Edited By: Dana
I swear that I want to get away from these topics, but I feel the Holy Spirit compelling me to visit and revisit them again. The past, oh I don’t know, three out of the last five blog posts(?) have hovered in this theological locale. Haa Haa! Once Saved Always Saved?, The God of the bible (YHWH) as the Greek God, Zeus, and now this one. I promise I’m not out to win an argument. In reality, I have very little skin in the game. I’m no pastor, I have no seminary training, and truthfully studying the bible in an intense way is relatively new to me (7 years in the making). Being fully aware of that I’ve tried my best to proceed with caution on everything I’ve written about. Knowing that I’m nothing but a small fish in a gigantic pond full of fish who weigh much more than me 😉
This one was so strong in my spirit though, that I had to stop for a moment to blog about it. I can’t be alone in having pondered several scriptures from the bible that are nothing short of humbling and mind boggling. Personally I’ve come to realize that the conundrum of God’s sovereignty vs. men’s free will permeates so many doctrinal and theological disputes yet it often plays too much of a background role in trying to sort it all out. It’s sort of placed to the side to debate more front and center pragmatic issues, but I believe that if it was elevated more front-and-center it would tremendously help in ironing out the differences. I’ve always wanted my blog to reflect that desire. To be more of a bridge builder than a platform for disseminating my own propaganda. I have my opinions, no doubt, but I always try to remain with an open mind and heart to the Holy Spirit. Far be it from me, or shame on me, if I ever get convinced into believing that I have it all worked out……
So, when I heard a recent sermon by one of my newest and most favorite bible teachers in the world, David Pawson, I couldn’t help but share it. Here’s my disclaimer: If you are tired of my previous rantings that bend more Arminian than Reformed, then stop reading here, because this one will probably frustrate you even further, and I don’t want anyone hating on me because of my solitary viewpoints. I’m on a journey here, and a year from now I could be contradicting myself, but this is where I’m at right now. LOL. But, if you’re like me and enjoy listening to all different types of teachers, and openly invite being bumped from your comfort zone then come along for the ride. Pawson’s sermon rocked my boat, so much so that I had to listen to it several times before I could really accept it all.
Here’s the premise, Romans 9, and that whole troubling verse about God being the potter and people like Pharaoh being the clay. A clay pot designed as an object of His wrath. Yes, you probably know where I’m going with this…… That haunting verse 18 of Romans 9, that’s incredibly tough to digest:
“18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.”
Whaaaat!? Ouch! Okay, so I accept it, because who really has a choice in it anyway? God fashions some people for his wrath, and there’s simply nothing they can do about it. But wait! There’s another incredibly confusing verse that seems to somewhat contradict verse 18:
“22 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?”
Okay, now I’m really lost. He fashioned Pharaoh for his wrath, “to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy..”, but he also bore with them in great patience? Why is he patient with those he fashioned for destruction? Couple this with a few other scriptures like Ezekiel 18:32, 1 Timothy 2:4, 2 Peter 3:9, Isaiah 55:7, and it may cause you to question the harsh tone of Romans 9:18. Sure God is sovereign and can choose to do anything he wants within the boundary of his promises (Deuteronomy 7:9). So, what gives here? How do we make sense of it all?
David Pawson does a masterful job, I feel, of explaining yet another dualistic mystery – God’s sovereignty vs human free will. You can hear the full sermon here:
If we had to flatten this out into one question, how could we phrase it? Perhaps we could put it like this……
Does God fashion some men for his wrath to accomplish his purposes?
A typical Neo-Reformed view confidently answers the question – Yes.
The more Wesleyan/Arminain view answers – Absolutely. Although, it’s not arbitrary, but based first and foremost on the choices of men.
Pawson explains that Paul’s metaphor of Potter and Clay, used by Paul, was very intentional and specific. It’s no accident that Paul quotes or indirectly cites at least twelve Old Testament scriptures in Romans. Therefore, it would probably be irresponsible not to visit the OT to understand where he was coming from. I believe, as Pawson, that the bridge that connects and makes sense of the two seemingly contradictory scriptures verses 18 and 22, literally lies between the two of them. Verse 21 is key, as Paul refers back to the book of Jeremiah, and the beautiful metaphor explaining the relationship between God’s sovereign will and men’s ability to choose. He speaks of the prophecy given to the prophet Jeremiah in chapter eighteen, referring to a Potter (God) and the clay (The nation of Israel / Us). In that prophecy God urges the prophet to arise and go down to the Potter’s house. Through a visual depiction God would speak to him. So, Jeremiah goes down to the potter’s house and witnesses him in the following predicament:
Jeremiah 18 : 4-12
New International Version (NIV)
At the Potter’s House
4 But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.
5 Then the word of the Lord came to me. 6 He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel. 7 If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, 8 and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. 9 And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10 and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.
11 “Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the Lord says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.’ 12 But they will reply, ‘It’s no use. We will continue with our own plans; we will all follow the stubbornness of our evil hearts.’”
Notice a few things here, Israel – as a nation represents the clay. That marred clay is Israel, and could be extended to represent us. The marred clay, according to verses six through nine, represents a nation or people who have the option to choose to comply with what the Potter intended them to be. If they choose otherwise, then the potter then has sovereign and just right to shape “it as seemed best to him”.
Here we have a beautiful, biblical picture story where God is showing us how his sovereignty interplays with the will of men. So, let’s revisit the question posed earlier:
Does God fashion some men for his wrath to accomplish his purposes?
* A typical Neo-Reformed view confidently answers the question – Yes. And I’ve witnessed this myself, definitively argued out on social media platforms, in sermons, and the like. There’s a comfort level in declaring that God arbitrarily chooses some for destruction and others for his mercy.
* The more Wesleyan/Arminain view answers – Absolutely. Although, it’s not arbitrary, but based first and foremost on the choices of men.
Herein lies perhaps a small piece of the puzzle that explains the JUSTICE of God in his wrath. I say this in absolute humility knowing that I still don’t completely understand it all. He bore in great patience with Pharaoh as he so often does with us (2 Peter 3:9). First Pharaoh hardened his own heart, and although God pursued him, “Let my people Go, so that they may worship me.”, He eventually chose to harden Pharaoh’s heart. In other words, he chose to shape him “as seemed best to him”. As a just object of his wrath “to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory—”. Amen and Amen! God is good!
Grace to you.