In John, chapter 12, Jesus is preaching to a group of Pharisees (verse 19). In contrast to a group of God-fearing Gentiles (verse 20), however, these Pharisees rejected Him. His response is described in verses 37-41: " Though He had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in Him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 'Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?' Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, 'He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.' Isaiah said these things because he saw His glory and spoke of Him" (John 12:37-41).
How does the passage describe the Pharisees? As unbelieving. However, why were they unbelieving? Because they "could not." Could not? Not would not? That is a stunning choice of words. And John continues that description: "He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts." No doubt there was a judicial element to this, i. e., that the Pharisees had refused to believe, so God punishes them with even greater hardness. However, John explicitly states the God's decree is the source of their rigid unbelief.
This is a shocking thought to our egalitarian American ears. It's not fair! Not fair? Really? The Apostle Paul described that exact question from a hypothetical opponent (Romans 9:19): "You will say to me then, 'Why does He still find fault? For who can resist His will?" But what answer does he give? Does Paul back down to such a progressive view? Does he attempt to defend God's fairness? Not at all. Rather, he answers, not with a justification of God's sovereignty, but rather with a refusal to concede that it needs any such justification (Romans 9:20-22): "But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, Why have you made me like this?' Has
the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one
vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What
if God, desiring to show His wrath and to make known his power, has
endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?"
That is, as our Creator, does God not have an absolute right to use us for His own glory and purpose? Of course! Specifically, He has such a right to use some as a demonstration of His holy wrath. There is no concession to egalitarianism here. It is, rather, an unequivocal assertion of the absolute and irresistible sovereignty of God.
Daniel 4:35: "All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and He does according to His will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, 'What have You done?'"