(Read the series so far.)
In Romans 9, the apostle responds to series of questions regarding God’s sovereignty. The question in view in 9:14 is, because in God’s plan He chose to have only some relationships, has He been unjust? In his response the apostle first corrected the presupposition error that people deserve a relationship with God. Next he addresses an approach error.
Approach Error: The view that God has been unjust places Him across from men in an equal relationship—but that is wrong!
Paul knew that the very trial of God’s justice was inappropriate. He wrote:
You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” 20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? (Rom. 9:19-21)
Paul explored a fairness argument that often rises in a heart that has been swelled. That argument goes something like this: “If God has a plan, is it just to include in the plan some who reject Him? If He does that, isn’t that unjust?”
The questions are based on a misunderstanding of Who God is, and who we are—a blunder that I will simply call “an approach error.” The questions presuppose things that are not true:
First, the questions presuppose that I have the standing to ask such questions. Paul made the point that the thing created cannot put on trial the Creator and judge the purposes for which it was created. That sounds offensive to the human mind—particularly the one raised in our culture. We have been trained to believe we deserve anything we desire. We aren’t used to being told “No!” by anyone and thinking it is just. Here is the stark reality: Because we don’t like the feeling has nothing to do with the fact that we are created beings and our Creator is not our peer. He doesn’t need to answer anything that arrogantly presupposes equality between the Creator and the creation.
I don’t create much artistically anymore. I used to try, but life has gotten bigger and squeezed out any artistic pursuits. Besides, I was never particularly good at it. Most of my shaping and creating is now done strictly with words on a page. What I do know about artistry is this: things I make are for my own purpose. If I want my pile of wood to be a bookshelf, that is what I make it. It doesn’t get to “weigh in” on its best use.
Someone who is sensitive is looking right through my little illustration. They are sitting there quietly, but vehemently objecting on the inside. “Wait a minute!” they are quietly objecting. “That’s fine for a book shelf, but we are talking about people!”
Of course, you are right … to a point. The Bible isn’t man’s perspective on God, but God’s perspective on man. God is Creator, and God is the first cause of everything. Men and women have value because He ascribed it to them. They are not intrinsically more than complex organisms, apart from the Creator declaring them to be so—and thankfully He has made that declaration.
Don’t get arrogant, though. God created who and what He created to tell His story—and it is His right to do so. There is no one and nothing that rivals Him as an equal. We simply don’t have the right to stand up and think we look Him in the eye. We cannot demand anything from Him—we don’t have the standing.
Second, the questions presuppose that I could understand the intricacy of the plan if it were fully explained. Job sat in a pile of ash and contemplated the reversal of his family, fortune and physical soundness. He and his friends posed ideas about suffering that God included in the record of His word. Yet, at the end of the book when God intervened—He largely left the questions about “Why?” unanswered.
He did so on a singular basis: Job couldn’t grasp the size of the question, let alone the answer. God wasn’t being cruel—He quizzed Job to illustrate that Job didn’t know what he was even asking God. The text posited this truth: Men can’t ask God about the plan, because they don’t have enough knowledge and understanding to understand the full range of their question, let alone God’s answer.
Limitation Error: The view that God has acted unjustly fails to consider that He may be working an agenda greater than for one people!
Paul wasn’t done. He also revealed that God’s agenda is often larger than a man’s ability to comprehend it! He wrote:
What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? 23 And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, 24 even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles. (Rom. 9:22)
Many years ago I was trying to build a full sized replica of the Wilderness Tabernacle in Israel. I wanted people to see and touch the materials that were the setting of God’s people and their work in Exodus 25-40. The problem was that I didn’t know fabric. I worked and worked to get the little tabletop model of the way the fabric was supposed to lay across the top of the Holy Place and Holy of Holies—but I couldn’t get it to work. It just kept coming out uneven, no matter what I did. My wife was quietly watching me. She walked up, picked up the fabric, and put it over the little model in about ten seconds—and it was perfect. I had studied for years about that building. I knew things about the detail of construction that I am certain only Bezalel, Moses and I will be able to discuss in the afterlife. Yet, I didn’t know fabric. I didn’t know how to get it to work. Someone who did made it work without effort. Here is the point: If you don’t have the requisite knowledge of an area, you can think forever about it and not comprehend the question, let alone the answer.
Paul offered an insight: God made Gentiles with a purpose to eventually embracing them during a period of darkness for the house of Israel. That dark period was planned and revealed by earlier writers of Scripture. Paul made clear that God had said three things.
1. I will reach other people.
As He says also in Hosea, “I will call those who were not My people, ‘My people,’ and her who was not beloved, ‘beloved.’” 26 “and it shall be that in the place where it was said to them, ‘you are not My people,’ there they shall be called sons of the living God.” (Rom. 9:25-26)
Hosea 2:23 revealed seven hundred years before Jesus that God had a plan to re-open the door to a formerly estranged people that was scattered throughout the earth—a people we lump together in the term “Gentiles.”
2. I will reach only a portion of My own people.
Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “though the number of the sons of Israel be like the sand of the sea, it is the remnant that will be saved; 28 for the Lord will execute His word on the earth, thoroughly and quickly.” (Rom. 9:27-28)
Contemporary to Hosea was Isaiah, a prophet who acknowledged that God was going to precisely fulfill His prophecy through part of Israel, but not all of Israel. Paul was part of that remnant, as are born-again Messianic Jews today. They are a minority, but they exist as part of God’s plan until the re-opening of the eyes of Israel later.
3. If I didn’t reach My people, none of them would come at all.
We dare not overlook the last part of what God said, because it is an essential point: God’s mercy is seen in any of even His unique people coming to Him:
And just as Isaiah foretold, “unless the Lord of Sabaoth had left to us a posterity, we would have become like Sodom, and would have resembled Gomorrah.” (Rom. 9:29)
Let’s be honest: The world isn’t filled with people who get up in the morning with the heartfelt desire to deny their inner desires and serve their Creator. We are, on the whole, a pretty self-centered lot. We want what we want. Watch the traffic for confirmation of that! Everyone is moving ahead with their own agenda, but trying to get there without crossing into another’s lane and smashing society.
Sodom and Gomorrah were cities that made what was wrong seem moral. If you cannot see the connection, look at the news—it is all around you. We want to do what we want, and we want to stop anyone else from thinking we are wrong, even if we are. We want a life without an accounting.
Las Vegas now has a call-in “Connection Confession” line where people can call and confess their sins to a recording. America’s first confession line makes it possible, for a fee of $9 per three minutes, to record your sin, and if you want to pay a little more you can listen to other people’s sins. Apparently the service is being bombarded by calls. One of the originators said, “It’s a technological way to get something off your chest without the embarrassment that comes from confessing one on one.” But do you know what it really is? Besides a money maker for someone? It’s confession without accountability. (Timothy Smith, Dailysermonillustationsblog.com).
Paul asked one more set of questions. I believe he didn’t think the issue of watching his people slip into darkness was fully explored.