THE KINDNESS OF HARDENING
The Bible can seem rather inconvenient, like when Paul said God hardens
people. What was he thinking? Even if God does harden people, you can't
just SAY that! Then people will figure out how mean God really is.
Wait, no. I remember now; God is love, not cruelty. He hates sin and
loves sinners. Okay, so let's look at Romans nine and see what Paul
really said about God's hardening.
In Romans 9:1-5, (by paraphrase) Paul says, "It might sound like I just rejected Israel, but I love and highly esteem Israelis in many ways, including as the rightful heirs to God's promises." So far so good; Paul only said loving things in the first five verses, but then he started acting a little looney. In verse six, Paul started arguing with himself as if he were both the apostle AND an imaginary skeptic. Here in paraphrase is the rest of Romans nine with some extra background thoughts [in brackets]:
Skeptic (6): Haven't His promises to Israel [like Jeremiah 32:40 of an everlasting covenant with Israel] then failed? [Because you kind of made it sound in the previous eight chapters of this letter as though the Israelis are no longer God's people. After all, they rejected the King, and you have been using the word "chosen" or "elect" for Christians; those words used to be a title for God's "chosen" people.]
Paul (6-10): No, His promises to Israel have not failed because true Israelis are not the children of the flesh like Ishmael and Esau, but the children to whom God made His promises.
Paul (10-13): And check this out. God chose Jacob before he and Esau were even born. Jacob and Esau's actions could not possibly have changed God's covenant since they weren't even BORN yet! [Likewise then, Israel's large-scale rejection of Messiah had no effect on God's covenant with Israel]. God's promises depend only on God's choices, not on human actions.
Skeptic (14): Hold up. Is justice still served if God chooses certain people like Isaac and Jacob? That can't possibly be fair.
Paul (14-17): No way, dude. This isn't about justice but about mercy, hello! Mercy and compassion do not depend (like justice does) on human decision or human effort, but simply on the one who gives mercy, in this case God. As one example, God chose to raise up Pharaoh for God's own glory (Exo 9:16). God shows people mercy or hardening according to whatever He desires.
Skeptic (19): Then how can God find fault with anyone? Isn't everyone just doing what He wants?
Paul (20-21): Who do you think you are to back sass God? He made us. We're like His Lego pieces, man. He can totally do whatever He wants with His Legos.
Paul (22-23): What if (hypothetically speaking here), God actually wanted to show off about how He can melt Legos in a microwave? And what if He made some Lego figures just for that purpose, but then waited about microwaving them so He could give some other Lego figures really cool Lego hats, Lego sports cars, and other stuff? [Notice that in Exodus 9:15, God said He could've nuked Egypt, but was patient toward them for Israel's sake. Paul quoted Exodus 9:16 in Romans 9:17]
Paul (24-29): We are actually like that second category. Some of us are Israelis and some aren't, and God made promises to some Israelis and some non-Israelis. Remember what Hosea and Isaiah said? So His Jeremiah 32:40 promise is still in effect with true Israelis just like His Hosea promise is in effect with non-Israelis.
Skeptic (30-32): But that means Gentiles got righteousness without even trying while Israelis who sincerely pursued a law of righteousness did not. Why didn't Israelis get it?
Paul (32-33): Because they did not believe [in the new King], but instead continued relying on works of the law [the old national covenant]. So they tripped themselves badly on King Jesus.
From Paul's argument with himself in Romans nine and from the greater context of scripture, we can say with confidence that the "hardening" of God is patience toward those who reject Him, not His forcing anyone to sin. What Paul called God's "hardening" is actually God's patience toward His rebels. In Romans 9:17, Paul quoted Exodus 9:16 to illustrate hardening, then in Romans 9:22 Paul called it patience. Paul talked about patience (hardening) so we would understand the role of Israelis in God's grand plan. For a deeper explanation of Israel's role in His plan, see <"Jealous Lovers.">
"Kindness of Goodening" by Matthew Bryan was first published at www.matthewbryan.net on April 18th, 2013. All rights are reserved.