Sunday, October 22, 2006

"I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy"


It's a beautiful Sunday morning in October. My window in the study is open and I can feel a very cool 45 deg. breeze coming through. Coffee is brewing. Daughter is asleep. It's a nice relaxing way to start the day.

Over the course of talking to several people about the verses I posted the other day, I have found a lot of emotion attached to the discussion. I have usually felt like the lone one on the side that God meant what he said here - that He chooses whom to have mercy on - whom to love - simply because he chose them - not because of any deed they did. The fact that people have reacted to my ideas so negatively makes me wonder if their view of who God is needs some stretching. I thought it might be good to find some folks in the I-net who hold different views of what this means. Here are the verses:
Romans 9:11-21

11for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, . . .
15For He says to Moses, "
16So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. . .
18So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. . .

20On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it?
21Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?

Like John Piper, I believe that one's view of these verses shapes his entire belief system on the
sovereignty of God. He writes about his view when he was younger : "The sovereignty of God meant that he can do anything with me that I give him permission to do." I think that pretty well sums up what many folks believe: God is looking for people who will submit to Him - and when someone agrees to follow Him - he begins working in their lives. However, that doesn't jive with what He says here. God brings about the willing and the doing in the lives of his children. Where does that leave room for my effort?

I am not going to try a deep discussion of these verses. It would take much research and a smarter brain than mine. :) There are many applications to be made - most of which hinge on other chapters in Romans. For the purposes of this blog, I am simply looking at our needing to realize that God is absolutely sovereign - we are not here for our own fulfillment.

My question is - if someone is Esau - someone God chose to hate before they were even born - can that person accept that - accept God's absolute power over the universe and realize he has a role to play in it?

I believe much of the problem people have with these concepts are due partly to a jump in conclusions. For instance, Judas carried out his plan against Jesus after "Satan entered his heart" - doesn't sound to me like Judas had much of a choice - just as Pharoah didn't with the Israelites.

One poster writes:
I have a bit of a problem with this - look at Romans 9 verses 15 to 21. In other words, God hardens people's hearts, but still blames them for doing wrong. When they question the fairness of this, the only defense given is "Who are you, O man, to talk back to God"?

We are created beings. There is no getting around that. As created beings, God created us all for a purpose. Some were created for destruction, others were created for mercy. It is in God’s hands that our fate is decided. Not ours.

The third teaching I have in mind is that God is sovereign; His plan provides for everything, and His purposes cannot be defeated by our sin. You may say, "That's my point." Yes, but you assume that God's sovereignty cannot be reconciled with His love or with man's responsibility. Have you tried reconciling them? I am not saying that the problem is easy, but in fact, theologians over the centuries have suggested a number of different ways in which they might be reconciled. For example, where Paul speaks of God "hardening" a certain person's heart, he may mean that God plans for that person to do what he knows the person would have done in any case. Or he may be using figurative language to say that God leaves some people to their own self-chosen exile. Other solutions have also been proposed. Which solution is best is not the point; the crucial thing is that God's plan somehow provides ahead of time for our response to His grace. If this is difficult to understand, remember, planning means something radically different for God than it does for us. Our planning looks toward a future not yet present, but for Him all moments of time are present at once.

rather long but more scholarly:

“I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” This is a common expression in the Bible called by some scholars the idem per idem(SP?). Another example is Exodus 3:14: “I AM WHO I AM.” This particular expression does only one thing: preserve the freedom and sovereign rights of the one doing the action in doing the action. The person who “is” is free from any outside determining factors.

So notice what God says about the exercise of his mercy and grace. First, God says, “I will be gracious…and will show mercy.” God will do it and it won’t be thwarted. God will show mercy and grace. Secondly, God says, “…to whom I will be gracious…on whom I will show mercy.” God will decide to give mercy to whoever he chooses. It is up to him. He is not bound by any outside forces that say, “You must show me mercy because I have done…” God does not work that way. God says, “I will have mercy on you because I have so determined to do so.” The same thing with grace. God gives grace to who he does because he has chosen to do so.

So then, for God to give mercy because they have done anything would be out of character, no contrary to his character. God would not be God if he did not sovereignly give mercy and give mercy to those he has determined to receive it. This exercise of mercy is the expression of God’s glorifying his name. But this also incorporates his punitive justice as well. For that is the character of God. God must give his justice and wrath to those whom he wills because that is his name, his glory.

Tying this back to Romans 9. God would indeed be unjust in Paul’s mind to not give mercy on the basis of God’s free will, not man’s. Hence Romans 9:16, “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” It depends not upon human thelo or wishing, desiring. It depends upon God who has mercy. It depends not upon human trecho, effort or running, but upon God, who has mercy. It is interesting that the term trecho that Paul uses here is used in the LXX reading of Ps. 119:32, “I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart!” Paul would have known of this verse and had it in mind when chosing this term for exertion. Paul in this chapter has gone completely counter to his Pharisaical upbrining in favor of a more Essene theology. So it isn’t how religious you are either! What matters is God having mercy, unconditionally, apart from any human effort or thinking/believing/wishing/desiring!

Thus I conclude with Paul in Romans 9:14-16 that God would be unjust if God did not give mercy unconditionally to those whom he has chosen to give mercy. God would dishonor his name by acting out of character. God’s glory would be diminished and that is something God cannot do nor will Paul have us think God would do that. God must act according to his name, other wise he is not Yahweh, the only true God.

Well, I still find folks who are using these verses to explain how much God gives mercy - not dependent upon whether we deserve it or have 'earned' it - which of course we can't. But not much discussion on the other side of the coin - which is just as real. I will choose NOT to have mercy according to my will. Is that just too far outside our warm, cuddly, secure world? Can we step aside for living a ME centered life and put God there - where he belongs?


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

. . . as unto the Lord

Hi again,

Continuing in my wonderings - I realize I have to first decide just whose will is being done in this matter called my life. Am I here for God's good pleasure or is He here for mine? Until I get that ironed out and internalized (which is a lifelong growth process) I can't even begin to start a desire for submission. There is no way to submit, or even understand submitting, until I place my life in proper alignment with the submitt-ee. This is true with my life in God - and the life with my husband.

Romans 9 has some hard words for those of us in 21st century America:

11for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls,
12it was said to her, "THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER."
13Just as it is written, "JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED."
14What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be!
15For He says to Moses, "
16So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.
18So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
19You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists
His will?"
20On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it?
21Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?
- -
Our American view of God and religion is a system put in place to make our lives better, more prosperous in relationships, in happiness, in money, in health - in our pursuit for the good life. We believe that those who prosper are blessed by God and those who suffer just don't seem to measure up. However, even a quick reading of the verses above make hash of that viewpoint.

God molds us into the vessel of his choice. Some He makes fancy. Others he makes plain. There is no rhyme nor reason outside of his desires. Dare we say - some of us he loves and some he hates? How about He might raise me up to my physical detriment (as he said he did Pharoah) only to show his power through me or to further his plan. Can I accept that? Can I love God will all my heart and mind, trust him totally and long to be even closer, if my physical life is a broken clay pot? That is a hard thought. But if I can't place God in absolute monarchial control of my life, giving him total right over me - as the one who created me for his good pleasure - then I am creating a god of my own doing - and that god is me. Because I am calling the shots and I am deciding what can and can't be done with my life. I can't serve two masters. I either serve myself - or I serve God.

I believe if I can reach this understanding it places me at the bottom step of 'the blesseds' - truly able to say "God - I am absolutely poor in spirit." At that point - He can move in and start working in my life. But until I totally submit all I am - and all that I will be - then I have not even begun that walk up the steps of 'the blesseds '- into mercy and peacemaking, etc.

Jesus - our supreme example did nothing except the will of his Father. We can quote verses like that. We've heard great sermons that made really good applications of that idea. But if - as our example - Jesus is one to be followed - can we say for even one DAY of our lives we did nothing except the will of our Father?

In Matthew 11 Jesus told his Dad:

25"I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.

Jesus praised God doing what was His good pleasure. His entire will was given over to Him. Are we brave enough to even whisper that idea to God? Do we trust Him enough? We have to take the hands off the wheel . . .


Monday, October 16, 2006

Going Back to the Beginning

Hi, myself

I thought it best to start at the beginning. Until I can figure out who God is in my life, I can't begin to understand how I can submit to him.

A popular view of God is a cuddly, grandfatherly Santa Claus - lovingly overlooking all our activities, gently carrying us through the hard times of life, giving us the deepest desires of our hearts, teaching us deep lessons along the way readying us for a home in the sweet by and by.

Another view of God is a stern task master - standing above, with that "all seeing eye watching you" - a red pen, the book of life and a certain glee at catching us mess up. ("I knew you couldn't do it!") He hid commands and parts of commands in various parts of the Bible - making it a life long job of searching and putting them together in order to please Him. God is up in Heaven spending His time watching us, and recording our activities. We are the center of his attention. It's all about our ability to live the life he outlined in the Bible.

Problem with those views? In it - I am God. All things are to benefit me. God helps, God protects, God grants, God forgives, God teaches. It's all about me. Sounds like the Toby Keith song. If you think honestly about our usual view of God - doesn't that fit? That's a frightening thought! I wonder how He feels about that? (I am certainly not taking away from the fact that God desires to do all those things and more - but questioning if that should be the center of our relationship.)

Transfering to the relationship with my husband - is there a similarity? Is our relationship one I view ultimately in terms of how it will benefit me? Is my husband here simply to make my life better, prevent or solve my problems, protect me, provide, entertain, etc. If that is how I view this relationship, submission makes no sense. I am the center of the relationship - how can I even begin to submit?

How should I view God? Why did he create me to begin with? I believe we can look to the creation of the first recorded human to answer that question. When God created Adam, they immediately struck up a relationship. They were friends walking in the Garden each evening. We don't have records of what they talked about (Oh, how I wish we did!) but I think it is fair to say they were not filled with requests and pleas of help from Adam. What more could he ask for? He lived in a paradise. I believe God looked to Adam as a friend - a companion. I believe He is still looking for friends. People who are His (as he says in 1 Chron. "My people, who are called by My name) - people who are in relationship with him. People who LIKE Him. There were a few folks like that recorded in the OT - folks like Abraham - Moses - and David. Those men had relationships with God. How did they have that desire before they read scripture where we find the beginning of faith and understanding today? They sought Him out. It was not a case of God speaking to them and bringing about that relationship. God spoke to many people but only seemed to view a few in this close manner. Also, we have no record that God spoke to David (amazing, but true) so David's faith and desire for God was not based on that. Moses was so close to God he said "Whoa, now, God. Are you sure you want to do that? You aren't going to look too good with the people if you over react like that! That is pretty amazing when you think about it.

So, how can I understand submitting to someone if I am really keeping Him in subjection? That's a hard thought. It's a huge thought. It's something that takes days and months of prayer and contemplation to sift through our own lives and ask God to show us the areas that we are willfully holding God back and keeping Him in a box, only allowing Him access and power of our own limits.

God is not here for me. He did not create me for my own good pleasure. I am here solely for His. My life is not my own. I was bought with a price. I am to glorify God in my body. That is pretty heavy stuff and really goes against our American ideals of my rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. What rights do I have? I am certainly assured no rights from day to day in today's volatile world. I never had rights in my life with God. He made me and he bought me. It is all about HIM. However, turning my life over to Him brings me everything: an abundance of life of which I cannot begin to conceive.

I believe that I can begin to see a glimpse of submitting to God by putting my husband in the proper place in my life, as well. I am to submit to him as to the Lord. I simply cannot do that if I have him in a subjected state in my life - one in which it is his job to serve my needs. Another opportunity for heart searching prayer with God and conversation with my husband. I need to seek to know him - his needs and desires - just as I need to seek God and learn His desires for me.

So, before beginning a life of submission, I have to understand where I stand in relation to the folks I am trying to submit to. If I don't place them in proper alignment in my life I will never understand submission and it WILL be a difficult yoke - one that chafs and binds and weighs me down.

Why am I here?

Learning about Submission

Hello me,

I thought I might chronicle my search for the meaning of life. Image Well, maybe not quite that heavy - but a search for God's meaning for me - a woman in 2006. That's not an easy place to be! On the one hand - I was single for many years, raising a family, pursuing a career, and balancing that with working on a Master's degree. It lead to a necessity of being independent and self-reliant. Those aren't bad things at all. But I found a quote that summed up the direction I was headed "I am becoming the man I always wanted to marry." That described me a "T." I was all those things I had been looking for - success oriented, hard working, forward thinking, reliable and provided security for those around me.

Then, in 2004, I got married. Well, that caused an about face in my lifestyle (in more ways than one! Image ) We dated (long distance) for 5 years, and talked a lot about what marriage meant to each of us. We talked about dreams (unfulfilled) we had always had about what godly marriage was - and then looked at several biblical examples of marriage as a base.

We both see the Bible as a historical tracing of God's working in the lives of his people throughout time. Everything written is certainly for our benefit (to learn more about Him and what He desires from His people) but not as a blueprint for us to follow today. We learn much about God from the OT - but those recorded experiences He had with folks are not ours. Each of us has our own experience with him - just as a parent does with each of his children.

For instance - almost unheard of today - why did Sarah call Abraham "lord?" Would that be marriage material today? It is certainly not a command, but why did she do that? What kind of marriage did they have that brought her to that place? Since it is mentioned - was it a rather odd thing that she called him that compared to other women of her day? What kind of man was Abraham that brought her to a place to recognize him as such?

What does it mean that I am to submit to my husband as unto the Lord? I've recently had some thoughts on that - certainly not ones that are popular in today's mainstream culture - however it doesn't take much of a look at today's culture to see that it is in turmoil and destroying itself. I don't believe I would waste too much time worrying about whether my understandings and views fit in.

What does it mean that my husband is to love me as Christ loves the church? Is my submission something that I am totally responsible for - a command of "Do this or die!" or is this a partnership with both sides having responsibility in the maturing product of godly submission. Are both actually to submit to one another?

What does it mean that my body belongs to him? And his to me?

These and other questions are what I will be working through. I just thought I'd put it here in case someone else has thoughts along the same line or would like to stretch my thinking further. I love that. :)