A FUTILE OBJECTION
"One of you will say to me: 'Then why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist His will?' But who are you, a human being, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this’?” Does not the potter have the right to make of the same lump of clay some pottery for special purposes and some for common use? What if God, although choosing to show His wrath and make His power known, bore with great patience the objects of His wrath - prepared for destruction? What if He did this to make the riches of His glory known to the objects of His mercy, whom He prepared in advance for glory, even us whom He also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?" Romans 9:19-24.
"He made me do it!" Ever heard that objection from the mouth of a little kid just caught with his hand in the cookie jar? What a futile objection.
It's the kind of argument Paul envisaged from someone who was trying to wriggle out of taking responsibility for his wicked actions. "It's God's fault," he insists. "He made me like this." Really! Like the young girl who finds out she's pregnant after a one-night stand and whines, "Why did God allow this to happen?" Did God take her by the scruff of the neck and force her into a promiscuous lifestyle?
But is goes deeper than that. As much as we dare not blame God for our sinful behaviour, how can we scrutinise His justice and find fault with Him when we cannot fathom the depths of His nature or understand His ways? Of one thing we can be absolutely certain: God cannot do wrong. If He were able to act unjustly, He would no longer be God and He would not be eternal because injustice is sin which leads to death.
So what exactly is Paul telling us? Firstly, it is God's prerogative to choose what kind of vessel to make when He begins to mould the clay. The clay is His and so is the choice of design and purpose.
Secondly, He creates each vessel according to His purpose. He always has the bigger picture in mind. He is writing His story - the one that puts His glory on display for the entire universe to see. Every detail must fit into His purpose and every character in the story must play his part in displaying God whether through His wrath or through His mercy.
Thirdly, God always takes into account His gift of free will to every human being. That does not make God subject to our choices but, in a mysterious way that we will never understand this side of heaven, God's sovereignty overrides even our free will. Yet, at the same time, He holds every person accountable for his choices. He does not make us disobedient, nor does He want us to be disobedient just to carry out His plans but, at the same time, our disobedience is put to good use in the plot of His story!
How does that work? I don't know but God does! Peter put these two ideas together with great skill on the day of Pentecost when he explained the strange goings-on to the astonished crowd.
"This man was handed over to you by God's deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross." Acts 2:23.
Here was Peter, placing the responsibility for crucifying Jesus squarely on the shoulders of his hearers, seeing God behind it all and, at the same time, offering them repentance and the opportunity to change and be a part of God's story! Wow! How is that for a matchless story-line?
How can we marry these two ideas? God creates some vessels for wrath and yet He gives them opportunity to change their minds and waits patiently for them to receive His mercy. But He also knows they will refuse, and He writes them into His story - like Pharaoh... like Judas...! Is He unfair? Is He unjust? No way!
What's the point? It's not about pointing fingers at God and demanding "How could you do that to him?" but it's about falling on your knees before him and weeping in gratitude, "Thank you, Father, for your mercy to me." Have you done that?
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