods. They imagine they’re powerful enough to usurp the authority of the sovereign Creator and Sustainer of the universe. But the idea of God’s creatures defeating His will through their own choices is laughable — and insulting to God. 

Cosmic power loss 

If you’re still wondering about judgment, or endless hell, or whether God can really prevail over His own creation, consider His ultimate plan for every last person revealed in 1 Corinthians 15: 

"For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all." (1 Cor 15:22–28) 

At some point, God will destroy all dominion, authority, and power. That includes Satan’s power to cause trouble, and each person’s power to reject God. Whatever discipline or judgments lie ahead, it is clear that all evil, all rebellion, and all suffering must be destroyed before this promise can be fulfilled. It would be impossible for these events to occur if even one single person were dead or left in hell. 

This is true victory. 

In His limitless love, Jesus Christ will reveal Himself to all, just as He did for Paul. Their faith will be a gift from God, just as it was for Paul. If Jesus did it for Paul, He can do it for anyone. It would be unjust to reveal Himself to one who had rejected God’s will and was chief among all sinners — and then withhold His truth from the rest. Recognizing the inescapable love God has for us, and that nothing can ever overcome it, Paul wrote: 

"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38–39) 

Sure, the process of judgment may be quite unpleasant for some. But at some point, as the veil is pulled aside, every last person will recognize and call upon Jesus as Lord. In doing so, they will finally begin to experience a relationship with the One we were designed to long for. What requires faith today because we cannot see it will be plainly visible to all. The reconciliation of all (the apokatastasis foretold in Acts 3:20–21) is the only way God can possibly be all in all — and the only way Jesus can achieve the purpose for which He was sent: “to seek and to save the lost.” 

"All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them." (2 Corinthians 5:18–19) 

When we realize what the final outcome of God’s plan for humanity is — the reconciliation of all creation to Himself — then we see events such as Paul’s revelation from Jesus or the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart in the context of a much bigger plan. It is good for God to influence earthly affairs in order to bring His will about, because ultimately “all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luk 3:6). That’s a story worth sharing. 

The price is paid in full. God doesn’t merely plan to win… He guarantees it. 

And you can’t stop Him. 

1Rev. Jonathan Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”, preached July 8th, 1741. _jonathan/sermons/sinners.cfm 
Of course, we aren’t robots. We make many choices that carry great moral responsibility, and we will be judged for them. In cases where God has intervened, judgment and rewards will be weighed fairly against the measure of God’s influence over free choice in each circumstance. Paul wouldn’t be due additional rewards — just as Pharaoh wouldn’t be due additional punishment — for specific actions initiated by God. 

J.D. Atkinson is the author of Believable: Discover the God Who Saves All (

Raised a Southern Baptist, J.D. Atkinson was aware of many contradictions taught by the evangelical church.

He assumed the foremost Christian teachers were correct. He figured the vast majority of believers had to be close... Yet it was impossible to deny the obvious flaws and contradictions presented by modern popular theology.

After years of wandering, he set out to find real answers.

Over the next decade, he pored over religious texts and theological works to examine the evidence. He found many problems―raising even more questions―before finally arriving at the conclusions set forth in his first apologetic work. Believable reveals an ancient understanding of God’s victory that is far greater than the message taught by the modern church: God promises a future in which good finally prevails over evil.

In a forceful rejection of today’s dualistic pop-theology which teaches Jesus will fail in his mission “to seek and to save the lost,” Believable unveils the original Good News embraced by the early church, and shows how we lost our way in the centuries since. With unparalleled objectivity in a genuine search for the truth, his accessible writings are sure to illuminate and inspire every curious mind.

J.D. Atkinson is an author, the founder of Lost Coin ministry, and a fan of apologetics. He has a love for research, a thirst for truth, and a background in Computer Science.