Christian apologists make much of God’s gift of free will, especially when attempting to solve the problem of evil. But it’s worth noting that God sometimes overrides this gift – it is not sacred to him. Here are the examples that arise from a simple Bible search of the word “harden”:
But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron, just as the LORD had said to Moses. (Exodus 9:12)
In this example, God deliberately coerces Pharaoh’s ability to make decisions because he is intent on punishing the Egyptians within an inch of their lives – it will not do to have Pharaoh capitulate too early.
Joshua waged war against all these kings for a long time. Except for the Hivites living in Gibeon, not one city made a treaty of peace with the Israelites, who took them all in battle. For it was the LORD himself who hardened their hearts to wage war against Israel, so that he might destroy them totally, exterminating them without mercy, as the LORD had commanded Moses. (Joshua 11:18-20)
Here, God affects the free will of entire nations, deliberately making them antagonistic so that they can be completely destroyed. God’s such a nice guy, isn’t he?
Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet:
“Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:
“He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them.” (John 12:37-40)
In this example, God meddles with the free will of the crowds listening to Jesus: they are deliberately prevented from believing in him.
It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.
One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will?” But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “Why did you make me like this?” Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? (Romans 9:16-21)
Here we have Paul espousing a blatantly anti-free will theology, using the example of Pharaoh. And, when he anticipates his readers’ obvious response (why does God still blame us for our decisions if they’re not freely made?), he doesn’t give them a real answer, he simply berates them for challenging God. In other words, if it doesn’t make sense to you, that’s just your tough luck, keep it to yourself.
My impression, after reading through these passages, is that the deity of the Bible is (accidentally) portrayed by the Biblical writers as someone who is ultimately playing games with his people: he has no real commitment to a fixed (or just) set of moral principles, he has no sense of following through. He has no scruples about influencing his people’s thoughts.
This impression undoubtedly arises from the conflicting views and agendas of the various biblical authors. Their narratives, when combined, give rise to a capricious, unstable picture of God. Too bad most Christians don’t recognize this.