Take Another Look at Predestination
Sometimes we easily and quickly dismiss ideas and concepts we are unfamiliar with. This is the case especially if we have not given adequate study to the matter at hand. I share this type of guilt as well. Obviously, posts on this blog portray a view of the rapture that is post-tribulational. Yet, I did not always take this position. For years, I believed and taught the pre-tribulational view and thought it a mark against those who held otherwise. Then, I read something that caused me to think, and more importantly, to examine the biblical text. I hope this is what you will do with this post here. Let it cause you to think and then go and examine the biblical text.
1. One theme that defines theology for me is that of divine election and reprobation. This theme I see in Romans 9-11 and it shows how Israel's rejection of Christ is not outside of God's plan. Israel's rejection is not "because the word of God has failed" (v. 6), it is not that God's promises to Israel have failed, but that the salvation of God has always been a small group chosen out of the whole. Verse 6 tells us this: "they are not all Israel who are from Israel." When we consider Israel as a people we should consider the subjects of God's salvation as the remnant.
2. There are also examples of this in the text. Isaac was chosen over Ishmael and Jacob over Esau "before they were born and had not done anything good or bad" (v. 11). This is an example of point #1. This was so "God's purpose according to election might stand, not because of works but of Him who calls" (v. 11 b). For God says that "He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy and compassion on whom He will have compassion" (v. 15). Then I think the conclusion can be drawn as Paul does. Salvation "does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy" (9:16 NASB). It does not depend on man's will or man's effort but it depends on God mercying (verbal in Greek).
3. This fits the whole context, which is about Israel's salvation, or lack thereof. Paul is grieving because Israel is "accursed, separated from Christ" (9:3) and Paul's "heart's desire and prayer to God for them is for their salvation" in 10:1 (contra the national election view). But his explanation is that this is how God works and has always worked (Isaac, Jacob, and Moses over Pharoah). God has the right over his creation as the potter has all rights over the clay to make one vessel for noble use (salvation) and another for common use (reprobation) in 9:21. God has "mercy on whom He wills and He hardens whom He wills" (9:18).
4. Why would God do this? The best answer I found was this, a quote from Jonathan Edwards: "It is a proper and excellent thing for infinite glory to shine forth; and for the same reason, it is proper that the shining forth of God’s glory should be complete; that is, that all parts of his glory should shine forth, that every beauty should be proportionably effulgent [=radiant], that the beholder may have a proper notion of God. It is not proper that one glory should be exceedingly manifested, and another not at all. . .
Thus it is necessary, that God’s awful majesty, his authority and dreadful greatness, justice, and holiness, should be manifested. But this could not be, unless sin and punishment had been decreed; so that the shining forth of God’s glory would be very imperfect, both because these parts of divine glory would not shine forth as the others do, and also the glory of his goodness, love, and holiness would be faint without them; nay, they could scarcely shine forth at all.
If it were not right that God should decree and permit and punish sin, there could be no manifestation of God’s holiness in hatred of sin, or in showing any preference, in his providence, of godliness before it. There would be no manifestation of God’s grace or true goodness, if there was no sin to be pardoned, no misery to be saved from. How much happiness soever he bestowed, his goodness would not be so much prized and admired, and the sense of it not so great . . .
So evil is necessary, in order to the highest happiness of the creature, and the completeness of that communication of God, for which he made the world; because the creature’s happiness consists in the knowledge of God, and the sense of his love. And if the knowledge of him be imperfect, the happiness of the creature must be proportionably imperfect." (Jonathan Edwards, "Concerning the Divine Decrees," in The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), p. 528)
5. John Piper would say the mystery of how God's sovereignty and responsibility remain is in how God finds fault when it is he who hardens (verse 17). He also notes that there is no objection in the text to verses 22-23 (which there is one in 14) which says "If God willing to to show his wrath and to make known his power known, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory." That is to say, what if God wanted to harden certain ones in order that the elect might better appreciate His salvation, would that be wrong? What if He wanted to do that? There is no objection in the text.
6. With all this said, I see the great pain which Paul felt in light of Israel's rejection of Christ. Romans 9:2 tells us that he had "great sorrow and unceasing grief in his heart" for them (NASB). We should grieve for the lost and desire their salvation. And if they come to faith we should realize that it is because God had desired to save them and show mercy on them before "they were born and done anything good or bad (9:11)." We should also realize that this is the only reason we possess eternal life at all and gratefully worship our Creator.