20But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use? 22What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath preared for destruction, 23in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory–24even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Romans 9, ESV)
What is that saying? As I was reading this today I found myself surprised. I was caught off guard, yet again, by this passage. I have read and understood as best as I can vv. 20-22. I have read it over and over again. I have used these verses to explain and to answer. But, for some reason I’d been satisfied with that theology, and lately I haven’t been. A pastor friend of mine said to me:
“If limited atonement doesn’t bother you, there is something wrong. Either you don’t properly understand it or your heart is cold.”
That struck me because it didn’t bother me. I am thinking, ‘Is what he is saying true? I love and respect this man, and I know his theology to be biblical. How can he say this? If what he says is true, is my heart cold or my understanding incomplete?’
With these options before me I weighed the options and searched the scripture. I could not find cause for any grief on my part. After all, Paul says, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?” We all know what he is saying. Paraphrase: ‘Just accept it. God makes the call, not you. You were a lump of dirt made into a walking, breathing, talking, thinking human being by this God. Don’t question what you cannot understand.’ Its God’s business, not mine.
In my Bible I keep a picture of my nephew. Two actually. They are stuck in somewhere in the Old Testament. I put them there absentmindedly to keep them safe while traveling. But nearly every time I pull out my Bible and open it I see his face and I pray for him. I ask God to save him. He is three, maybe four now. He is a bright kid, but I doubt very much that he has yet acquired the mental capacity to understand grace. But I pray for him. I want to see him in heaven. I want to praise God with him for eternity! And then it hit me: What if God has not chosen him? What if I spend my entire life praying and asking for him and he is not part of the plan?
It didn’t happen right away, but soon enough, I realized that every Christian probably knows somebody that isn’t a Christian. I hope they do. They should. Hopefully more than one. And limited atonement should bother them because of those they know that are not elect. How can it not? They should be asking, ‘How can my God of love and mercy and grace not love this person whom I love? Why?’
Today I read again this passage from Romans 9.
22What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath preared for destruction, 23in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory[…]
The purpose became clear to me. The ‘how’ had already been answered, but now the ‘why’ became clear to me. And it grips me to the verge of tears. Read that quote again. God desired to demonstrate fully his power that we might better know his glory. Once again God shows that we, His fallen creation, are the purpose. The whole plan was designed so that we might once again know how holy and glorious is our God.
My friend had it right. How can this not grieve me? How can I be okay with the possibility that someone I love will perish eternally so that I will not take for granted the Grace which has been given me.