Knowing God on God’s Terms
So you see, God chooses to show mercy to some, and he chooses to harden the hearts of others so they refuse to listen.
When I was seventeen years old, I received a new Bible. For some reason, I thought it would be good to read through the entire book of Romans in one sitting. I had never before read all of Romans, but only individual passages. As I read, I found myself greatly encouraged, especially by the crescendo of grace found in Romans 8. But then I stumbled into Romans 9, and my joy departed. I saw, for example, that “God chooses to show mercy to some, and he chooses to harden the hearts of others so they refused to listen.” This was deeply distressing to me because it seemed to be so unfair, so arbitrary, so unlike the God revealed only a few verses earlier. In my distress, I actually stopped reading and never finished my project of going through the whole book of Romans. (Don’t worry. I have since read all of Romans, many times.)
I must confess, however, that I still don’t find everything in Romans to my liking. I would like God to be so much nicer. But my liking is not the point! Knowing God in truth is the point. And, not surprisingly, the real God is not the same as the god of my likes and dislikes. If I want to know this real God, then I must choose to receive him on his own terms.
This means that I must take seriously the passages of Scripture that I don’t like. I need to wrestle with them and their truth. In some cases, I may very well find that what had bothered me earlier was actually a misunderstanding of Scripture. In other cases, I may need to surrender my wishful thinking in order to embrace the real God. In a day when so many people create God in their own image, this might seem counterintuitive. But it is the way of faithfulness for those of us who are committed to knowing God through his revelation in Scripture.
Tomorrow I’ll offer some thoughts on God’s mercy in Romans 9:18. For now, I want to encourage you to be honest about your own struggles with God’s revelation in Scripture. And I want to urge you to press on to know God in truth.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: What do you do when you find passages of Scripture that are unsettling to you? When have you changed your understanding of God in light of Scripture?
PRAYER: Dear God, I want to know you as you really are. At least that’s what I tell myself. But there are times, I must confess, when I’d rather form you in my own image. At first, you’d be a much nicer God. In the end, you’d be so very much less wonderful than you really are. But, still, I struggle sometimes to know you in truth.
Help me, dear Lord, to seek you with an open mind and heart. Guide me as I wrestle with your Scripture. Give me wisdom when I find passages that I cannot understand, and especially when I seem to understand a passage but have a hard time with its truth. May my discomfort with your Word lead me into deeper study and truer understanding. In the end, may I know you in truth.
For your patience with me as a struggle with these things, I give thanks. For your Spirit who guides and teaches me, I give thanks. For your Word that reveals who you really are, I give thanks. For the privilege of knowing you and having relationship with you, I give thanks and praise. Amen.