Last week I participated in a disaster training exercise in Wisconsin.
During the training, a real world disaster occurred for a family.
A doctor in our unit found out that his family was in an auto accident, two of his very young children were killed and his third child was badly injured.
All of us were shaken by the tragedy…it was the unthinkable.
The next night we gathered in an auditorium, even though the doctor was not there…we held a memorial service for them…for us.
We sang “Amazing Grace” read “23 Psalm”, we prayed and asked God to help this family and those there who knew him.
Why would we do that?
Why ask God to help them now?
Why didn’t God help them before the semi truck crashed into a vehicle with kids strapped in car seats?
Why would we talk to a God who would allow this to happen when it is in his ability to stop it?
Why didn’t we gather in the auditorium and shake our fists at heaven and demand he explain himself?
We didn’t we hold a trial instead of a worship service?
We sing…“I don’t understand your ways, but I will give you my song, I’ll give you all of my praise.”
Wait would we do that?
Shouldn’t we demand that God make himself and his ways understandable to us, if he wants our praise?
Now I don’t believe we should demand anything of the sort but I do believe we should talk honesty about our questions, our struggles.
I also believe this is the best place to talk them…we don’t need to wrestle with these difficult things by ourselves, outside of this family worship environment.
In a seminary class the professor had us read the works of an atheist…the next week some students were distraught.
“We should not be reading this”, they said…”its troubling.”
My professor said, correctly “This is the place to read this, where we can walk through these questions together.”
Our professor dismantled the atheists arguments with us in class (I later found out he had done the same thing with this same atheist author in a public debate)
The questions are there…hiding from them does not make them go away.
They just might pop up at the worst possible time.
This is our third week in Romans 9.
If you were hoping for easy, satisfying answers to the huge questions of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility you are likely be disappointed.
I don’t know how it works…and I am completely convinced that it does.
But there are many more things that I don’t know how they work than things I do know how they work in my everyday life…but I know they work.
I have had times when I was pretty sure God had spoken to me about a certain direction and future outcome in my life…that what he said to me was going to happen.
I did not then sit back and wait for God to make it happen.
I worked, for years (decades) in two cases…doing what was next, asking God to help me, sometimes wondering if it would happen.
These things have happened…but did they happen because God decided before the fact or because I worked?
Not “or” its “and”…God decided and I worked.
Look at Acts 27.
Paul was being transported by ship to Rome for trial…the ship encountered a terrible storm.
Acts 27:20 When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved. 21 After the men had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: “Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. 22 But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. 23 Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me 24 and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ 25 So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. “
Ok…they should relax, enjoy the ride…”not one of you will be lost…God has decided it will be so.”
Look a few verses later:
Acts 27:30 In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow. 31 Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.”
Which is it Paul? No one will be lost, God has said so OR unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved?
Not “or” it is “and”
It is God has said so AND unless these men stay with the ship you cannot be saved.
Paul was not confused on the ship and he is not confused when he wrote Romans.
It is always AND never OR.
God is sovereign AND we are responsible…this doesn’t work on paper its 2+2=5, it works in the real world.
Fortunately we don’t live on paper…we live in the real world.
We live in a world where it is reasonable, appropriate to sing:
“I don’t understand your ways, but I will offer you all my praise”
We live in a world where we gather after a member of our unit has lost his children and we worship God together…and we ask God to help them and us through.
Today we look at three big questions from Romans 9.
- Can God be trusted?
- Is God just?
- If God is in control, then what right does he have to judge us?
- Is God a liar?
No, God kept his promises, which were addressed to not all of Abraham’s descendants but to the Israel that believes.
Rom. 9:6 It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.
There have always been two Israel’s, he has addressed this earlier in his letter…one by birth, and one by faith.
God called a people among all the peoples of the world.
From this people group came the Messiah and out of this people group some believed, some did not.
- Is God unjust?
No, to Moses he stressed his mercy and to Pharaoh his power in judgment.
It is not unjust to show mercy to the undeserving or to harden those who have hardened themselves.
Rom. 9:14 What then shall we say? Is God unjust? Not at all! 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.” 16 It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy. 17 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.” 18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.
The way Paul defends God’s justice is by proclaiming his mercy.
There are different opinions about this but John Stott and others believe that God is never said to harden anyone who had not first hardened himself.
Regarding Pharaoh in the book of Exodus it is said:
- God hardened him
- He hardened himself
- He was hardened (the cause is unspecified)
The writer of Exodus was not confused…it all true in different ways.
The mystery then is not that some remain hard, but that some are made soft.
The wonder is not that some are saved and others are not, but that anyone is saved at all.
This does not solve the mystery of why he doesn’t save all…it is an antinomy. (ant tin ome)
Antimony is where two beliefs or conclusions that in themselves are reasonable or true but put in contrast to each other appear to be a contradiction.
“If anyone is lost, the blame is theirs, if anyone is saved, the credit is God’s”
So question 1 “Is God a liar” we get a straight forward answer…”Here’s the historical, biblical evidence.”
Question 2 “Is God just” we get a more challenging answer…”He has mercy on who he wants to have mercy on.”…that seems harsh…but
It clear that unless he showed mercy none would be saved…but again, if some can be saved why not all?
And if we cannot save ourselves, it all depends on God…then why does he blame us at all?
To this question…we get a question for an answer.
- Why does God still blame us?
“Who are you, O man, to talk back to God?”
This can feel like a slap…asking an honest “why” and are told “shut up, because I said so.”
But is this an honest “why?”
Is this a childlike question or is Paul addressing those who believe they are somehow able to question God, put him on trail.
A new friend told me how he had planned his life out and was going to allow God to be his jr partner in what he planned to do.
He learned, in hard and wonderful ways…God is not his partner…God is Lord of his life.
He has complete rights of ownership.
This is not a harsh “shut up, how dare you question me”
This is a larger question designed to lead to a larger perspective.
He is God, we are created beings.
It is like a child demanding a parent explain herself or the child will not comply.
It just so happens there is no way in the world the child will ever understand the issue but is very important the child comply.
Job was that child.
Job suffered and had no idea why.
He had friends who offered pat answers like “You must have done some bad..if you would just be better and God will treat you better.”
Job actually had to intercede for his foolish friends because they angered God with their counsel that did not reflect the reality of who he is.
Job had many questions, legitimate questions…we all do.
No good parent will tell a child with a real question “Because…now shut up.”
But Job’s questioning devolved into accusation…he looked at his circumstances and concluded that God is not to be trusted.
He wanted to take God to trial and show that he is guilty of being unjust.
To this, God only answered with a display of who he is compared to who Job is.
Job 38:1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said: 2 “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? 3 Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. 4 “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. 5 Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?
When Job accused God…he got a question not an answer.
Who are you to question me?
Does this answer bother you?
I think it bothers a lot of people…but remember we are talking about God as compared to a man.
God is eternal, omnipresent, all knowing, all powerful.
All times and all places are always before him.
It is super important to get some context for our questions…that is what I think Paul is doing here.
Paul goes on with his hypothetical questioner
9:19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?”
Ok, if God just makes the decisions, if he is in charge…why should we be blamed for anything?
He doesn’t try to give a logical, reasoned response to this question…he does give a logical and reasonable question to answer this question.
20 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?’” 21 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?
This is an analogy…compared to God we are like lumps of clay…but it is not a perfect analogy.
Because we know this is not the whole story, no potter would give his life for a piece of clay.
But this potter did give his life for us.
But the rebel who shakes his fist and demands “Why!”…no question mark, just an exclamation mark.
That person gets a perspective altering question to answer their question.
“Watch yourself…you are in waters way over your head.”
“Who are you to talk back to God?”
Good parents teach their children “There is no question you cannot ask me, but there is an attitude in which you must address me.”
It is not because the parent is insecure or arrogant…but the parent is wise.
Honest questions lead the child to wisdom…Arrogant attitudes lead them to folly.
Paul then asks two questions that are more like…”Think about it like this…”
22 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? and 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.
Some believe v. 22 means that God “prepares some for destruction”…he chose some for hell, some for heaven.
Some believe it means “they prepared themselves for destruction and God was patient with them.”
In the verse it doesn’t say who did the preparing…it just says they were prepared for destruction.
It does say, he prepared some for glory.
There are several main lines of thinking about this passage.
- God selects who goes to heaven and who goes to hell with no regard for their choices.
- God selects those who go to heaven and allows others to remain in their sin (so they sort of self-select hell)
- Still others believe God responds to human choice and makes his choice.
- And finally (not really finally…there are lots of variations…but for us it will be finally)
There are those who believe since God is not tied to time like we are, then all time is in a sense an “eternal now” for him.
So his choice and our choice happen simultanously.
This is not just foreknowledge (knowing in advance what we would choose)…but responding from his place of timelessness to our choice…that is a bit mind blowing…but we are talking about God.
You are welcome to land wherever you want on this.
Its okay to come to a settled conclusion…its ok to not.
But to be fully biblical you must embrace both his sovereignty and your choice.
I have read all the positions, they make some sense, they all still end up with some mystery….which is to expected.
So I don’t know how it works…I know for a fact that it does.
So think of a a clock that has wheels that move in opposite directions but serve the same purpose.
The wheels move in opposite directions but together they move the hands around the dial.
Let me offer some practical Considerations:
- You don’t have to have it all figured out to believe well or live well: no one is exactly sure how light, photons work. But we live because of them…so certainly full knowledge is not required to live well.
- You have to decide what will be the standard for what you believe:
You really only have two choices: human mind, or God’s revelation.
“What about science?”
That is the human mind.
“Can science tell you whether science can tell you all you need to know?”
No, you have to decide to believe what you will ultimately belief.
Science is still the human mind and I’m talking about things beyond the scope of science…what is God really like.
You have to decide what will be the foundation, the ground floor for what you believe.
If the Scriptures say God is completely sovereign and you are completely responsible for your choices:
-Then you can agree or disagree (whether you fully understand or not)
If you disagree (maybe because you don’t understand), then the foundation for what you believe is real is you…you trust you.
If you believe we need God to reveal to us what we cannot discover and he has done so in the Scriptures…then it is not blind faith to believe something is true even when we cannot fully get our minds around it.
In the end everybody decides who or what they will believe.
- If God is not who we want him to be or doesn’t act like we think he should act then what does that say about how highly we think of ourselves?
To contemplate judging God…do you see the hubris in that?
When Crystal was about 5 she had gone to battle with her mom…was sent to her room.
She remembers sitting on her bed thinking “When dad gets home he will agree with me.”
She says as I pulled in the driveway she suddenly thought “What was I thinking, I’m going to be in big trouble…he is not going to agree with me.”
There are those, I think who, believe that if and when they have a shot at God, a chance to address him face to face…they will set him straight…show him all his mistakes and how he should have acted.
This is not going to be how it goes when they do see him.
Which brings us to #4:
- We don’t have to yield to reality in our hearts and minds we will ultimately yield to its impact on our lives.
You can refuse to respect the reality of fire and still be burned by it.
You can try to pet a grizzly because you refuse to believe something that brown and cuddly could kill you…but could still be eaten.
The same is true of God…people are free to not yield to him or believe who he has said he is.
But they are not free to live and die outside the consequences of the reality of God as he really is.
Which leads us to our last conclusion:
- Even though its difficult to get our minds around this issue, its not confusing as to what we should do with it.
Trust and Obey
-We must believe: faith, gratitude
-We must choose: to obey God…life is a long obedience in the same direction.
Yesterday I spoke and prayed in a retirement for a lady who has served 24 years in the military.
-She has done amazing things in her career
-Her husband had a terrible car wreck the first year of their marriage and has suffered ever since.
-What she has endured is amazing.
I asked “Is Joanna here because she was faithful or because God was faithful?”
Of course the answer is “She is here because she was faithful and God is faithful.”
When we live this way…believing God is in control and believing our choices matter…life works…because this is how the world actually is.
So, should we gather to request the grace and help of God for a family who just lost two small children in a terrible crash?
Yes, certainly we should.
Let’s go back four chapters and see where God has given us a demonstration of a reason to trust him…it was a demonstration not a mere explanation.
Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Men and woman through the ages have suffered and trusted.
They have suffered and trusted and experienced and glorified God.
When they have not gotten answers…they have experienced his presence.
Ps. 23 Does not promise there will be no walks in the valley of death’s shadow…it promises he will be there in those walks…his rod and staff (protection and direction) will be there.
In John 6 Jesus gave some strong teaching to the larger group of people following him (it was much larger than the 12 we commonly think of)
They didn’t like what they were hearing, some of it didn’t make sense to them, some of it just outright bothered them.
John 6:66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
Some said…”I’m out, forget it”
So he looked at the 12 and asked…
“What about you guys, you out too?”
This was not an opinion poll to see whether he should refine his message.
It was a real question…”What you are hearing from me is what is real, do you want to say with me or not?”
He would not offer them unreality, even if it made more sense to them.
So he asked “This what is real, do you want out?”
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Peter would later struggle, but his confession here is right.
Where else can I go…this is the truth, this is what is real.