Photo Attribution: “Carbon-free-energy” by Liam Moloney; CC 2.0
The “Free-Will” debate is as active as it has ever been with the resurgence of Reformed Theology in the western world. Does man choose to place faith in Christ or does God alone have the power to do this? This question and ones like it are being discussed at length in church settings, coffee shops and internet forums. In general I think this is good. It’s a good thing for Christians to discuss and think through God’s plan of salvation. It sharpens us.
With this in mind, I want to focus on one section of scripture that is very telling on this subject, Romans 9:10-18.
” 10 …Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, 11 though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— 12 she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”
14 What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, 15 “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” 16 So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” 18 So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.”
if you have found yourself involved in some of the free-will/predestination discussions mentioned above then I have no doubt you are familiar with the section of scripture quoted. Romans 9 is often a staple for such conversation, especially for those in the Calvinistic camp. Even so, it remains a very deep and complex section of scripture.
I want to focus on one aspect of this text, verses 14-18. Paul starts off this paragraph with a question, “Is there injustice on God’s part?” in other words, Paul is asking the reader if God is doing something wrong or unjust. He says this because he is anticipating this response of the reader. Paul, in the verses preceding this, had just pointed out that God loved Jacob and hated Easu before they were even born!
“So you are telling me Easu never had a chance? God hated him and that was it?!?”
This, or something like this, is the response Paul expects from the reader. Furthermore, I think you can have some confidence you are reading it correctly if you respond this way. It was, obviously, how Paul intended it to be read. He knew it would be a tough pill to swallow. Paul anticipates it and answers his own question, “By no means!”Then he gives us some a startling reason why…
Paul defends his claim by quoting a passage from the book of Exodus, in the Old Testament. Often times when the writers of the New Testament are quoting scripture from the Old they do so wanting the reader to learn from the text, as well as, the context that the original verse is found. There is a reason Paul chose this verse in Exodus to reference.
In this section of scripture, Exodus 33, Moses is on Mount Sinai and is speaking with God. Moses is working as a intercessor (a shadow of how Christ is our intercessor) for the people of Israel. In middle of all of this Moses asks of God something incredible, “Please show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18). What an incredible question. In fact, this is one the place in all of scripture where God defines, or describes, His own glory. He is about to tell Moses what it means to be God.
God describes his own glory this way, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” (Exodus 33:19, emphasis added). That is the verse Paul quotes to make the case that God is perfectly just in loving Jacob and hating Esau!
Someone could spend a lifetime trying to understand all of the implications here. But, I will propose one for consideration.
As it relates to the freewill discussion, I think what Paul wants us to realize that God actually defines his own glory in that He does as He pleases. One major aspect to being God is that He is the only being with complete autonomy, or free will. He is bound by no one or no thing. He is the sovereign king of the universe and He describes His glory to Moses by saying He can have mercy on whom He desires. Because He is God. That is what it means to be God.
I do not deny that humanity is responsible to respond to the call of salvation. We must do that. Furthermore, there is no small amount of mystery in how God saves. But when we discuss free will vs. predestination, perhaps, we need to think deeper about what to means to really have a “free will” because it seems that this may be an attribute reserved for God alone.
Do you think God is the only being with a true free will? What are some other possible implications of this text?