Romans 9:16 – Reconciling God’s Attributes

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By: jdcharles63
Date: 06/11/2023
Category: Bible verses

“So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy.”

The problem

In chapter 9, Paul deals with the question of how so many of the Jews rejected Jesus; for they were children of Israel (or Jacob), inheritors of the promises given to Abraham and Jacob, God’s chosen people.  If God is sovereign and rules over all, why are so many of his chosen people “destined” to suffer in eternal hellfire?  Did He break the promises given to Abraham and Israel?
This raises the wider issues of Free Will vs Determinism and Predestination, which we won’t look at here.

Paul’s Solution

Paul gives two key passages about this in Romans 9.

The first is verses 19-24, which ask, “Who are the pottery vessels to question how the potter has made them?”
From that we might also ask, “Who are the pottery vessels to formulate a doctrine on how and why the potter has made each of them, and expect other pottery vessels to believe it?”  If we presume to understand the mind of God enough to formulate doctrines in human terms on how God thinks, are we raising ourselves to the level of God and taking the role of God upon ourselves? That is the original sin of Adam, of wanting to displace God. We need to take care that we don’t go beyond what the Bible reveals.

The second is verse 16 which we are looking at.
We can take this verse as saying, “Since we as mere humans cannot understand the ways of God, which of the apparently incompatible attributes of God given in the bible do we, as mere humans, rely upon?”
And Paul’s answer is that we rely on God’s mercy, that is the overriding attribute which explains the nature of God.

When Jesus came to live as one of us, he showed us the true nature of God in himself, and he confirmed Paul’s answer in Luke 13:34, when he said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her!  How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!”
This verse clearly shows:

  • God’s compassion and mercy, and His overwhelming loving desire to gather the Jews to himself;
  • The only reason that did not happen is due to the free will to reject God’s loving care, which was exercised by the Jews.

From Jesus we also learn this same loving compassion and mercy applies not just to the Jews, but to all people, including us.
Praise God!


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