Believers can rightfully sing, “What a Friend we have in Jesus” because that idea is biblical (e.g., John 15:14, 15). And with that friendship come incredible privileges: peace, comfort, joy, access to the throne to make requests that God answers graciously, wisely, and generously, and fellowship with the Father and the Son, to name a few. But those God-granted, blood-bought liberties can quickly be abused by us through arrogant presumption. The license we may have with another human friend (to joke or to speak with excessive casualness, for example) often includes parameters that must not be breached with our God-Friend. His friendship is genuine and abiding; it offers privileges of immeasurable richness; nevertheless, it is not a human-to-human friendship, and we must be vigilant against trespassing on His deity. The ninth chapter of Paul’s epistle to the Romans gives us a little insight into this truth. Anticipating objections to the sovereignty of God in election, Paul offers this warning:
So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” On 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? Or 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? (vv. 18-21).
Our purpose in this note is not to examine the doctrine of election but to note two unvarnished truths that Paul’s dissertation on election reveals concerning God and our understanding of Him.
Unvarnished truth #1: God is sovereign. That means, in the briefest of terms, that He does what He pleases. Period. Note our text: “He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.” Full stop, as the British would say. God proclaims the nature of His existence to be infinite and omnipotent. He declares His choices to be governed only by what He desires. He announces that what He does He does freely without constraint. And He does so without shame or apology because in every case and without exception He is holy and perfect in essence and in every expression of that essence. He works always and only according to His desires because they are always and only infinitely holy, good, just, perfect, and pure. Were this to be said of any human being, he (if not, we) would be in a heap of trouble. Happily, all men’s desires are limited to one degree or another by one means or another. But God is not a man like we are. And so, absolutely unfettered in the expression of all that He desires, He does only what is right and good—whether or not we do or even can recognize it.
Unvarnished truth #2: God does not have to explain Himself. To express that another way, humans, even believers, have no implicit right to know or understand what God is doing or why He is doing it. And though this is counter to the popular view of a loving God, our infinitely loving God says, in effect, “Some things I do are simply beyond human comprehension; other things I do or have done I have chosen not to explain.” Paul is uncharacteristically blunt: “who are you, O man, who answers back to God?” “Who do you think you are?” he asks. The things God wants us to know—everything pertaining to life and godliness (II Pet. 1:3)—He has revealed in His Word. Moses concurs with Paul. Writing some 1500 years earlier, he declared that “the secret things belong to the Lord our God” while assuring Israel that there were also wonderful “things revealed” that “belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29). It is an act solely of grace that God explains anything to us, for He is under no moral or ethical obligation to do so. And regardless of the extent of our curiosity about some of God’s work, there are secret things He chooses not to reveal without explanation. It remains for those of us who have come to know and trust in Him by grace to rest in the perfection of who He is and what He does and to praise Him regardless, not because we understand everything He does, but because we know and trust who He is.
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