Romans 9 - Part 4
Verse 14, “What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!”
Paul envisions an objector and in true rhetorical style addresses his concerns before they are asked. Interestingly enough, this is one of the primary questions that Calvinists are asked when the doctrine of Unconditional Election is raised. If God chooses to bless some people with Saving Grace and leave others entangled in their sin, doesn’t that mean He is being unfair? One can see how this would come out of what Paul has just stated. In verse 11 he says that God has chosen the two, one to love and the other to hate (v. 13), before they were born and had not done anything good or bad. It is not because of works, but according to God’s purpose.
So then, how does Paul answer this charge and how ought Calvinists answer the very same charge?
Verse 15: ”For He says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs but on God who has mercy.”
At first we must say that this is not really an answer. Paul will get to the “answer” part in down the line (our next post v.19ff). However, he does take a moment to strike at the core of the objection. A person is making this objection for a reason. Since it is a charge against God, we must assume (with Paul) that it begins with bad theology. That is a key point so allow me to state it again: A person is making a charge that impugns the character of God (viz. that He is unjust); this necessarily stems from bad theology (ie. Words/beliefs about God).
What ought Paul to do? Of course the answer is to address the wrong Theology that is leading to the objection. How does Paul do this? He states that mercy is dependent solely on whomever God wants to give compassion to. It has nothing to do with the man who wills or the man who runs, but upon God who has mercy. This is very unpopular in our society where everyone believes themselves to be utterly autonomous, the captain of their own ship. However, it is what the Bible teaches and it must be what we teach. If someone gets upset when we say “it is not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs but on God who has mercy” then all we must do is to return to Scriptures. Our sinful, prideful, arrogant fallen bodies naturally beg us to believe that we are involved here. The only way to counter this is to continuously make clear in our mind that it does not depend on us, but upon God who has mercy. This will give us a higher view of God and a lower view of ourselves (just as it should be – remember the words of John the Baptizer).
Paul then continues in verse 17: “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.”
Here, Paul illustrates what he has just said above. He returns our minds to Exodus where we see Pharaoh raised up to demonstrate the power of God and that the name of God might be proclaimed throughout all the earth.
One might not see how this ties into Paul’s theology immediately, so he clarifies his thoughts for us: “So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.”
Paul has now tied everything together for us. What is the purpose of the paragraph that spans from verse 14-18? Earlier we have Jacob being chosen for blessing and Esau being chosen for cursing before they did anything on there own. Some people, clearly, were going to think that this was unfair. In this section, Paul spells out that this “blessing” (and in the context of Salvation we could also call this blessing “saving grace”) is not the result of man willing or running, but on God who shows mercy. He illustrates this in the negative with Pharaoh (namely it was not dependent on Pharaoh but upon God who raised Him up and hardened Him). So then, Paul says in a concluding sentence, God shows mercy on whom He wills and He hardens those whom He wills.
Now, in light of the context both before and after this paragraph, I believe this is clearly talking about an eternal blessing (namely God granting Saving Grace to His elect). However, for the purpose of this thread I am going to set that aside for a second. I am simply going to ask you to consider whether you believe this to be fair. Regardless of what the blessing and cursing entails, do you believe that God is just in choosing to bless some and curse others before they have done anything? If you find this unjust, then with Paul I must suggest that your Theology is in error.
This is so crucial for the Calvinism vs. Arminianism discussion so allow me to state it again. We will pretend for a second that this is not talking about Salvation at all. Do you believe that God is perfectly fair in deciding to bless (Love) some and curse (Hate) others before they have even done anything? If you do believe it is unfair, all I can do is repeatedly point to the Scriptures. We must let God’s character define our ethics and not let our culturally-saturated-fleshly-inclination-to-sin-ethics define God. If, on the other hand, you find it perfectly just, then I would ask you to remember this when we begin to talk about Salvation. If God can do this and remain just, then he can do the same with Salvation and remain just. Now, just because He could do it does not mean that he does do it; that I hope to prove later. All I want at this time is an admission that God could do it and remain just. If you do make that admission, then we should never hear some of the most popular complaints directed towards Calvinists: “That’s unfair, That’s a cruel God, etc.”
In Christ alone,