Summary: Distinction between "pop religion" and a biblical faith.
I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD,
who does all these things (Isaiah 45.5-7).
It has been my observation that many people like to think of God as a kind of protective big brother. It is somehow reassuring to know that God has nothing to do with all the bad things that happen in the world and he’ll kiss your “boo-boo” when your hurt and soon everything will be better. Pop religion presents God as a sympathetic and comforting old man who is as baffled by evil as the rest of us. That he is responsible for evil rarely crosses most people’s minds. That God is good is undeniable, but that he decrees really bad things is also quite true. However it must be kept in mind that God is neither the author of sin nor is he touched by sin. “God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: (Eph. 1:11, Rom. 11:33, Heb. 6:17, Rom. 9:15, 18) yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, (James 1:13, 17, 1 John 1:5) nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established. (Acts 2:23, Matt. 17:12, Acts 4:27-28, John 19:11, Prov. 16:33) (WCF, Chapter III.1). In C. S. Lewis’ children’s stories, Aslan, the allegorical Christ, is asked by Susan, “Is he [Aslan]—quite safe? … ‘Safe?’ said Mr. Beaver. ‘Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.” In Scripture this may be illustrated by one of many stories in the Old Testament. A short time after David experienced a great victory over the Philistines, he attempted to return the ark of God from the house of Abinadab to Jerusalem. The ark had been placed on a new cart and was being pulled by oxen. When one of the oxen stumbled, Uzzah’s innocent (perhaps) but thoughtless reflex reaction was to put out his hand to stabilize the ark. When he touched it the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died beside the ark of God (2 Samuel 6.6-7; Numbers 16; cp. Hebrews 12.18-29). God takes his holiness very seriously (cp. Numbers 4.15); those who would approach him ought to
So then, if those who are designated as belonging to God are subjected to such harsh treatment, how then can anyone “feel” safe in his presence? More than that, if both the Old and New Testaments testify that he is responsible for hardening the hearts of individuals, then are not the penetrating questions raised by Paul’s interlocutor quite justifiable: You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” These questions continue to be asked by those who think that such a theological position presents God as unjust or capricious. Does not Paul’s declaration of God’s salvific sovereignty rightly raise the question his justice? If he decrees wickedness and rebellion, how then can one be fairly judged for his or her actions?
Before analyzing what Paul does say in response to this objection, we do well to note what he does not say. He makes no reference to human works or human faith (whether foreseen or not) as the basis of God’s act of hardening (as so many of Paul’s “defender” have done). Nor does he defuse the issue by confining God’s hardening only to matters of salvation history; quite the contrary, vv. 22-23 make more explicit than ever that Paul is dealing with questions of eternal destiny. In fact, Paul never offers – here or anywhere else – a “logical” solution to the tension between divine sovereignty and human responsibility that he creates. That he affirms the latter is, of course, clear, and we must never forget that Paul will go on in 9:30-10:21 to attribute the Jews’ condemnation to their own willful failure to believe. Paul is content to hold the truths of God’s absolute sovereignty – in both election and hardening – and of full human responsibility without reconciling them. We would do well to emulate his approach. (Douglas Moo, Romans, p. 601)
It is the basic assumption in Scripture that God is good and will do what is right. Such thinking gives Abraham courage to debate with God for the souls of those in Sodom and Gomorrah: Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Should not the Judge of all the earth do what is just? How then does one reconcile what appears to be two incompatible ideas?