Romans 9 began a new section in the book of Romans—one which is the subject of much debate. The theme is God’s dealings with Israel. And the big question is what that tells about who God is, and then flowing from that what we learn about His plans for salvation.
In today’s verses, like the previous verses in chapter 9, Paul is dealing with the issue of God’s sovereignty. One of the ways that sovereignty is expressed is in His calling Israel as His chosen people. In God’s relationship to Israel, Paul has shown that salvation has its roots in God’s grace, not in race; that it is bestowed on the basis of God’s providence, not our performance; that it comes through God’s mercy, not human merit.
And, of course, if all that is true, the big issue becomes, “If it’s all up to God, then it doesn’t really matter what I do. If what it means for God to be God is that God calls the shots, then I don’t really have a choice. And if I don’t have a choice, how can God blame me for anything?”
As Eugene Petersen translates today’s opening verse in the message, Are you going to object, "So how can God blame us for anything since he's in charge of everything? If the big decisions are already made, what say do we have in it?" On first glance, Paul’s answer is less than helpful. “Who are you to question God?”
Personally, I take the next verses about God creating some people only for destruction to show how great He is as a supposition on Paul’s part. I think Paul is making a point, not necessarily describing how God actually works. The point then becomes this—do we trust God or not?
I don’t understand everything about God or how He works or what He does. How could I? So, in light of what I don’t understand, of what doesn’t even seem fair, will I criticize God and perhaps even turn my back on Him? Or, on the basis of what I do understand about God, of what I do know about Him, will I continue to trust Him and believe in His goodness? Will I see the problem located in my ignorance and finitude or in God’s character?
I don’t think this means God has the right to do whatever He wants. If God does evil, then God disqualifies Himself as God. It means we trust God never to do evil, even if sometimes it seems to us like things should be otherwise. It means we trust God to be good, and loving, and true, and that only by receiving His grace and following in His path will we become likewise. There will always be circumstances and events and painful events that will tempt us to view things differently, but in simple trust we let them drive us deeper into the heart of God rather than driving us away from Him.