Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Mind of the Lord

Romans 9 - 11

(Since I'm lazy about footnotes, let me just say that my favorite Bible commentary resource is The Interpreter's Bible, and I used it for clarification of the numerous translations of this passage that I read.)

Paul's ideas about what salvation is and who will be saved fill these three chapters. There is probably enough thought provoking material here for a year long study. So, in the interest of time, let's cut to the chase. The core of the message is the assurance of salvation found in 10:9,  "...if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

Simple enough, right?

This good news is contained in an exposition on the providence of God that contains a large number of Old Testament quotations that illustrate God's divine purposes in history. The disruption among the Jews that was caused by Jesus created the opportunity for Gentiles to enter into grace along with God's chosen Israel. I seldom hear the distinction of "Jew" or "Gentile" in religious discussions, so I like the Message terms of "insider" and "outsider." A more scholarly sounding dichotomy is "ethnic Israel" (Esau) and "remnant Israel" (Jacob). Whatever the name, the insiders walked out and left the door open and the outsiders walked in, but they left the door open too, so the insiders can come back in. Paul says not to worry about the insiders, that "all Israel will be saved" (11:26) because "the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable" (11:29).  The Message translation: "From your point of view it looks like the Jews are are God's enemies. But looked at from the long-range perspective of God's overall purpose, they remain God's oldest friends. God's gifts and God's call are under full warranty -- never canceled, never rescinded." in other words, it's a matter of temporary failure, rather than final disaster. I'd love to hear more about that, but Paul says that his calling is to the outsiders so he shifts his focus there.

According to Romans 10 in the Message, "salvation is God's business and a most flourishing business it is... Embrace God's work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead...Embrace God setting things right and then you say it, right out loud, God has set everything right between him and me! No one who trusts God like this -- heart and soul-- will ever regret it. It's exactly the same no matter what a person's religious background may be; the same God for all of us, acting the same incredibly generous way to everyone who calls out for help. Everyone who calls, "Help, God!" gets help." That's the insiders and the outsiders. The ones who know the "right" words to say and the "right" prayer to pray and those who can only utter "sighs too deep for words" (8:26).  We sometimes think grace is limited to the right people, but the Bible doesn't seem to share this idea.

In case anyone accuse Paul of rejecting the God of his ancestors, he quotes liberally from the words of Moses, Hosea, Isaiah, and David. There are too many references to reproduce here, but Isaiah had a nice summary statement regarding the outsiders, "People found and welcomed me who never so much as looked for me. And I found and welcomed people who had never even asked about me."  In Martin Luther's preface to Romans he concurs, "the eternal predestination of God concerning whether a person is to believe or not may be taken entirely out of our own hands and placed in the hands of God. And this is of the very highest importance. For we are so feeble and full of uncertainty that, if it depended on us, not a single person would be saved." Ok, there, I've finally gotten around to the "P" word that is so troublesome to so many -- predestination. Even Luther acknowledges, "a person cannot contemplate predestination without injury to himself and without harboring a secret grudge against God." I agree. The idea that God randomly chooses some to save and some to torment is not exactly conducive to warm fuzzy feelings about God. Paul explains that the "elect" or "remnant" who are chosen without regard to their merit will be used by God to ultimately benefit those not presently belonging to the saving line (9:11-16). So election is the result of mercy and compassion rather than wrath. That's a lot easier to swallow. Paul quotes Hosea to say that it's always been this way, "Those who were not my people I will call my people, and her who was not beloved, I will call beloved."

Paul wants us to understand this "mystery" (11:25). In the New Testament, "mystery" is not a riddle, but God's saving purpose in Jesus Christ, revealed in the gospel and apprehended by faith. "God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all" (11:32). Human disobedience is overcome by God's mercy. Chapter 11 concludes with a doxology that assures us of God's love and wisdom.

"For who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?
Or who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return?
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever. Amen"

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