LINK: Romans 9
Paul goes straight from a song of triumphant joy at the end of Chapter 8 to anguish of heart at the beginning of Chapter 9. Isn't that the way we are? We can go from praise to tears in a heartbeat. Paul is heartbroken over his own people, the Jews (or Israel), to whom so much has been given by God. Many of them are not God's children.
Paul picks a theme he touched on earlier, that righteousness is from God. Salvation is not a result of what family we are born into or what we ourselves do or don't do. He deals with questions that are probably percolating in the minds of those who read this letter. This is a tough chapter and many people have questioned God over it and even rebelled against its words. I don't pretend to understand all of it, but I believe it.
Paul begins with the point that simply being is a physical Jew doesn't make someone God's child. Paul uses Jewish history and some quotes from the prophets as illustration. Simply being a child of Abraham or Isaac didn't guarantee being a child of the promise. Physical descent has nothing to do with being considered righteous, with being one of God's children. What does make someone God's child is God's merciful intervention. Without God's softening work in a heart, all the miracles in the world will only serve to make that hard heart harder. Look at the pharaoh during the time of the Jews exodus from Egypt.
God made us for His glory. That is one of the main themes of this chapter. We exist for Him. That is a hard thing to understand, because we want it all to be about us, about people. But think about it. If God is who He says He is: Creator of all that exists, Sustainer of the universe, I Am, Redeemer; then He has the right to do as He chooses with all He has made. If He is the way He says He is: merciful, loving, just, kind, patient; then can't we trust Him to do what is right?
Does the thing that is made tell the one who made it that he made a mistake, that he's doing it wrong? That makes no sense. We don't begin to understand God's purposes and motives OR where He is taking history - either our own personal histories or this world's history.
This chapter ends with irony. The Gentiles (all who aren't Jews), who as a group have not pursued righteousness, can now obtain it. The Jews, who pursued the law of righteousness, who sought a right standing with God based on their own works, haven't achieved it. Why not? Because they're stumbling over Christ, the rock. They just can't trust that He is the way to righteousness. Jesus is the final evidence that God's word is true and sure. God became flesh to give us mercy.
Grace is a difficult concept to grasp. We want to think that we DESERVE salvation. We make gods of ourselves.
Salvation is not through physical descent or what we do. It is entirely of God. And as C.S. Lewis put it, God is not tame. We don't tell Him what to do.
Think through this chapter. Are you trying to tell God what to do? Are you stumbling over the rock that is Christ?
Father, this chapter is hard. Give us hearts that are soft toward you. Help us to throw ourselves on your mercy and grace. Thank you for Jesus, who is the visible expression of your love. Help us to know you so that we can trust you.