22 What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction:
23 And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory,
24 Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
1901 ASV Translation:
22 What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction:
23 and that he might make known the riches of his glory upon vessels of mercy, which he afore prepared unto glory,
24 even us, whom he also called, not from the Jews only, but also from the Gentiles?
I. Paul's "Argument".
A. God may well have a "purpose" that has not yet been considered [see notes of December 9, 2008 (458)].
B. God's "purpose" includes "enduring with much longsuffering".
1. The major question here is the meaning of "enduring with much longsuffering" in the face of the reality of the divine choice to create. How is it that God "puts up with" something that was, apparently, inevitable to His choice of creating persons?
a. This is, perhaps, explained by the current reality as we reason back from the present.
1) Currently, "suffering unto glory" is a main staple of New Testament revelation. There is much in Romans 8 regarding this "connection" and Paul's letters are filled with the exhortation to "endure" the unpleasant because of the superior "pleasantness" that is to come. He told the Thessalonians that "no man [should] be moved by ... afflictions; for yourselves know that hereunto we are appointed ... when we were with you, we told you beforehand that wearetosufferaffliction; even as it came to pass ..." (1 Thessalonians 3:3-4).
2) Given this current reality, all we have to do is answer one question and we will have the answer to the larger question: could God have done things in any different way and still obtained His purpose? If He could have, and did not, the idea of "enduring with much longsuffering" makes little, if any, sense. Thus, to be reasonable, we must conclude that God chose the best way (perhaps the only way) to accomplish His larger Plan. Thus, with this answer we also have the other answer: God "puts up with" things that were inevitable to His choice to create because there was no other way to accomplish His greatest desire.
3) Having this answer, let us query the details a bit. There is a misguided notion in the minds of the mentally challenged (creatures sans omniscience) that "God can do anything". But the Bible is clear that this is not true: God cannot lie (Numbers 23:19; Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18). God does not escape His own reality and that means that the "Person" is subject to the Total Reality. God cannot contradict His own Nature (Total Reality). He does not "sin"; He is not "tempted" to sin; and He never engages in the solicitation of men to sin (James 1:13). Thus, there are some boundaries to what we can expect from God. Within those boundaries are the realities regarding the creation of persons. And within the issue of the creation of persons is another set of "boundaries". Not even God can create God. So, one of the boundaries involved in the creation of "persons" is this one: God cannot create "persons" with omni-anything -- including knowledge, wisdom, and love. So, as we argued in the last set of notes, the real question is why God created persons with the inevitability of the imbalance of knowledge that would lead to sin, given enough time. The Bible only hints at this issue. God is essentially a Creator. Thus, He creates. The Bible is silent about why this included "persons". So, at some point, we come to the same place as the psalmist in Psalm 139:6: "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain unto it." Being eternally less-than-omniscient, there are some things I will never know. That one of those things is the answer to the question of why God created "persons" may simply be just the way it is.
b. One thing we know from our current reality: enduring with much longsuffering is an essential aspect of Reality. No one, from God to the least "created person", can escape this fact. It is. Railing against it will not change it. There is hope, though, that the enduring is not eternal because Revelation 21-22 says as much. However, the Gospel is that God has absorbed into Himself the suffering so that we can be exempt from it. Thus, it is likely that "enduring with much longsuffering" is something that God will never escape, but that we will because His love is perfect and ours is simply on the way towards that perfection.
2. Then comes another issue: the meaning of "vessels having been fitted unto destruction".
a. By whom were they so "fitted"?
1) The word translated "fitted" is used 13 times in the New Testament.
a) In Matthew 4:21 it is translated "mending" and refers to restoring nets that had been damaged back to their original functional status (see also Mark1:19).
b) In Matthew 21:16 it is translated "perfected" in regard to "babes and sucklings" being empowered to "praise" in a worthy manner.
c) Luke 6:40 puts it in Jesus' mouth in the statement that "the disciple is not above his teacher: but every one when he is perfected shall be as his teacher."
d) Paul uses it in 1 Corinthians 1:10 in regard to people coming to the same perspective on a matter: he calls it being "perfected together".
e) Perhaps the most illuminating use is Galatians 6:1 in the apostle's appeal that spiritually capable people "restore" one who has been overtaken in some trespass. This seems to imply that "fitted" actually means "being brought to a specific condition". In our arguments in prior studies we have laid claim to the declaration that a person is "fitted" to a specific condition when he/ she gets to the point that the purpose decrees. When God decreed the manifestation of His wrath by means of "vessels of wrath", those "vessels" were "fitted" when they got to the point of imbalance that produced sin. Thus, God "fitted" them only in the sense that He created them in a setting that did not have the reality of His wrath available to their understanding. As they progressed in a "half-of-God" setting where none of the truth about Him that has to do with sin was available for understanding, they moved closer and closer to the condition of being "fitted for destruction".
2) The issue of "by whom?" thus becomes answerable. God created them. He built into them a capacity to learn and to respond. He had no ability to set forth any kind of "wrath" setting apart from sin, so their own God-created capacities to learn and respond were hamstrung by the absence of a "whole-God" setting. Thus, they were "fitted" by the combination of the inner and outer realities that compelled development along the lines that were there. Thus, it was God that "fitted" them for their future in that He created them to learn and respond and they did.
b. For what were they so "fitted"?
1) The word translated "destruction" is used multiple times in the New Testament and those uses reveal that "destruction" does not mean any kind of annihilation or a return to non-existence. Matthew 26:8 applies the word to a scenario wherein a "purpose" is thwarted. In many of the uses it is this turning of an object from what is conceived of as its "reason for being" that constitutes "destruction". Perfume that is extravagantly poured out in an excessive way is considered "destroyed". A man that is put to death in the flesh is considered "destroyed". A creature that is subverted from its purpose of being a willing instrument of the revelation of the Truth about God is considered "destroyed".
2) In this text (9:22) the contextual definition of "destruction" is "being subjected to the righteous wrath of God." The lingering question for many is this: how "righteous" is it to require "love" of a person who is incapable of exercising it? The answer is simple, but not "acceptable" to those who ask this question: it is simply not true that any "person" is incapable of "love". Everyone "loves". Thus, the real question boils down to "How righteous is it to require that a creature 'love' its Creator more than itself?", and that question is also moot because the requirement is nothing more or less than a demand that a "person" put some "other" ahead of his/her own personal, present, interests and "people" do this all day long every day. In the conflict of "loves", values decisions are constantly being made that require their maker to rein in one "value" in order to give rein to another. And, in our current context, Paul expressly declared that his "love" for his kinsmen according to the flesh was of the nature that he was willing to volunteer for "destruction" for their sake. So, if Paul could so love, how is it not legitimate for God to "require" the same of all? One who does what is right condemns all who refuse to so do. Thus, "love" is not "beyond" man and it is not unrighteous of God to require it. Man is not, and never will be, God, but that does not mean that it is legitimate for him to oppose God.