Today we see to it that virtually everyone and everything has rights. We’re not keen, though, on God having them.
If we looked at both sides of the truth coin, we would see a “head”—a Sovereign who rules over all things—as well as a “tail,” where humans make real decisions.
We tend to prefer tails, because that side offers us unlimited personal autonomy.
But the Apostle Paul asks his famous rhetorical question, “Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable?” (Rom. 9:21).
The human response: No, He doesn’t. Our Creator should sit quietly and not exercise His will over anyone.
But that’s the wrong answer. As a corrective, we should view things from the standpoint of primacy. At the dawn of time, before there was any matter or cognizance except God’s own, He had the uncontested right to do whatever He wanted, to actuate any universe He wished, to shape any subsequent history that would flow out of it. And His omniscience saw all at once the finished product, including all individual outcomes.
He could see, for instance, the whole human race sunk into the tar pit of sin. No one deserved anything, merited anything, or had a right to anything. His response was, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion” (Rom. 9:18a).
By the same token, He hardened whomever He willed (Rom. 9:18b). The Pharaoh of the exodus is one specific case. Though the obvious power of God had threatened that king, and warned and commanded him to repent and obey, he would not do it. He also could not do it, because God wouldn’t let him.
Anticipating our visceral protest, Paul asks, “Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means” (Rom. 9:14). No one can fault God, except the human beings who abide in their own limited scope of sight.
Consider the people who hold signs at the highway exit ramps asking for money. Suppose I gave one of them a hundred dollars. He didn’t deserve it, didn’t look any better or worse than the other beggars throughout the city. You could say that was an act of mercy on my part. But according to the logic of people today, someone might call me unfair, because I didn’t equally give a hundred dollars to every beggar in town.
The problem with that criticism is its beginning premise—that everyone deserves the gift, and so my grace looks selective, and unfair. The truth is, the money was all mine and no one deserved it (including the person to whom I gave it).
God does what He wishes with the riches of His grace. That is His right.
As Jesus says in Matthew 20:15, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?”
Heads, He wins.
(To be continued)