We’re not always very good at respecting authority, these days.
When someone is put in charge, God is not surprised, of course (see Romans 13:1), but sometimes we are. Maybe we wanted a promotion to the new manager position, instead the person who got it instead (although, after nearly 20 years in management, I don’t know why someone would seek out that role, but maybe that’s just me!). Maybe someone we don’t like got put in charge of our team.
In addition, even if we are on good terms with someone in authority over us, we don’t always like what we are told to do. Criticism abounds these days for CEO’s, government leaders, parents, and even law enforcement. While each of these groups – being made up of human beings – has some percentage of “bad apples”, sometimes we don’t even want to listen to those who have our best interests in mind.
In Romans 9:14-18, I think that verse 16 is important, as the passage describes how God gets to decide what He will and won’t do. He chooses some people (over others) for a particular purpose, regardless of our preferences. And, He has the right to do so, because He is sovereign and has authority over the universe that He created.
It does not, therefore, depend on human desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.
Romans 9:16 NIV
For those who don’t appreciate the complete story here, the sovereignty of God can be a stumbling block. God’s role as creator and God obliges human beings to obey Him (although we still get to choose whether or not to follow this obligation), but without understanding the rest of His nature, some people don’t want to follow a God whose decisions they don’t agree with.
However, later in verse 22, Paul asks an interesting question:
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? 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 9:22-24 NIV
Here, we have an interesting rhetorical question: What if God, while being clear about both His attitude towards sin and His power, chose to delay punishment for those who deserve wrath and destruction? What if God’s sovereign choice was to extend mercy?
Paul has already established that God has the right to do what He chooses, especially after we (kind of like Esau) have discarded our right to claim righteousness through our own works. So, what if God chose to extend mercy to people? Well, I think that would be pretty amazing!
Maybe instead of grumbling that we’re not in charge, we should step back to appreciate how God’s plan is for our good, and His decisions are a manifestation of His love. In fact, there are many authorities in this world, but none of them so loving and so caring for humankind as God.
Remember Romans 2:1-4 (from a previous article), where Paul condemned those who judge others for behaviors that they practice themselves? Romans 2:4 seems to fit well with this passage from Romans 9. God’s kindness, patience, and mercy allows us time to repent. It also allows us to receive righteousness, through Jesus Christ.
And, God’s choices let us better understand who He is, more than just His wrath and His justice. Don’t get me wrong: we must understand those attributes of God, so I’m not leaving those out. However, if God wasn’t patient with us (for instance, if He immediately sent us to Hell when we first sinned, instead of giving us time to repent), we wouldn’t have been able to observe and experience nearly as much of His love, grace, mercy, kindness, and – by definition – His patience.
I think that the same principle might also apply at a larger scale. Hypothetically, if God had fully destroyed Israel for that nation’s sins, rather than leaving a remnant and remembering His promises, then Jesus couldn’t have been born from the line of David. The very promise of salvation through the Messiah is a reflection of God’s forbearance.
The beauty of all of this is that God shows His mercy and grace to the people who don’t deserve it, and those who receive God’s mercy get to better appreciate God’s mercy. What did Jesus say in Luke 7:47 when a sinful woman anointed His feet with perfume? (See Luke 7:36-50 for the context, if you’re not familiar with this account.). If we have received God’s mercy, we should love Him all the more.
So, yeah, it’s frustrating when someone makes a decision that I don’t agree with. On the other hand, God has always shown that His plan – guided by His love – is worth following, even in those times when I don’t fully understand it. I hope that you can say the same.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for January 23, 2022
- The Lookout, January 23, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Romans, Volume 2, by Jack Cottrell. College Press Publishing Company, © 1998.