Romans 9:14–33 (read online ⧉)
A vignette from a family life…
“It’s your fault,” said the child.
“How so,” asked the parent.
“You knew, and you didn’t stop me,” responded the child.
“Except I warned you before,” the parent replied.
“So, what,” retorted the child. “What’s that got to do with stopping me?”
Or, a different vignette…
“It’s your fault.”
“You were warned.”
“You made me so mad, though, that I wasn’t thinking, and I did it. So, it’s your fault.”
Paul’s use of Old/First Testament imagery causes many modern people to struggle with these verses. In the Wesley/Arminian tradition, these words are a particular struggle, as they appear to not to be free will, a core belief in the tradition.
However, what we miss is the rhetorical questioning that is going on in the Greek. A rhetorically adequate translation would be more along the lines of, “Yes, while God can make you, that does not make it God’s fault that you still chose your path.” One theologian argues, with some decent reasoning, that even when God hardens hearts (sometimes called judicial hardening), it’s not that the hearts weren’t already hardened. It is that God firms their already stubborn and ungodly hearts so that their immediate action will result in the display of God’s glory.
In other words, God helps them be more firmly where they have already decided to be. Their decision was made first.
Now, unlike some other Christian traditions, this is not a one-way road. God is in the redemption business! Even when God hardens the heart for one action, there is often a redemptive action waiting in the wings. It is here that a person will choose to continue to harden their own heart or not.
The potter and the clay? An analogy, not a description. This passage, too, is often confused as that Israel (and thus the rest of us) are lifeless clay. Paul asks, what if? Paul is not concluding that God made some people for wrath and some are not.
God did not make us that way. Just as the passage of the Potter’s House, Paul is not saying that God did it so that people are separated from God. God made is so people choose to be separated from God.
This, too, is hard. For those of us who know God, and have a saving relationship with God, it is beyond our comprehension that people would choose anything other than God. Be grateful that you have chosen.
Paul’s ultimate conclusion is that God set out works for the people of Israel to do. They believe that is was the works (the tasks) they did to fulfill the Law that made them righteous. This was all while the lesson of Abraham was right there in the Scriptures…following and choosing God through faith.
Gracious God, we thank you that we have been gifted the freedom to choose you in love. May you shape our hearts and guide our lives that we can help others also choose you. Amen.
1) Do you think you have ever experienced a time when God “hardened” your heart? Why or why not?
2) Why do you think people believe that God designs people and plans for people to be inflicted by God’s wrath?
3) What is the hardest thing to realize and feel about knowing that you have to daily choose God?