Have you ever experienced one of those disorienting moments when it seems like God’s word may have failed you? Maybe you thought he pointed you in a direction that ended up leading to a dead end, or life just doesn’t seem to be turning out the way you hoped. Could God really be faithful in times like these?
In Romans 9:1-15, Paul is dealing with this very subject – God’s faithfulness – on a national level. The Messiah has come! In him a new righteousness from God has been revealed! Yet, the majority of Israel has failed to see it. Remember, the Jews are the people of promise. As Paul says in verses 4-5:
Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah…
If the Jews are God’s special people, Paul asks, how could it be that they have mostly been left out of God’s new work in Christ? Could it be that God’s word to Israel has failed?
The answer, of course, is no – God’s word hasn’t failed. Yet, we may not like the application of that truth. Ultimately, God’s movement is mysterious. He chose Isaac and not Ishmael. Then he chose Jacob and not Esau. Paul brings up these names because they prove that not all of Abraham’s offspring (Abraham was Isaac’s father; Isaac was Jacob’s father) are part of the people of promise. This insight, along with others he will make in the next part of chapter 9 will allow Paul to argue that a remnant of Israel – the true Israel – has indeed been saved. These are those Jews who have accepted Jesus as the Messiah.
But let’s put that theological insight, important as it is, to the side for a moment. What about the mystery? Why would God choose Isaac instead of Ishmael and Jacob instead of Esau? Why would he allow so much of Israel to fail to accept Jesus? The answer to these questions ultimately lies in the mystery of God’s will, and that’s not an answer that we are always comfortable with. After all, wouldn’t it be better and easier for us if we understood how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together. God may give us that gift on the other side of eternity, but for the present we are left to trust in his wisdom and movement.
The same can be said of moments in our lives when it seems like God’s word has failed us. Of course, it hasn’t, and there are good theological arguments to sustain us. But why did things unravel as they did? Why did God allow this to happen and not that? What if things had been different? When it comes to questions like these, we come up against mystery of God’s will, and we are left to trust him. Importantly, not everything is mysterious, though. Jesus really is the Messiah, and God really is redeeming the world through him. God really does take all of the junk in our lives and use it for our good. The Spirit really is at work within us to make us more and more like Jesus. There will come a day when God will wipe every tear from our eyes and usher us into his kingdom of perfect peace. We know all these things to be true, but it is sometimes easy to get lost in the mystery.
May God grant us grace to trust him, and may he redeem those moments in our lives that get lost in the mystery. Though we may not understand fully, may we come to trust him and truly know his goodness. May God’s presence and grace be so real in our lives that trust in the mystery comes naturally.