Thesis:The two excluded foundations of God's integrity are "will" and "power".
Introduction:Last week we considered God's declaration to Moses that "mercy" is His exclusive prerogative when it comes to the question of whether it will be inserted into the human realm. This matter of "the insertion of mercy into the human realm" is a crucial factor in how things play out. We saw that one of the most fundamental realities concerning God is the distinction between those attributes in the divine character that must not be compromised and those that abide in the realm of "option". Though this is a rather complex concept, it is at the heart of Paul's questions in Romans 9.
There are at least three major questions in Romans 9: 1) why is a totally selfless love often denied? 2) does the denial indicate a "problem" with the "integrity" of God in respect to His verbal declarations?, and 3) does the solution regarding the denial signal some kind of "unrighteousness" in the makeup of God? The first question is not the first answered; it is allowed to linger in our minds for a bit. But, the second question is answered by the declaration that God's verbal declarations must be understood in terms of His meanings, not man's ("Israel" has a technical meaning as well as a generic one). And, the third question is answered by the distinction that exists in the nature of God between those attributes which cannot be compromised and those which stand in what we have called the "optional" category. Justice and Grace have very little to do with one another; and Righteousness and Mercy are likewise very distant cousins. Likewise, Love and Hate are in this same stream of attributes which seem to men to be irreconcilable.
Clearly God is not an uncomplicated Person and just as clearly man's understanding of the complications is directly related to his participation with Him in Life. Thus, this evening we are going a bit further into our consideration of the divine prerogative regarding the insertion of "Mercy" into the affairs of men and look into certain inescapable conclusions. Paul says there are two: "it" is not of him that willeth, nor is "it" of him that runneth. In order to understand these conclusions, we need to consider not only how they apply to man but also how they apply to God.
I. The Larger Picture: Defining the "It".
A. Defining the "it" has multiple levels.
1. On the first level, the most immediate concern is "what happens to people".
a. Paul inserted the "Jacob I loved and Esau I hated" thesis in 9:13 as a highly charged claim: what happens to people is directly related to Love/Hate and God.
b. This means that "what happens to people" is in view and that "what" is at least a part of the "it".
c. Thus, Paul's declaration is that "what happens to people" does not rest upon "him that willeth" or "him that runneth".
1) This does not mean that what men "will" and how they "run" has no part in the picture.
a) Philippians 2:13.
b) 1 Corinthians 9:24 and Hebrews 12:1.
2) Paul, in Romans 9, is not dealing with the "intermediate levels" of the issues that are involved; he is dealing with the "ultimate" levels.
2. On the next level, a most necessary consideration is "how things happen to people".
a. We live in a cause/effect universe.
b. The insertion of "mercy" into the cause/effect stream makes a difference, as does the withholding of "mercy".
1) The "problem" is that the insertion of "mercy" contradicts certain cause/effect relationships by actively blocking certain "effects" (making "effects" somewhat tenuous and, likewise, making "expectations" somewhat tenuous).
2) A greater "problem" is that the withholding of "mercy" guarantees that the effects will come unmitigated.
3) The most significant complication is that there is a fine line between the impact of "mercy" as a help and the impact of "mercy" as a destructive process.
3. On the next level, an even more necessary consideration is how what "happens to people" affects the largest agenda of all -- "the purpose of God".
B. In the context of Romans 9, the "it" involves the answers to at least two of the three major questions.
1. A very major issue in Romans 9 is the question of whether God is a God of integrity so that His words are reliable.
a. The divine prerogative in the insertion/withholding of mercy always has this in view.
b. Reliability has to do with what God will do to make sure His words are fulfilled and Paul says that "it" ultimately boils down to God's choices regarding mercy.
2. Another major issue in Romans 9 is the question of whether God is a God of Righteousness so that He does not ever mistreat people in the negative sense.
a. The insertion of mercy also always has this in view.
b. But it is crucial that men understand that it is not unrighteous to simply let the cause/effect reality run unhindered by mercy.
C. Thus we can conclude that the "it" in Paul's declaration is most fundamentally a question of whether men will participate in the goodness of the purpose of God or in the disaster of His wrath within that purpose.
II. The More Immediate Picture: Considering the Consequences of the Divine Prerogative.
A. On the one hand, in the ultimate sense, it does not matter what one "wants".
1. Most folks do not realize it, but this is even true of God.
2. The issue Paul has raised by his choice of words is the place that "desire" has in the larger picture.
3. In 1 Timothy 2:4 Paul tells us that not even God "gets" everything He "wants".
a. This is a complicated concept, but it boils down to the difference between "wanting" and "making sure that 'getting' happens".
b. Just as it is true of men that they often genuinely "want" but deliberately refuse to do what is necessary to fulfill the want, so God also genuinely "wants" some things that are not going to happen because He is not going to "force" it.
4. Though Paul is primarily addressing the place that "want" has in man in respect to the divine Plan in Romans 9, it is important for us to realize that "wants" are not the bottom line and, for that reason, what happens does not depend upon men and their wants.
B. On the other hand, in the ultimate sense, it does not matter how hard one tries.
1. Again, this is not just a matter of man's efforts.
2. God is omnipotent so that, if He were to apply His power to any desired effect, it would happen.
3. But, God's application of power (how hard He tries) is determined by other issues than simply the application of power.
a. The application of power by God never occurs apart from His Love.
b. The application of power by God never occurs apart from His wisdom.
c. With God, Love trumps desire and Wisdom trumps omnipotence, and the result is that the Plan of God depends entirely upon whether, by Love and Wisdom, God inserts Mercy into the mix so as to affect the outcome according to His words regarding His purpose.
A. Man is predisposed to arrogance and credit-taking and these two predispositions are absolutely anathema to the production of true blessedness for anyone.
B. Paul, by going to the roots, takes man's pride out of the picture and leaves him only one of two options: humility or rage.