Romans 9: 19 – 29 You will say to me then, ‘Why then does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is moulded say to the one who moulds it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction; and what if he has done so in order to make known the riches of his glory for the objects of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory — including us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea,
‘Those who were not my people I will call “my people”, and her who was not beloved I will call “beloved”. ’ ‘And in the very place where it was said to them, “You are not my people”, there they shall be called children of the living God.’
And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, ‘Though the number of the children of Israel were like the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved; for the Lord will execute his sentence on the earth quickly and decisively.’ And as Isaiah predicted,
‘If the Lord of hosts had not left survivors to us, we would have fared like Sodom and been made like Gomorrah.’
Paul anticipated another question from his readers, then proceeded to dispel any fear or doubt they might have about God’s justice in salvation. God saves righteously because God is equitable, fair, and just. This is an honest, straightforward question. But it highlights the problem of predestination. How can people be held responsible for rejecting Christ when God is sovereign over those who are saved?
Paul’s response is hard for us to hear. He used the metaphor of the potter and the clay with God as creator and we as his creation. When we look at the world in its present mess, what right do we have to say to the potter why have you made me this way? Resistance to God lies at the heart of our problems. When our human nature tells us we think we are better than we are, and we try to rise above our limitations, we make things worse. We are not gods. Just look at the way we treat each other and the mess we have made of our environment. Surely that ought to be our proof that we cannot be trusted. We are, and remain God’s creation, and until we come to terms with this, and admit we need God’s help to act in a responsible and loving way Paul’s message will make little sense.
Paul may well have been aware of the imagery of the potter in Jeremiah where Israel was called to repentance. There are clay pots shaped for glorious use, others are not so elegant and beautiful. But in both cases God’s generosity is clear. All are shaped entirely to serve God’s larger purpose. For Paul, we, like Israel, must understand that as God’s chosen people our service must always be balanced by that sense of humility and responsibility in knowing we have been shaped by the Creator for his service in love, for love, of love.
We may not understand the mystery of God’s choosing, but we can be assured that God is in control and God is fair.
Lord God May nothing ever distract me from your purposes. May I never seek nor choose to be other than you intend or wish. Amen.
The Rev’d Nicola Furley-Smith, Secretary for Ministries, member at Purley URC