Dluxe's World

Friday, October 13

(Pre)Destined for debate [2]

Before diving in, I wanted to tie up a loose end... In the last post, I noted that I had no interest in wearing a "Calvin is my Homeboy" t-shirt. I put a little footnote * after that, and then promptly forgot to include the footnote. So, here it is:

*Though, if anyone's interested, the "Whitefield is my Homeboy" one would be in my cart already were it available in my size.

With that done, let's pick up where I left off yesterday:

Having gotten my head totally bent outta shape on Romans 8:28-30, decided to approach the recently-installed Reverend at our church.After church one Sunday I pulled our pastor aside and just said I have a question... How could God call/predestine 'some' folks for salvation, but not others? Doesn't everyone deserve a chance?

My pastor's chubby, grandpa-esque face smiled warmly. He motioned for me to sit, deposited his vestments on their hangers, and then plopped into his chair on the other side. He calmly and carefully explained to me that God was not unfair... But God is all-knowing. So the passage tells us that God looked down the corridors of time and saw those who, if afforded the opportunity, would choose to place their faith in Christ. Those people who would come to faith were predestined for conformation to Christ. So God has chosen to give humanity the choice but He can't help knowing the outcome already. God's ultimate plan is that those who come to faith will be conformed to the image of Christ.

He explained this was very basic Wesleyan 'doctrine' (the first time I heard that word used) and handed me a little primer book. Feeling much better about things, I stood up, thanked the pastor for his time, and walked out to catch up with my mother. That night I devoured the little book which presented a pretty basic outline of [what I would now know to be] Wesleyan Arminianism. And I was content, so I took a couple days break from Romans.

When I went back, I decided to just re-read chapter 8 through new lenses. It felt really good, especially when you hit that last part from verse 31 to the end. I put the Bible down for the night and went to bed.

The next night, I happily picked up at the start of Romans 9. I thought it was awful hard to read, so I slowed way down and picked through... Until, of course, I hit this section:
Not only that, but Rebekah's children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad—in order that God's purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls—she was told, "The older will serve the younger." Just as it is written: "Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated." (Romans 9:10-13, NIV)

These verses knocked me for a loop... Just two days ago, my pastor had told me that we make a choice for God. That God calls everyone, but foreknew those who would respond. But that's really not what Romans 9 says. Here God seems to be making a choice to love one child and not the other. Before the kids were even born to do good or bad, God had chosen how his purpose would be accomplished.

Ok, ok, ok... Lemme get my head on straight. Ok. Clearly, this must be more 'foreknowledge', right? God knew that Esau would sell his birthright, so God hated Esau because of what Esau would do. It's hard to deal with a God who's not bound by time, for sure... But then, I read on and got my first real lesson in context:
What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! For he says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have
compassion."

It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy. (verses 14-18, NIV)

Why would Paul feel the need to defend God against charges of being unjust if God is only foreknowing the choice that Esau would make? Answer: Well, he wouldn't! So, Paul is actually accusing God of the making a sovereign choice to love someone and not love someone else. Someone had to be wrong... Was it Paul or my pastor?

Being the terrible Bible scholar that I was, I actually didn't remember where God told Moses, "I will have mercy on whom I have mercy". But thanks to some cross-references, I found it.
And the LORD said, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But," he said, "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live." (Exodus 33:19-20, NIV)

Famous enough passage, right? But reading it in light of Romans 9... Is God saying that part of His goodness/glory is wrapped up in His ability, and perhaps even choice, to discriminate on who receives mercy from His hand and who doesn't? Paul sure thinks that's the case. This 'study' wasn't fitting very well into my newly-minted Wesleyan framework. Well, I was in the middle of a paragraph, so perhaps the rest would clear it up.
For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: "I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth." Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. (Romans 9:17-18, NIV)

Perhaps I needed a new Bible, because I didn't like the way this sounded. God placed Pharoah where he needed to be and then God hardened Pharoah's heart (actively) to accomplish the Lord's purposes. Is that really true? This must be what Paul had in mind, because look at how he continues the argument:
One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, "Why did you make me like this?" Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?

What if God, 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, NIV)

A series of thoughts zipped through my head:
  • You know, I have no problem with God reserving the right to discriminate. I'm just thankful that He didn't actually do that.
  • Wait... You know what? I do have a problem here. I don't like a God who, having made two pots, reserves the right to break one on the floor like a freak while taking the other and setting it up on a shelf to gaze at lovingly. That's not fair!
  • Does it matter what I think? I'm just a lump of clay after all...
That was it for studying the Bible for another week... I had more ammo that I needed to fire at my Pastor, and figured that it should wait 'til another Sunday.

The funny thing is that I absolutely missed the coolest part of the whole passage and a critical link that would make it all fall into place. Sadly, that would take years to break through. But more on that next time.

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