In American Evangelicalism, it’s often said that God loves everyone and has a wonderful plan for their lives; he’s just waiting for them to accept him into their heart, have a relationship with him, or something of the sort.
2 Peter 3:9 is the most often quoted verse to support this, and it admittedly looks pretty solid at first glance.
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. – 2 Peter 3:9
I mean, come on. It’s right there in front of us. God wants everyone to reach repentance, right?
Not exactly. That “you” in 2 Peter 3:9 is pretty important, and 2 Peter 3:1 notes that this is Peter’s second letter to that certain “you.” Jumping back to 2 Peter 1:1 tells us that Peter was writing “To those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ,” and going back to 1 Peter 1:1 seems pretty explicit when Peter is writing “To those who are elect exiles.”
Therefore, 2 Peter 3:9 could just as easily read that God “is patient toward the elect exiles, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” This demonstrates that to make the leap from “you” to “literally everyone in the world” doesn’t line up syntactically or logically.
For example, if I threw a party and gave my address to everyone I invited, I’d tell them, “Hey, guys, here’s my address so none of you gets lost. I’d really like everyone to arrive safely and on time.” You’d know immediately from the context that I really don’t want all 7.5 billion people in the world to show up in my driveway.
But our traditions (and I admittedly have some) sneak in. Surely, God wants everyone to be saved. God loves everyone, dang it, and he’s doing his best to save everyone.
The problem is that if God doesn’t directly will something, it won’t happen, and saying that God desperately wants everyone to come to know him but for that free will thing makes him a massive failure and renders the Bible untrue. God always does exactly what he wants to do. It’s one of the perks of being God.
The fact is that God in his holiness rejects and hates sinners, he puts (and desires to put) them and everyone else to death. God offed people in the Old Testament, and he didn’t change that practice in the New Testament. In his perfect judgement, he also decides when to harden people to himself. It’s hard to say he wants people to be saved when our own infallible Scripture says that God does what he wants and then also says not all people are saved.
This makes many uneasy. If God doesn’t want to save everyone, then what kind of God is he? The better question is, “If God wants to save anyone who has given him a spiritual middle finger, what kind of God is he?”
Answer: It’s pure grace that he allows us to breathe while constantly sinning before God saves us, and he saves us purely out of the overflow of his own love. We can take comfort and have confidence that wherever the Gospel is proclaimed, God uses it to his purposes, whether for salvation or judgement, and that he will save all those whom he chose to save before the foundation of the world.