Another thoughtful doubter suggested...
ANOTHER>> John 3:36 offers no optimism, so you are in error to suggest otherwise. Furthermore, you err in thinking that sinful man does not deserve the wrath of God. The Bible never indicates that the wrath of God will be abated for unbelievers.
ME>> That is an excellent point of discussion. John 3:36 (WEB) says,
One who believes in the Son has eternal life, but one who disobeys the Son won’t see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
Let me first point out a couple of observations, then conclude with a couple of questions back to you. First, is this verse saying that unbelievers will not be granted eternal life because of their unbelief, or is this verse saying that unbelievers simply cannot see eternal life because of their refusal to accept forgiveness? No doubt you say the former, while I say the latter. Note that in defense of my understanding the verse says, "won't see life." Secondly, consider a few observations.
Certainly you must agree that God loves the unbelieving elect before they place faith in Him. Thus faith has no transactional impact on our election. Faith changes our heart toward God, but not God's heart toward his chosen. If we agree that this is true, then this verse must be understood to mean that the unbelieving elect cannot see God's love for them, even though it is already guaranteed. After all no one is born believing. Romans 5:10 and I John 4:10 explain this concept well. So even if we disagree on the extent of election within mankind, we must still agree that the unbelieving elect move from a point of NOT SEEING their promised destiny, to SEEING their promised destiny when they trust Christ. Since transforming faith is the subject of John Chapter 3, that can be the only meaning of "won’t see life" in John 3:36.
You might argue that earlier in Chapter 3 Jesus says that unbelievers are "condemned already." So you might say that faith moves a person from a place of condemnation to a place of forgiveness. Yet elsewhere we see that sinful man's reconciliation to God has happened even before repentance and faith, Romans 5:10. So how are we to understand the unbeliever's status of condemnation? John 3:17 and Romans 8:34 make it clear that Jesus has no condemnation for his chosen people -- not ever. Therefore, the condemnation of the unbelieving elect is a condemnation of their unbelief or a condemnation of their unregenerate nature, but certainly not an eternal condemnation. Ephesians 2:3 explains that we as unbelievers were objects of wrath, "because of our nature." However, the elect were never even potentially objects of eternal wrath, even during our unbelief. Of course this is not because we didn't deserve eternal wrath, but because of God's grace.
Matthew 13:11-17 quotes Isaiah, making the point that not all of God's chosen people are also chosen to see and believe. So these unbelieving elect cannot see life. They cannot see God's love. They cannot see God's grace. These lost sheep continue to reject God's grace and reject that their sins are already forgiven and instead turn to religion in an effort to add to the finished work of Christ through some action, work, or choice of their own. God is quite angry with this unbelief and his anger toward their rebellion will continue if they do not repent, even though he loves them dearly.
You say that the wrath of God is never abated for unbelievers. I agree that the eternal wrath of God is never abated or even offered to the non-elect, however, the eternal wrath of God is already propitiated for both the believing and the unbelieving elect. This is the very meaning of I John 2:2. Romans 3:3-4 also makes it clear that God's faithful salvation of his chosen people is not conditioned on our faith. These verses make it clear that Christ has chosen to pay for the sins of all mankind, period. Of course faith certainly changes our heart toward God. However, God's loving heart towards his chosen people is resolute whether we are in belief or unbelief.
Paul's concluding argument in Romans 11 also makes it clear that God's gifts and call are irrevocable and so will prove effective even for the unbelieving elect. Now to clarify, this does not rule out that God is angry with the disobedience of the unbelieving elect. These rebels certainly do not see life while they persist in unbelief and they will be punished in Hades unless they repent. In fact Hades is a fit punishment for their self-righteous unregenerate natures. However, because of election, God's wrath toward them does not conclude with the Lake of Fire. Just like Romans 11:28 beautifully explains, they are enemies on account of their rejection of the gospel, but loved on account of election.
You might also point out that Revelation 21:8 specifically says that the vile and the unbelieving will be consigned to the Lake of Fire. However, I will check-mate with the thought that eternal damnation can only apply to the non-elect. This is easily proved because you and I are still both vile sinners even as Christians, yet our hope is that our sinful selves are hidden safely in Christ with all the rest of the elect. Even Christians are guilty of the sins listed in Revelation 21:8 and yet we and all mankind will be spared from the Lake of Fire because Jesus has chosen to pay for our sin. The sin of the non-elect, fallen angels, however, is apparently not paid for by the sacrifice of Christ, according to Hebrews 2:16. Therefore the Lake of Fire is their certain destiny.
So you are right that John 3:36 offers no optimism... for the unbelieving. You can tell the unbelieving elect directly that God has already forgiven them until you are blue in the face and they will continue to disbelieve and labor to somehow activate their salvation. John 3:36 is a simple statement of fact to these unbelieving. As long as they continue to prefer disbelief and religion they will not be able to see their destiny as God's elect. That is, they will not see their promised, guaranteed destiny until the Holy Spirit opens their eyes.
Unfortunately, some who profess Christ often sing the hymn, "There is a new name written in Heaven and its mine." These misguided people imagine that they somehow met the condition for salvation through some work of their own. However, the grace of God is unconditionally given to all his people. They miss the great joy of trusting Christ and knowing that our names were written in Heaven from before the foundation of the world! There are absolutely no new names in Heaven, but instead only the names penned with God's burning love from before the creation of the world. Yet many religious people still contrive alternate confidences for themselves without the rock of Christ as a foundation.
Hitting closer to home, you suggest that I err in thinking that sinful man does not deserve the wrath of God. Au Contraire! I wholeheartedly believe that sinful man deserves the eternal wrath of God. In fact I believe this more than you do. I would even suggest that you offend grace by saying that the death of Christ is insufficient to propitiate the wrath of God without personal faith added to sign the transaction. Christ alone is the only sufficient sacrifice to satisfy the justice of God and propitiate his holy wrath. The transaction for our salvation was a deal signed between the Father and the Son alone. Faith adds absolutely no transactional value to Christ's work. The death of Christ completely signs, seals, and delivers salvation to every single one of his chosen people. Thus evangelism is an invitation for the elect to believe this good news! Faith is simply the reception of this gift, already given, which happens only if the Holy Spirit softens our hardened hearts and opens our blind eyes.
Here is a good question for both you and me. Do we agree that even the sin we committed today is enough to damn us if we were outside of Christ? Do we also agree that even the continuing faith of a believer is insufficient to appease God's wrath? So when we distrust and disobey God as Christians, do we then get confidence by reminding God that we do in fact trust him and that he should continue to accept our faith (or lack of faith)? Or instead, do we remind ourselves that Christ died for the sin we commit even as Christians and continue to thank him for his finished work and promise to us? True and saving faith must be built on the solid rock of Jesus Christ and his finished work alone. This finished work is salvation already guaranteed for each of his chosen ones. The believing take great joy in this optimistic gospel! Unbelievers, however, remain under God's wrath and will continue to reject their election in favor of their religion... and thus cannot see life.