Summary: God is compassionate and he is also severe. "Our God is in heaven; he does all that he pleases."
Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?”
Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases (Psalm 115.2-3).
It is often difficult for the post-modernist reader to accept the doctrine of God’s sovereignty in salvation, even though it is one of the principles most clearly articulated in Scripture. The pragmatism of William James and the self-sufficiency born in the wake of the nineteenth century’s industrialization was further entrenched into the social fabric of American modernization through the deterministic educational philosophy of John Dewey. The almost universal dominance of philosophical and scientific naturalism in western culture makes it hard for many to appreciate the apparent antinomy of some biblical doctrines. The greatest source of misunderstanding centers on those doctrines that chiefly address man’s free agency and God’s sovereignty in salvation. The history of salvation spelled out in the pages of Scripture are not primarily the stories of Israel and Judah and how they ultimately work out their salvation; rather, it is an account of how God rescues mankind from sin, the effects of the fall, and secures his redemption. From Paul’s point of view, all that ultimately matters is what God chooses to do. “What matters in the fate of Judaism is not what it is and produces; it is its calling to be what God causes it to be. As Jacob, yet to be born, did not gain God by means of his works, so the Jew does not now bring God down to his own level by fulfilling the law or by doing service for God” (Adolf Schlatter, Romans: The Righteousness of God, p. 205). Paul’s explication of God’s sovereignty in Romans 9 is troubling for many because, as he explains it, not only does God extend his mercy to those whom he has chosen, he also hardens the hearts of those whom he chooses (9.18). Moreover, Paul makes no attempt to reconcile man’s autonomy with God’s sovereignty. God is not to be judged by man; he can only be judged by his own person (9.19-24). “Paul does not provide a logically compelling resolution of the two strands of his teaching – God, by his own sovereign choice, elects human beings to salvation; human beings, by a responsible choice of their will, must believe in order to be saved. But criticism of the apostle on this score is unfair. It is unfair, first, because Paul can accomplish his purpose – showing God to be just – without such a resolution. And it is unfair, second, because no resolution of this perennial paradox seems possible this side of heaven” (Douglas Moo, Romans, p. 591).
THE MERCY AND COMPASSION OF GOD (9.14-16)
The question of God’s righteousness and judgment in 9.14 was previously raised in Romans 3.5, But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (cp. 4.1; 6.1; 7.7; 8.31; 9.30). Now, Paul further emphasizes the sovereignty of God through justification by faith alone. When God chose Isaac over Ishmael was he unjust? When he announced to Rebecca before her twins were born that the older will serve the younger, was he unjust? Was it capriciousness on his part to say, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.?” Paul denies this most emphatically! Paul accentuates his point by drawing the reader’s attention back to God’s comment to Moses: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Exodus 33.19). “His [God’s] mercy is his own decision and does not depend upon what the individual does. It would not be mercy if it were based upon the worth of the individual’s work. God gives mercy to whomever he wants to give it. This attests to the deity of God that knows of no dependence upon the individual; the individual is called to relinquish his resistance against God, as though he had to be afraid of his injustice. Righteousness does not come about because the individual claims his own right apart from God and thus limits God’s supreme power; on the other hand, it is just and in accordance with the truth that the individual yields unconditionally to the one who has mercy upon him. … Divine mercy, not the individual’s volition and work, determines what God does and what he causes the individual to be” (Schlatter, p. 206). Does a person then not have volition? Indeed, he should and does have it, but any righteousness to which he may aspire does not originate apart from God’s work in his life. Righteousness comes to the one who yields unconditionally to the one who has mercy on him.
It is a basic tenet of Christian theology that God is self-existent (aseity) and does not in any way depend upon mankind; neither is there any necessary symbiosis between God and his creation. God may through his self-disclosure in Scripture explain some of the things he does, though he is not accountable to anyone for anything. While the Bible assumes the existence of God and makes many declarative statements about him, any attempts to prove his existence through reason or empirical validation lies beyond the intent of Scripture and will inevitably do nothing to foster belief in God (though such pursuits may bolster an existing faith). The Bible declares that God alone has intrinsic worth, whereas man has value because he is created in the image of God and because he is the object of God’s affection. Predestination is not predicated on God’s omniscient foreknowledge of anyone’s saving faith in Christ (see my sermon notes from March 12, 2006). Quite to the contrary, persons cannot put their trust in Christ unless God first enables them to do so (John 6.44, 65).