Divine grace efficaciously and irresistibly empowers the human will to be able to make salvifically meritorious choices, but choices made against grace result in a hardened will, which merits no further grace, but damnation, in its own right. Faced with this hardened will, God offers even more grace, which, contrary to pure justice, liberates the will from its justly earned perdition, so that the freshly empowered and liberated will can again choose in accordance with grace, or, alas, freely choose its own perdition once more.
On this account, at no point does human willing or merit dictate God’s dispensation of grace, and yet at no point does grace nullify the genuine freedom of human willing as an indeterminate reality. On the contrary, grace is precisely that which enables the will even to exist a genuine, distinct casual factor in salvation history. If God’s grace simply and irresistibly brought the will to salvific choices (à la CalviJansenism), humans themselves would cease to be genuine actors in salvation, whereas the (theandric) aim of salvation is to transform humans into partakers of the divine nature (γένησθε θείας κοινωνοὶ φύσεως –– 2 Pet. 1:4) and partners in the divine work (θεοῦ γάρ ἐσμεν συνεργοί –– 1 Cor. 3:9).
Nor is this Arminianism, since God is not to be imagined as simply foreseeing which humans merit grace based on their receptivity to it. On the contrary, all that God sees, in the first place, are wills that are unreceptive to grace and that, therefore, merit damnation according to justice, and, in the second place, wills that merit salvation or damnation based on their choices for or against grace––choices, remember, that are possible only because they were given unmerited grace to be capable of anything more than corrupt willing. I am willing to say that this all might just be a variant of Molinism redivivus, but something about it seems different from that account. I think my account differs from Molinism in virtue of the fact that it posits grace as a a universal given regardless of humans’ foreseen receptivity.
A major, obvious objection might be this, “Your theory is missing the fact that God does withdraw his grace from people if it is judged that it does more harm than good by increasing the demands of justice on the person’s obstinate willful resistance. This is why Scripture says that God hardened pharaoh’s heart. It was the pharaoh who forced God’s hand to withdraw his grace from him as an act of mercy.”
If we grant this objection, I should have perhaps revised the other phrase I worried over, “God gives even more grace”, to “God may give more grace”. Even so, on my account, God’s gift of grace to a consistently obstinate sinner is itself a kind of punishment, since it gives the sinner yet another chance to ratify and deepen his rebellion. A supernaturally grace-liberated will is contiguous with its prior natural habits, and therefore a sinner that chooses in accord with grace despite a long natural habitus of evil chooses all the more meritoriously and salvifically than an already naturally more virtuous will that is supernaturally liberated just as much by grace to choose salvifically (I’m thinking of C.S. Lewis’s “obstinate toy soldiers” analogy in Mere Christianity). In this sense God hardened the pharaoh’s heart by grace in the same way that the sun hardens mud even faster by shining more light on it rather than less. As St. Maximus writes,
12. God, it is said, is the Sun of Righteousness (cf. Mal. 4:2), and the rays of His supernal goodness shine down on all men alike. The soul is wax if it cleaves to God, but clay if it cleaves to matter. Which it does depends on its own will and purpose. Clay hardens in the sun, while wax grows soft. Similarly, every soul that, despite God’s admonitions, deliberately cleaves to the material world, hardens like clay and drives itself to destruction, just as Pharaoh did (cf. Exod. 7: 13). But every soul that cleaves to God is softened like wax and, receiving the impress and stamp of divine realities, it becomes ‘in spirit the dwelling-place of God’ (Eph. 2: 22).
–– The Philokalia, pg. 116
God’s grace did not actively harden the pharaoh’s will, as in CalviJansenism, but simply provided the only just conditions in which it could judged as truly and willfully evil, namely, in perfect liberty. The consequent punishments that befell Egypt as a result of the pharaoh’s sin accord with justice but do not abrogate God’s prior graciousness to the pharaoh as a fallen son of Adam. And the blood that was on his hands for inviting divine punishment would only further justify God’s decision not to grant the pharaoh any further grace.