We’re constantly making choices, moment by moment, in a continuous flow of sowing and reaping. A universal law governs this: whatever we sow, we reap. (Ga 6:7b) If we invest primarily in our physical, temporal nature, in our own comfort and pleasure, we reap corruption and death (Php 3:18-19); if we choose life and walk in the light as a manner of life, we reap everlasting life. (Ro 2:6)
The law of sowing and reaping: we reap whatwe sow, we reap morethan we sow, and we reap laterthan we sow. It’s a universal truth; no one escapes it, not even through the Gospel. So, the apostle Paul warns us: “Be not deceived, God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.” (Ga 6:7-8)
So, how does this work in Christ? When God forgives us, does He deliver us from the consequences of our choices? No; even those in Christ are subject to this law: no one is exempt. (Col 3:23 -25) Why must this be?
God chastens and scourges every child He receives (He 12:6) to break the pattern of selfishness and disobedience, and work righteousness in us. (He 12:10) God’s law is for our good (Ro 7:12), and when we break it, or sin, this is bad for us. God is intent on delivering us from the power of sin as well as from its penalty; so, if we’re sowing in the wrong place, God will often use this law of sowing and reaping to help straighten us out. The natural consequences of our choices are often our best teachers.
Certainly, God is merciful to all of us (La 3:39): we neverreap the full consequences of our sin in this life. (Ps 103:10) For those who fear Him, His mercy is infinite. (Ps 103:11)
But those who commit themselves to a life of sin, sin of any kind, show themselves to be alienatedfrom God, subject to His wrath and indignation(Ro 2:8); it reveals that they’re not God’s children. (1Jn 3:9) God transforms His elect such that they live to please Him. (Ep 2:10)
Thinking anyonecan sin without consequence is to deny the justice of God, making a mockery of His dignity and His eternal Word. It makes Him out to be a liar. For anyone who tries this, it will not end well. God does not tolerate being mocked like this; His fieryindignation will silence every rebellious tongue, terrify every arrogant heart, and devour every adversary. (He 10:27)
Let’s serve the Almighty with fear, and rejoice with trembling (Ps 2:11), working out our deliverance from sin by sowing in truth unto obedience. (Php 2:12)
Our capacity for delight has a singular purpose: to enable us to enjoy a single Person — Jesus Christ. This is what we’re made for. (Re 4:11) As we discover Him, we’re willing to give up anything and everything for Him. (Php 3:8)
Christ is preciousto those who believe on Him (1Pe 2:7); in other words, those who don’t find Him precious haven’t yet found Him … they aren’t believers. Very few do find Him (Mt 7:14); these are the chosen of God. (Jn 6:44)
Christ Himself likens the disposition of the elect to a merchantseeking the finest pearls; trained to prize those of immense worth, he finds a single pearl of such incomparable value that he sells everything he owns to acquire it. (Mt 13:45-46)
We see the extreme intensity and degree of such passion illustrated in a sinful woman’s discovery of Christ; we’re told she loved much(Lk 7:47), and find her kissing His feet, anointing Him with extravagantly expensive ointment, weeping upon Him, washing His feet with tears and wiping them with her hair. (Lk 7:37-38) She is simply overwhelmed by Him; as are all who begin to truly apprehend the living God. (Php 3:12) Nothing compares to Him.
Of course, such love for Christ involves our sentiments, our emotions, the passion of our hearts, but it isn’t limited to this; such love engages our entire being: our wills, in obeying Him at all times and at all costs (Jn 14:21), our minds, in serving His Law(Ro 7:25) as it reveals His heart to us, meditating on Him and His ways day and night (Ps 1:2), and our bodies, as we spend ourselves in pleasing and glorifying Him. (1Co 6:20)
There’s a vast difference as well between cherishing Christ for what He’s done for us, and adoring Him for Who He actually is and what He’s like. A stranger’s generosity might bring forth passionate gratitude, but this is immensely different than finding unfathomable delight in another’s very nature. The former is merely self-interest in disguise, the latter a true cherishing of another soul. How might we distinguish between the two, if not in how we respond to God in our affliction? Are we after Him, or merely His gifts?
And how can we worship Him as He is if we misapprehend Him? If we’re not careful to understand Him, if we’re mistaken about His values, His nature and His ways? The enemy is constantly misrepresenting the divine Way and twisting His message to hide His true nature from us. (Jn 8:44) If we receive these lies about Christ, how can He be rightly precious to us? How do we rid ourselves of every false way(Ps 119:104), such that we’re free of these lying impressions and misrepresentations so we can value Jesus Christ as He truly is?
The documented life of Christ, His Words and ways as offered us in the Gospel narratives, provides a sweeping, panoramic view of His character, and we do well to ponder every detail. Yet a cursory, hit-and-miss sampling of His ways, dismissing parts we don’t understand or dislike, is misleading, incomplete, corrupting the word. We may easily misrepresent His heart if we aren’t deeply familiar with the context of His actions, and in the end receive another Jesus, a false one.
To know Him as He is, to find Himprecious, we must perceive this revelation of the nature of God in its rightful context; to see the fullness of Christ, we must turn to Mosaic Law, considering all His commandments, and observe that Christ loved this Law with His whole heart (Ps 119:97), delighting in the wondrous revelation of His Father (Ps 119:18) with unspeakable intensity. (Ps 119:20) We must interpret His behavior through this lens, or we will miss Him. (Mt 5:17-19)
It is impossible, ultimately, to decouple love for Christ with what He values. If He’s precious to us, we’ll be rejoicing in His heart, beholding His beauty, obeying His commands (Jn 14:21), cherishing His words (Jn 14:23), and seeking His face.
When it comes to deciding what’s right and wrong, we only have three choices:  make up moral law as we go, deciding for ourselves and imposing our view on everyone else;  let some other sinners do this for us, delegating our responsibility to identify the correct moral standard, or  look to God to reveal moral lawto us, acknowledging His unique right to define good and evil.
Option 3 is our only reasonable choice, and leads us to expect God to either [A] personally reveal moral law to each and every one of us independently, requiring us all to understand and apply moral law in isolation, effectively making each of us a law unto ourselves, such that we’re unable to either verify or validate our own understanding through the insights of others, or to lawfully hold others accountable for breaking moral law, or [B] to provide a formal written document revealing His moral code, one that we can all access, understand and study together, comparing insights and observations as we seek truth in community. Evidently, B is the only rational choice here.
And given that morality is as complex as life itself, nuanced and multi-faceted in ways that take a lifetime to comprehend, we’d expect God to reveal His righteousness within this written Word in multiple ways: (i) through a clearly defined moral code covering all relevant aspects of our lives; (ii) through stories and accounts of how various peoples have kept or broken this moral code in a wide variety of circumstances, and how God has responded to them; and (iii) through recounting the life pattern of one perfect Man, as He obeys this moral code and walks it out before us. And it is no surprise that this is exactly what we find laid out and preserved for us in Scripture.
He has inspired it perfectly (Ps 19:7), even giving it divine life (He 4:12), the perfect spiritual weapon, sufficient to fully enable us unto all good works. (2Ti 3:16-17) God is good, and He is faithful.
To attack this holy document, or any part of it, by altering Scripture in any way, is thus to attack humanity itself, and also God’s intent to reveal Himself to us all; God explicitly forbids this. (De 4:2) For anyone to take upon themselves to diminish, alter or add to the written revelation of God is thus a presumption of the highest order, undermining the very foundation of civilization and spiritual life. (Is 8:20) There is no higher treason than this, to deliberately taint the King’s masterpiece, to misrepresent His heart (Ps 11:3), as if one were qualified to sit in judgment of the Almighty, and correct Him.
Those who commit themselves to carrying out this kind of atrocity, in the myriad of ways that it might be wrought, whether adding to (Pr 30:6), corrupting(2Co 2:17), or taking away from God’s Word (Re 22:19), will necessarily both fail (Jn 10:35b), and also answer to the Author of Scripture for trying to corrupt it; He reserves His severest punishments for such depraved souls. (Re 22:18)
Words are weak – sounds which convey meaning only when both speaker and hearer understand them similarly. But words often convey different meanings in different contexts, and can be interpreted in multiple ways even when immediate context is understood. If either speaker or hearer is inept, ignorant, careless or biased, communication becomes very difficult.
The Bible comprises the most significant words ever composed: God’s Word, revealing the nature of God and Man, detailing how to walk with God. As important as this is, few people appear to understand it in exactly the same way. This isn’t a problem with the Bible; it’s a problem with us.
The Bible is evidently written in such a way that only the virtuous will understand it (2Pe 1:5); the self-seeking are unable to find the truth. (2Ti 3:7)
So, if we come to the Bible dishonestly, with a bias or false presupposition, we invariably find verses to support our view and remain in error. (2Co 2:17) We’re untroubled by verses which appear to contradict us and simply ignore them, handling the word of God deceitfully. (2Co 4:2) In this way, the unlearned and unstable wrest scripture, taking it out of the whole biblical context, unto their own destruction (2Pe 3:16), and remain in darkness. (Is 8:20)
But when we’re seeking truth, we don’t presume to know a given claim is true until we can honestly interpret every relevant text of scripture in a manner that’s consistent with that claim. (Ps 119:6) Since most biblical texts can be interpreted in multiple ways without doing them injustice, we start with texts which are the most difficult to interpret honestly in any other way, and seek to understand the rest of scripture in light of them, in a manner that’s entirely consistent with all of scripture. Only in this way can we rightly dividethe Word of Truth. (2Ti 2:15)
We trust that God doesn’t contradict Himself, and that He has inspired the Bible in such a manner that if we rightly divide His Word consistently and prayerfully, He will help us find the truth we need to walk with Him and serve Him well. (2Ti 3:16)
Sometimes it seems like God’s far away, hard to find, like He’s hiding, especially in dark or painful times. It’s natural to ask why God isn’t more in-your-face, especially to unbelievers and atheists, why He isn’t making things so much more obvious. Why does He choose to reveal Himself like this, in what may seem like such a covert or obscure manner? It’s a reasonable question; even the Psalmist asks it. (Ps 10:1)
In the context of God providing sufficient evidence of His existence and character, the question itself betrays a lying presumption: that God hasn’t already left us ample witness of Himself. God affirms otherwise: He’s given us infallible proof(Ac 1:3), such that there’s no excuse for not knowing and glorifying Him (Ro 1:19-21): Creation itself proclaims the glorious existence of God in every language, among all people. (Ps 19:1-3) Those who complain about a lack of evidence for God are ignorant and blind at best (Ep 4:17-18): it’s overwhelming and abundant, once we see it, but God must first open our hearts so that we’re willing to see it.
In the context of why God doesn’t answer all our questions, or why He allows pain and suffering instead of intervening and protecting us, the question often nurses a complaint, an assumption that God isn’t always perfectly revealing Himself in every time and circumstance. This then is a kind of idolatry, making God out to be as we’d like Him to be, rather than enjoying Him as He is, and it doesn’t get us very far. God doesn’t do the dog and pony show to entertain and amaze us; that’s the enemy’s way. (Re 13:12-13) We must trust that God has an end goal, a glorious purpose in everything He does and doesn’t do.
Asked as a general inquiry into the nature and heart of God, which is evidently how the Psalmist asks it, wanting to know Him more deeply, to understand a bit more why He does as He does, there’s rich treasure here. (Ro 11:33) There’s a hint given us in Revelation: when God fully manifests Himself, it appears that every created thing outside of God flees in a dreadful panic, looking for places to hide. (Re 20:11) So, it appears that if God didn’t vail Himself in some way, that very few of us on Earth would be able to function very much, if at all. We’re all still broken, struggling against sin to varying degrees, yet God’s absolute, undiluted holiness incapacitates everyone and everything that remains tainted with sin.
For God’s enemies to be able function, to act like enemies, to play out the saga of human history as God has ordained (1Pe 2:8), the struggle of good versus evil, He must allow His enemies to live apart from Him, alienated from Him. This requires Him to take a back seat for now, as it were, and work behind the scenes, largely unnoticed.
But a Day will certainly come (1Co 3:13) where God will no longer be back stage, but will be front and center. (Je 10:10) At that time there’ll be no more deception, no more ambiguity, no more uncertainty, only absolute holiness and insane depravity, ultimate light and unbridled darkness, extreme fullness and extreme emptiness. Everything and everyone that God hasn’t planted will be rooted up and rooted out (Mt 15:13) – nothing alien to Him will abide His presence. (Joe 2:11)
Until that Day, let’s enjoy the privilege of seeking Him, pursuing Him, aligning with Him, cleaving to Him and abiding in Him in every way that we can, so that when He shall appear we may have confidence, and not be ashamed before Him at His coming. (1Jn 2:28)
As Christ is dining in the home of Simon the Pharisee, reclining at the table (Lk 7:36), a woman known for her sin approaches Him from behind, weeping. She pours some very expensive perfume onto His feet, and begins washing them with her tears, kissing them and wiping them with her hair. (Lk 7:37-38) Simon’s taken aback at Christ’s willingness to tolerate her touch, and sees it as proof that Christ isn’t a prophet. (Lk 7:39)
Christ picks up on this and offers Simon a little challenge: a creditor has two debtors — one owes him $1000, the other only $100. But since neither can repay him, he forgives them both. (Lk 7:41-42a) Christ asks Simon which of the two will love the creditor most, and Simon supposes it’s the one whose been forgiven more. Christ agrees. (Lk 7:42b-43)
Then Christ begins to explain why the woman is acting as she is: Christ has forgiven her of all of her many offenses, as they are all against Himself, and she is overwhelmed with gratitude. But Simon hasn’t shown Christ any love at all, failing even in the normal courtesies commonly offered to guests, so it appears he’s not been forgiven of anything by Christ. (Lk 7:44-47) Christ then turns to the woman, reassuring her that all of her sins are completely forgiven (Lk 7:48), that she’s now saved by faith, and bids her go in peace. (Lk 7:50)
This explanation of the woman’s behavior alarms everyone else present, as they begin to realize what Christ is saying about Himself: ultimately, only God can forgive sin. (Lk 7:49) If His words are considered carefully there can be no mistake here: Christ is actually claiming to be God, the very One against Whom all sins are primarily committed, something this sinful woman has somehow come to cherish.
Now, it is so wildly preposterous for a mere human being to make such a claim that one may only conclude from this that Christ is either Who He says He is, God Almighty incarnate in human flesh, or He is insanely delusional, on par with one who claims to be an orange. In truth, Christ leaves us no middle ground, and apart from such fantastic claims regarding His identity, there is zero indication that Jesus Christ is delusional.
We can worship Christ as this precious woman did, loving Him and living worthy of His name in grateful wonder, or continue to hold Him at arm’s length and remain at enmity with Him. These are our choices; there are no other.
And such love cannot be pretended — if we’re not overwhelmed with the free gift of righteousness, amazed at the amount and degree of sin that we’ve been forgiven by God, then perhaps we’re yet as Simon, on the outside peering in, proud, judging those whose sins are much more visible than our own, ignorant of the depth of our own depravity, and the vast treasure we’ve been offered in Christ.
Anyone who does not love Jesus Christ — as we look carefully at this dear woman’s example — remains accursed. (1Co 16:22)
Christ gives us insight into the heart of Man, what we’re all like unless God interferes with our free will, in a parable about a king inviting his subjects to a wedding for his son. The king sends out the invitations and prepares a lavish feast (Mt 22:2), but when the time comes to celebrate, no one shows up: the prince has zero guests at his wedding.
So, the king sends messengers to call on all those he’s invited, encouraging them to come and enjoy the wedding, but all of them decline, every last one of them, refusing to attend. (Mt 22:3)
So, the king sends more messengers to plead with them, explaining that the food is ready, and that it can’t wait much longer; he’s laid it all out and it can’t be taken back. If they don’t come the food will spoil and the prince’s wedding will be ruined. As their king, he commands them to come. (Mt 22:4)
But the people don’t take their king seriously, having no respect for him; he’s a kind, patient and merciful man, so they presume he won’t do anything if they just ignore him. They simply go on about their busy lives, leaving the king and his prince to enjoy their little wedding alone; they’ve no interest in celebrating with royalty, to share in their joy and fellowship. (Mt 22:5)
However, a few citizens become so irritated by these invitations to the royal marriage that they capture the king’s messengers, treat them hatefully, and eventually kill them all. (Mt 22:6) The rest of the townspeople get wind of this, but don’t bother arresting the murderers or making amends with the king; they just go on about their business as if nothing’s happened, essentially making themselves out to be accomplices in the treachery.
When this terrible news gets back to the king, how his own people have murdered his servants in response to his generosity, though he isa temperate man, this outrage makes him so angry that he sends out the army to kill them all and decimate their city, razing it to the ground. (Mt 22:7) Those he has invited to his son’s wedding have shown themselves to be traitors and murderers; they have no right to dwell in his kingdom, much less attend the wedding.
The banquet is near to spoiling now, and there are still no wedding guests, yet the king is determined to share his celebration with others. So he sends out more servants to try to find travelers, vagabonds, the homeless, anyone at all that’s willing to come, no matter what their background is, and invite them. These servants do manage to find a few folk willing to oblige the king, and they provide each one with a special gift from the king: a garment in which to celebrate the wedding. (Mt 22:9-10)
The king is pleased that guests have arrived and enters the banquet hall to introduce himself, but notices one with no wedding garment. (Mt 22:11) The king is concerned about an intruder refusing to identify as his guest, and politely questions the man about it. Perhaps there was a misunderstanding, or he was overlooked. (Mt 22:12a)
But there’s simply no excuse for acting the way this man has, to ignore the king’s provision and crash the wedding as if he weren’t invited. As he faces the king surrounded by guests who arewearing the wedding garments, he’s speechless (Mt 22:12b): he’s treated the king, the prince, and the wedding celebration itself, with utmost contempt, and for no particular reason other than disdain for the king and his son.
The king is indignant at this insulting behavior, and commands his men to tie up the intruder and expel him into the darkness outside, leaving him to suffer indefinitely. (Mt 22:13)
What does this parable tell us about Man, about our natural state before God? If it tells us anything, it is this: Many are called, but few are chosen. (Mt 22:14)
In other words, everyone is invited to walk with God, but none of us will come to Him (Ro 3:11) unless God chooses (elects) us (Ep 1:4-5), and intervenes in our will by giving us a new nature that is not alienated from Him (Ez 36:26), a nature that is inclined to seek Him and draw near to Him, such that we are no longer at enmity with Him. In this way, God draws His elect to Himself, and these few precious souls do come to Him and are saved. (Jn 6:44)
Further, Christ is telling us that the root cause of this problem between Man and God isn’t a lack of information, or a lack of awareness; the root cause isn’t our ignorance of His interest in us, or not knowing how to connect with Him. (Ro 1:19) The problem is that we dishonor, dislike and despise Him (Ro 1:21): in our natural state we’re all at enmity with Him (Ro 8:7), such that we just won’t bother to seek Him out, even if He pleads with us to do so. And even if some of us happen to be willing to take advantage of His gifts, without His aid we won’t come the way He has provided; we insist on our own way, remaining obstinate, disobedient, alienated from Him (Ep 4:18), separate from Him and His way.
This universal behavior in Man is totally inexcusable (Ro 1:20), and we’re all guilty as charged. (Ro 3:19) If God left salvation up to us, to receive Him and His free gift of righteousness and eternal acceptance with Him, Heaven would be empty — not a single human soul would dance in its streets. God calls us all to the marriage of the Lamb, but He must choose some, working in us to be willing to come, or no one would. God is not obligated to choose any of us, but I am so thankful that He does!
The implication of the parable is clear: God is both the author and finisherof our salvation (He 12:2); apart from His aid, no one is saved. And salvation is much more than a willingness to take free stuff; it involves a supernatural heart-transplant, a new creature. (2Co 5:17) Those who are continually preoccupied with their own interests and focused on earthly things (Php 3:18-19), who are not actively loving and pursuing Jesus Christ, submitting themselves to God and to His way, remain His enemies, and will be destroyed. (1Co 16:22) No lukewarmness is to be tolerated within our hearts (Re 3:16); He has come to save us from that. (Ro 7:24-25) The springing forth of His new nature within us, delivering us from our evil ways and from this present evil world (Ga 1:4), demonstrates His choosing of us. (1Jn 3:18-19)
As Jesus is teaching in the temple early one morning, the scribes and Pharisees bring a woman to Him that they’ve captured in the very act of adultery. (Jn 8:2-3a) They set her down before the crowd, and start asking Christ if He’ll honor the Mosaic Law (Jn 8:4-5), which requires her to be stoned to death. (De 22:22)
Their motive in doing so is to accuse Him (Jn 8:6a); they’re setting a trap: if He sides with the woman, then the people will recognize He can’t be their Messiah (Is 8:20); yet if He sides with Moses, He’ll be in trouble with Rome. (Jn 18:31) No matter what Christ does, they think they have Him.
But Christ doesn’t answer them; He stoops down, ignoring their question, and begins writing with His finger in the dust on the temple pavement. (Jn 8:6b) His enemies, evidently energized by the thought of finally stumping Him, begin pressing Him for an answer (Jn 8:7a)
But then Christ does something striking: He rises up, publicly invites anyone who is sinless to go ahead and throw the first stone, and then He returns to writing in the dust. (Jn 8:7b-8)
Christ honors the Law, but in a way that’s fitting for their circumstance: lawful subjects of a foreign civil power. God gave the Law to Israel to enforce as a sovereign community, not as individuals living under pagan rule. But a sinless person acting on God’s behalf should be able to call on God to rescue them when the Roman soldiers storm the place. So, Christ effectively says, “If you feel you’ve got God on your side enough to defy Roman law, be My guest: go for it.”
As the accusers begin contemplating what He’s just invited them to do, and also noticing what kinds of things He’s writing in the dust, they scatter, every last one of them, being convicted by their own conscience. (Jn 8:9)
Exactly what Christ writes on the ground is a mystery, but the narrative suggests that He’s exposing the sins of the accusers, how they’re all presumptuously breaking God’s Law, and are worthy of death. (Nu 15:30) After all, they aren’t even following this particular law that they’re asking Christ to honor: in their ploy, they hadn’t incriminated the adulterous man, as the Law requires. (De 22:22)
The fact that Christ doesn’t enforce Mosaic Law here tempts many to claim this as evidence that He came to abolish it and give us a better one. Nothing could be farther from the truth: He Himself says so, explicitly. (Mt 5:17-19) Court is adjourned, not because God’s Law is obsolete, but because the community has opted out: there’s no one left to carry out the sentence. (Jn 8:10-11a)
Christ’s wisdom here lies in the fact that lawful punishment must only be carried out by recognized civil authority. Christ Himself is not obligated, as a single individual under Roman civil law, to enforce it, and He chooses not to. (Jn 8:11b) It’s the prudent choice, a testament to His infinite wisdom and discernment.
Creation, all created things, evidently have a common consciousness: God says the whole creation groans together(Ro 8:22); created things are aware of being part of a sin-stained cosmos, and are waiting, earnestly expecting the resurrection and manifestation of God’s children. (Ro 8:19)
Since the individual animals with this expectation are constantly dying, just like we are, the implication here is that all created things are excitedly aware that they will all experience the resurrection of the dead together in all its glory along with us, sharing a common eternal destiny. (Ro 8:21)
Interestingly, Albert Barnes says of this text: Perhaps there is not a passage in the New Testament that has been deemed more difficult of interpretation than this; and after all the labors bestowed on it by critics, still there is no explanation proposed which is perfectly satisfactory, or in which commentators concur. It appears that reluctance to accept its plain, apparent meaning might lie in contradicting science, which we ought not allow. (1Ti 6:20-21)
Yet recent scientific discoveries in the paranormal are indicating this very thing, that all life forms, plants and animals, are connected in a common consciousness across time, and even that inanimate objects participate in this. Perhaps they are indeed struggling together with us under the stain of sin, in a universe infected by Man’s rebellion (Job 25:5), waiting for the adoption of the saints. (Ro 8:23)
What if God has temporarily silenced the creature (Ro 8:20), to allow men to rebel against Him with less obvious incrimination for a time? (Ro 11:32-33) If all Creation were free to proclaim God’s praise now (Lk 19:40), where would hatred and rebellion hide until wickedness is to be exposed? (2Th 2:7-8) And what if, in that final glorious day, all of creation will join with us in praising our living, transcendent, almighty Creator … together!
This insight puts Creation in an entirely different perspective, and encourages us to both treat it with respect, and also to enjoy the miracle of God’s expression of Himself through it all so much the more.
The heavens declare the glory of God, may be much more than metaphor. (Ps 19:1) It is truly for His pleasure that they are, and were created. (Re 4:11)
Scripture teaches God controls us all, even deciding our eternal fate, having mercy on a few of us and hardening the rest. (Ro 9:18) Is God then unfair to condemn us, since He controls us? (Ro 9:19)
This seems so obviously wrong, even asking the question is embarrassing. But obviousness is often the enemy of correctness; in the end, how can any complaint against the goodness of God be rational? (Ro 9:14) Perhaps an illustration will help.
Suppose we dwell in a frigid climate where we enjoy three things: lounging in a hot tub under crisp, starlit heavens; ice water bathing; and competing in the annual ice sculpture festival. Being thrifty and innovative, we design special panels we can assemble into water-tight tubs of various shapes and sizes. When we want a steamy evening outside, we put one together, fill it with water and drop in a heating element. When we want our ice bath, we back off the heat to just above freezing and take the plunge; and at sculpture time we pull the heater, let it freeze, pull the panels and put our genius to work.
With a reliable water heater we can control the state of the water in our tub as we please, from steamy to frozen solid, by precisely controlling the heat we supply. In making ice we could say we’re “hardening” the water, but we’re really just withdrawing heat and leaving the water alone; where we live, water hardens naturally all by itself, and very predictably.
In the same way, God controls us by resisting our fallen, sinful nature (Ps 19:13), either reining in our depravity (De 18:14) (i.e. heating the water), or giving us up to pursue our own evil ways as He sees fit (Ps 81:12) (i.e. letting the water freeze). God never actively causesanyone to sin (Ja 1:13-14), or forcefully hardens anyone; we do that all on our own whenever He lets us.
God’s hardening is passive, simply letting us go our own way (Pr 1:31), not forcing us; when left to ourselves, we obey the law of sin operating within us (Ro 7:23), so we’re as predictable as the law of gravity. God knows exactly what we’ll do in every circumstance if He withdraws His grace from us. Just as we can control an object‘s elevation by only pushing it upward, never causing it to fall, God can precisely control us by restraining our evil nature without causing us to sin. (Pr 16:9)
God isn’t unloving or unjust in letting us sin; it’s the essence of free will, and we’re no less guilty because we always want to sin as much as He allows. (Ro 3:19) Neither is God unfair in restraining us, some much more than others: it’s all His mercy. (Ro 9:23)
God’s purpose in all this is ultimately to glorify Himself by revealing His amazing nature. (Ro 9:22) He could do it all differently and save everyone from themselves, but the end result would evidently not be as glorious. He’s doing it all perfectly.
The key to resolving one of the deepest spiritual mysteries, how God can be absolutely sovereign, yet also loving and just, evidently lies in the depravity of Man, the puzzle piece most of us overlook. Depravity is simply what happens when God let’s do our own thing (Ge 6:5), and nothing obligates Him to override everyone’s natural will. His choice to intervene and only quicken and transform some of us isn’t unfair, it’s brilliant. (Ro 9:16) Anything else is lackluster at best.
God is rejoicing in how He’s responding to sin(Mt 11:25-26), and we should be too (Php 4:4): He’s always in perfect control of it. (Ep 1:11) Exactly what it will all look like in the end remains to be seen, but I expect it will be amazing, like everything else He does. (Re 15:4) In seeing all of life from God’s perspective, we can give thanks always for all things with joy. (Ep 5:20)