There is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God.
Here is a recent question I received:
How to reconcile “no-one seeketh after God no not one” with free will to accept or reject God’s free gift? I think one is about the concept that man’s righteousness cannot make him justified, and the other is about the person who seeks and is curious and might be skeptical but is interested, and God provides more openings for him to see the light. In other words, God helps those who are curious and want to learn, and He hardens those who are already hardened. He opens more doors or closes more doors. Last night at a Bible study the pastor mentioned we are pre–ordained because we are dead—the old “corpse” Calvinist theory that we are too dead to choose, and he used the “no one seeketh” argument.
Here is an important principle in Bible study: harmonize passages that seem to contradict one another by realizing that there are no contradictions when we understand both passages correctly.
That is what the questioner is doing. And I think he has it right, though we need some proof from Scripture.
Let’s harmonize Rom 3:11 with other texts that speak of unbelievers and believers seeking God.
Psalm 10:4 says, “The wicked in his proud countenance does not seek God.” Notice that the Psalm does not say that no one seeks God. It is the wicked who do not seek God. Now we might say that all unbelievers fall under the label “the wicked.” But that is a stretch.
Psalm 69:32 says, “You who seek God…”
Psalm 70:4 says, “Let all who seek You…”
Isaiah 58:2 says, “They seek Me daily…”
Jeremiah 29:13 says, “And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”
In Acts 17:26-27 Paul said, “He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on the face of the earth …so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us…”
(See also Ps 9:10; 22:26; 40:16; 1 Chron 28:9; Lam 3:25; Hosea 5:15; 10:12; John 1:9; Heb 11:6.)
Acts 10 tells the story of a Gentile military leader named Cornelius. He was told by an angel to send to Joppa for Simon Peter who would tell him what he must do to be saved (Acts 11:14). Acts 10:1-5 makes it clear that Cornelius had been seeking God via prayer and alms, both of which ascended to God. Here is a blog about Cornelius seeking God.
So how do we harmonize the statement in Rom 3:11 that “there is none who seeks after God” with the many verses which tell us that there are people, even unbelievers, who seek after God?
There are two main answers.
First, the Calvinist answer is that Paul is talking about people prior to the new birth. He is not making a blanket statement that none seek God. He is saying that no unregenerate seek God. In the Calvinist view, regeneration precedes faith, even if only logically. Some Calvinists suggest that there can be years between the new birth and coming to faith. In that view, born-again unbelievers can seek God, but no other unbelievers can seek God.
For most Calvinists, however, the new birth occurs a nanosecond before saving faith. So, there is no time for the regenerate unbeliever to seek God. Most Calvinists interpret what Paul is saying to mean that no unbeliever seeks God.
Second, others interpret Paul to mean that no one seeks God without God first seeking Him. Of course, in the Calvinist view God only seeks the elect. But most in Evangelicalism do not believe in individual election to everlasting life. Most Evangelicals suggest that God is seeking and drawing all (Ps 19:1; Matt 23:37-39; John 1:9; 12:32; 16:7-11; Acts 10:1-48; 13:46; Rev 22:17). In this view, everyone, believer and unbeliever, can seek God. But they never do so on their own initiative. They can only respond to Him.
Bibleref.com says concerning Rom 3:11, “This is a crucial truth, one fundamental to the gospel: nobody seeks after God without help from Him to do so…” (see here).
Gotquestions.org takes the same view, though it suggests that God gives everyone the gift of faith, which in their view is the ability to believe, and then each has free will either to seek God and believe or not seek God and not believe (see here). “The faith to seek Him is a gift, but we must accept it and exercise it to have a relationship with Him.”
Midwestapologetics.org also takes the view that no one seeks God on his own initiative (see here).
Nearly thirty years ago, Zane Hodges wrote,
Therefore, what should unsaved men be doing? They should be seeking the God who is revealed in creation (Rom 1:20-21). Since God rewards those who diligently seek Him (Heb 11:6), the search for God will lead to an examination of the claims of Christ. This, in turn, will lead to salvation truth since Jesus affirmed, “If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority” (John 7:17).
Paul’s statement that “there is none who seeks after God” (Rom 3:11) may seem to contradict this, but it doesn’t. This famous text does not say that man cannot seek God! He can and should seek God (Acts 17:26-27)! But he doesn’t (unprompted by the Spirit) and, therefore, is responsible for not doing so.
Man’s failure to believe, therefore, is something for which he can be held accountable by his Judge. If he had sought the truth, he would have found the truth! (see here).
One final point. The questioner indicated that his pastor tied in spiritual deadness to prove that no one seeks God prior to the new birth. That is a terrible misunderstanding of Eph 2:1-5 and the concept of spiritual deadness. Spiritual deadness means one lacks everlasting life. It does not mean that one lacks spiritual sensitivity. Spiritually dead people go to church, believe in creation, the cross, the empty tomb, the deity of Christ, and many other spiritual truths. What causes a spiritually dead person to become spiritually alive? According to Eph 2:5, 8, believing in Jesus results in the new birth (not the other way around). Regarding a proper understanding of spiritual deadness, see this 2018 blog my me and this 1993 article by Zane Hodges.