God’s Sovereign Plan
Today we read one of the most difficult passages in all of Scripture. I confess that it is difficult for me as well; however, our task is to hear and obey. Of course, we may ask questions, and God honors sincere questions. But we must allow the verses before us to change us and not demand that we be allowed to change the verses. About five-hundred years ago, Martin Luther and Desiderius Erasmus engaged in a public debate via books the very issue Paul takes up here. Erasmus said, “Let God be good.” Luther thundered back, “Let God be God!” And that is what I hope to do here.
Having explained that the children of promise are not those of the flesh but those of God’s election, Paul’s invisible interlocutor asks, “Is there injustice on God’s part?” to which Paul answers yet again, “By no means!” From there Paul brings forward more proof from the Old Testament for God’s sovereign freedom in choosing those whom He will while passing over others. Pharaoh stands out as the preeminent example of one whom God hardened for His own glorious purposes. Granted, the Scriptures also report that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, which is all to say that God passes over none who do not deserve to be passed over, as all have sinned. In short, God gives some what they do not deserve (mercy) while He gives others what they do deserve (justice). But no one can call God unfair as He has no obligation to have mercy on any. At this point, we must let God be God and assume that He always does what is right (Genesis 18:25).
What stands out to me in this passage is that Paul sticks with the Scriptures. When his imaginary opponent then asks, “Why does He still find fault? For who can resist His will?” Paul turns to the image of the potter and the clay, God making each vessel as He intends for the purpose of His glory. Paul then marshals proof texts which prophesied Israel’s falling away till only a remnant was left, others prophesying the ingathering of the gentiles. In the end, Israel is faulted for pursuing righteousness through works of the law while the gentiles attained righteousness by faith. But what Paul does not do is engage in theological debate or philosophical wrangling; he sticks with Scripture. Let that be a lesson for us.
I realize this is difficult as we may have loved ones who, at least to our reckoning, have not been saved. God calls us to intercede as Abraham did, Moses, Samuel, David, the prophets, and Paul, himself. We must never lose hope. After all, God saved us; we know He can save others as well.