It had been a while since I’d read Romans 9, but an email correspondence that I keep with a Christian caused me to read it last night. When I was a Christian, this chapter had always been difficult for me, but that’s because I was trying to fit it within my own theology. Last night, I was struck by several things I had forgotten and thought it would be worth sharing.
For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring. For this is what the promise said: “About this time next year I will return, and Sarah shall have a son.” And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls — she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
— verses 6-13
Here, Paul makes a distinction between those who belong to Israel by birth, and those who are children of Abraham by faith. In other words, just because someone is Jewish does not mean he/she is really God’s child. He then points out that even before Jacob and Esau were old enough to know right from wrong, God rejected Esau in favor of Jacob. That seems a little arbitrary, doesn’t it?
What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
— verses 14-18
So is God being unjust in choosing one infant over another? Not according to Paul. Why? Because God can do what he wants.
What kind of answer is that? If Paul’s argument were true, then there would be no such thing as right and wrong. God is always right, regardless of his behavior, because whatever he does is right by default. That flies in the face of what most Christians believe today, yet that’s Paul’s position. And he anticipates an argument about it:
You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, oh man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, 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 — even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?
— verses 19-24
Paul’s only defense is that we can’t question God. But we’re not questioning God, Paul, we’re questioning you and the authors of the Old Testament.
And don’t miss what Paul says here. He’s saying that God creates some people to show mercy toward, and he creates others that he can use to demonstrate his power. He’s a god with an inferiority complex. Such a god does not actually care for his creation; he uses them as pawns for his own glory. And who is this god trying to impress? Obviously not humans, if he thinks so little of us. And he’s supposedly the only deity, so who’s he putting on the show for?
And what about Paul’s argument regarding the potter and the clay? On one hand, there’s a decent point there. It’s kind of like “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” If someone gives you something, don’t be overly critical of it. So if God gave us life, who are we to question him on the quality of it? The problem is Paul is saying more than that. He’s saying if God created you and finds you inadequate, you can’t put that back on God — you can’t complain “why did you make me this way?” But Paul’s wrong about that. If God’s not happy with how humanity turned out, that’s not our fault, it’s his. It would be like a child putting a model together incorrectly and then becoming angry at the model. It’s not the model’s fault that the child built it wrong, so it would be unjust to take that out on the model.
Paul’s God is fickle and arbitrary. He makes people like Pharaoh disobedient, and then punishes them for their disobedience. He picks others for glory and mercy, who have done nothing to merit such favor. The sad thing is that many Christians view this as a good thing and talk about God’s wondrous mystery and mercy. This is not a good thing. Such a God is untrustworthy. Unlimited power and a personality disorder make for a very dangerous combination.
And the description of God in this chapter is at odds with other passages that claim God is the embodiment of love and wants all men to be saved. Both versions can’t be right. In addition to its contradictory descriptions of God, the Bible is filled with all kinds of contradictory accounts, failed prophecies, immoral commandments, bad science, and faulty history. Why do so many people, even after learning about the Bible’s faults, continue to believe that it teaches anything accurate about the supernatural?