Today is from Romans 9, The Message as usual.
Paul's writing in Romans 9 deals with something that has always confused me. I started thinking about it when I saw the The Ten Commandments movie. You know, the one with Charleston Heston as Moses and Yul Brynner as Ramses, who was Pharaoh of Egypt. God had "hardened Ramses' heart" against the Israelites. I started thinking, did Ramses have a choice then? I mean if God hardens your heart, what's the use?
Here Paul recounts the story of Rebecca, Isaac's wife, who bore twins Esau and Jacob.
God told Rebecca, 'The firstborn of your twins will take second place.' Later that was turned into a stark epigram: 'I loved Jacob; I hated Esau.'
Then Paul asks the Romans if that's a reason to think of God as unfair. He explains then,
Not so fast, please. God told Moses, 'I'm in charge of mercy. I'm in charge of compassion.' Compassion doesn't originate in our bleeding hearts or moral sweat, but in God's mercy.
Then Paul explains, just for me I'm sure, about the earlier story in The Ten Commandments movie.
The same point was made when God said to Pharaoh, 'I picked you as a bit player in this drama of my salvation power.' All we're saying is that God has the first word, initiating the action in which we play our part for good or ill. Are you going to object, 'So how can God blame us for anything since he's in charge of everything? If the big decisions are already made, what say do we have in it?'
Paul then explains that we are not God. God is God. The one and only. I think of the Book of Job, how God said that very thing to Job and his sorry friends. How he asked them if they could control the sea the air, the moon and stars. I love Paul's analogy here:
Clay doesn't talk back to the fingers that mold it, saying, 'Why did you shape me like this?' Isn't it obvious that a potter has a perfect right to shape one lump of clay into a vase for holding flowers and another into a pot for cooking beans. If God needs one style of pottery especially designed to show his angry displeasure and another style carefully crafted to show his glorious goodness, isn't that all right?
Paul then quotes Isaiah::
Salvation comes by personal selection. God...calls us by name.
Woah. What does that mean? Paul's actually talking about Israel here, the Jews. God's chosen people. But all the chosen people didn't get it. Some of them weren't interested if it meant accepting a Messiah that didn't look like what they had in mind. So, then, God made it possible for "us" to get the word. He called us. We became chosen.
Do we answer when called? That's up to us, isn't it? Just like not all the Jews could accept it, some of us don't want to accept it either. Paul says the people in Israel, some of them, were too busy studying about God to notice he was right in their midst.
How could they miss it? Because instead of trusting God, they took over. They were absorbed in what they themselves were doing...they didn't notice God right in front of them, like a huge rock in the middle of the road. And so they stumbled into him and went sprawling.
Again Paul quotes Isaiah:
Careful! I've put a huge stone on the road to Mount Zion, a stone you can't get around. But the stone is me! If you're looking for me, you'll find me on the way, not in the way.
Be careful; don't stumble.