20 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?
21 Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?
1901 ASV Translation:
20 Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why didst thou make me thus?
21 Or hath not the potter a right over the clay, from the same lump to make one part a vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?
I. Paul's Most Fundamental Argument.
A. The creature has no foundation for any kind of objection regarding the character, decisions, or actions of the Creator.
1. The question: Who are you?
2. The setting: Someone/anyone replying against God.
B. The molded thing has no "say" in what the One doing the molding does.
C. As an absolutely essential aspect of the "larger picture" that is, in turn, an absolutely essential aspect of the process of proper understanding, this issue of how a thinking person approaches the relationship of Creator to creature and creature to Creator has no peer. If there is any sense in the creature that it is legitimate to "answer against God", all that follows is nonsense.
II. Paul's Most Fundamental Analogy.
A. Paul appeals to the universally accepted "right" of the potter over the clay.
B. At any level, however, the fact is that "personal" creatures differ significantly from clay in one significant way that raises the stakes in this argument: sensibility.
1. It is one thing to "make of clay" a vessel that "feels no pain".
2. It is another thing to "make of clay" a vessel that cannot "not feel pain".
C. If the "decision of God" is to create a "vessel" that is, by His decree and enforcement, subject to Eternal Death at every level (physically, emotionally, and spiritually), it is not "clay" with which He is dealing (as far as we know).
1. As we pointed out in an earlier study (Romans 9:14-18 (4)), the "problem" here is the reality of "pain" and the problem is intensified by the declaration that "their worm dieth not, nor is the fire quenched" (Mark 9:44). This creates a distinction between insensible clay and sensible man.
2. That there is such a thing as "pain" has always been a "problem" for those who have problems with God. However, I have found nothing that provides a solution to this "problem". Denying that God exists (atheism) does not eliminate "pain". Raging against God does not eliminate "pain". Creating a doctrine of "free will" so that the pain is self-induced does not eliminate it. Pain is a fact of life and no one has ever been able to erase that fact. And not only that, every method used for the alleviation of pain has introduced its own set of undesirable realities. So, we are "stuck" with pain as an element of our current experience with no release. The major question involves how the "creature" decides to approach his "problem" with pain. He can, on the one hand, set up an artificial ideal that posits the "wickedness" of pain and then try to "fit" his thinking into that "whole", or he can start with what is and attempt to grow to understanding out of that reality. As a creature, he has no foundation for setting up a theoretical ideal; his ignorance transcends the most basic requirement of such a thing.
3. This means that there is no "T"heology of any kind any where that can eliminate the reality, so "Christianity" is not the only "religion" that has this problem.
a. It is "Christian", however, to claim that "pain" is the consequence of interrelational conflict. Man's "sin" (inserting conflict into the God/man relationship) is, according to the biblical record, the "cause" of "pain". This is half of the story: the other half is that God's "holiness" (His adamant refusal to turn the running of the creation over to ignorant creatures and its subsequent "reaction" in the form of "Justice" -- returning "pain" for "pain inflicted") is the other side of the coin in terms of the "cause" of "pain". If a universe existed in which decisions had no "results" and the deliberate insertion of conflict between persons made no difference, perhaps "pain" would not exist ... but neither would a host of other realities, some of which are actually "desirable".
b. It is also "Christian" to claim that "sin" had its origin in the determination of the volitional, ignorant, created "person". It is not true that the creation of volitional, ignorant, "persons" made "sin" inevitable (there exists a host of angels who did not insert conflict between themselves and God and they stand as proof that sin was not a created necessity), but it is true that it made "sin" possible.
c. It is also "Christian" to claim that God created persons (angelic and human) with the intention of reacting to "sin" if/when it irrupted, with a larger purpose in view. And it is "Christian" to claim that God had a full knowledge that sin was going to irrupt before He ever "created". This means that the issue of "pain" was a foreknown fact of coming reality before God ever created anything. Thus, the issue for God was not "creating with no pain ever permitted", but "to create or not to create". So the bottom line seems to be: Why did God "create" if He knew "pain" was going to be the result? This is, as far as I know, unanswerable: no one seems to know why God "created" when it was altogether unnecessary for Him to do so. But, the indisputable fact is that He did and we are the result and we have to "deal with" reality as we find it, not as we might wish it to be.
1) It seems to me that there is something underlying the issue of creating persons with the full understanding that there is going to be a rebellion.
2) If there is something underlying this issue, what is it?
a) It seems to me to be this: where does the impetus for rebellion actually come from? Is it rooted in a basic weakness of creation reality? When we look at the Genesis record of the fall of man, we see that there was an outside player who, by dogmatic assertion, created in the mind of man the notion that God is not trustworthy for the real benefit of man. Then, because "fear" was inserted, man responded with "self-defense" efforts that included the attempt to make whatever God "willed" a matter of his evaluation and accord. And this was the elevation of the creature over the Creator. There is this, however, in the revelation of Scripture: it was God Who first raised the issue of self-preservation by His warning, "In the day that ye eat thereof, ye shall surely die." If "dying" was not to be "feared", eating was not to be feared.
b) But this only pushes the issue backward one step. Instead of the question being "did sin erupt because fear irrupted?", it is "where did the desperate sense of "self-preservation" come from that allows "fear" to be a player?
c) So, since God did not create omniscient man (so lies could have no impact upon him) and neither did He create loving man (so self-preservation would have no argument), we must, therefore, conclude that creation as an act involves certain "weaknesses" as a built-in fact. It has to. In the reality of "personhood", values, thoughts, choices, and actions are subject to the limitations of the absence of omniscience, omni-wisdom, omni-love, and, to a far lesser degree, omnipotence.
d) Does this, then, mean that the creation of "persons" with "weak" value systems and thought systems also mean that those "values" and "thoughts" are sufficiently independent of God that He is not "responsible" for their existence? This seems to be a part of Paul's argument in Romans 9 regarding the "irresistible will" of God. Does He "irresistibly" control how weak values and judgment will play out? The biblical picture of reality between fatalism (total control) and total openness (no connections between actions and reactions) argues that God does, indeed, "irresistibly" control the larger picture but not the specific details within that larger whole.
4. This returns us to Paul's argument: it is man's reality that he has to deal with what is and not what is not and the "best" way to deal with that reality is to include a tad of humility: "Who are you that repliest against God?"
a. Since it is eminently possible that there is a perfectly "reasonable" answer to the "creation" issue in those realms that are currently above human ability ("My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are My ways your ways"), it is not "unreasonable" for God to simply tell us, on the basis of the Gospel claim that He did not exempt Himself from the "pain", to "trust Him".
b. Perhaps the most critical flaw in man is his overweening confidence in his own intellectual prowess and this is nothing more, or less, than unfounded arrogance. This is what Paul confronts in Romans 9:20.