EDITOR'S NOTE: Just joining the discussion? You can read part 1 here as well.

As we examine Romans 9:18-28, it helps to remember that Paul is grappling with the difficult problem of Jewish unbelief. Why have so many Jews rejected Christ if he is indeed the Jewish Messiah? This was no abstract theological issue to the Apostle Paul. His heart was broken by the reality that so many of his friends and loved one were going to hell. We may be tempted to focus on the controversial aspects and to forget the human reality behind these words. I’m convinced that Paul wept when he wrote Romans 9. These words come not from some theoretical discussion in a seminary classroom; they come streaming from a broken heart.

Let’s plunge into this text and discover together God’s answers concerning the difficult question of predestination.

Answer # 1: God has the right to do as he wills.

One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?” But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? “Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ’Why did you make me like this?’ “ Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? (vv. 19-21).

These verses sound harsh to modern ears tuned to talk of personal freedom. We live in a “Do your own thing” era in which the highest human value is to seek your own happiness. Our heroes are those men and women who have put personal happiness above every other consideration in life. If you don’t believe that, when was the last time you heard someone say they were getting a divorce because they weren’t happy in their marriage? You hear it all the time. Personal happiness is our national excuse for doing whatever feels good to us at the moment. Against all such me-centered thinking stands Paul’s unanswered question, “But who are you, O man, to talk back to God?” There is no answer because the question answers itself: No one can talk back to God.

The illustration from the world of pottery-making is clear enough. The potter sits at his wheel watching the lump of clay as it spins in front of him. With one tiny touch, he creates an indentation; with another slight touch he produces an intricate swirl. By the barest changing of pressure, the potter radically alters the shape of the clay. What emerges may be an object of dazzling beauty, such as a Ming vase. Or it may be a rather ordinary, unremarkable coffee cup. Both come from the same clay. One is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars; the other is worth 25 cents. What made the difference? The potter’s hands.

Don’t overlook the main point. The coffee cup can’t say to the potter, “I wanted to be a Ming vase.” It doesn’t work like that. From one lump the potter has the right to shape the clay any way he likes. The same is true for us. We’re not all the same. In fact, God makes each one of us unique from everyone else in the world. Some have more intelligence, others less. Some are born into one race, others into another. Some are tall, others short. Some have musical skill; others can repair diesel engines. Some love to fly kites, others prefer to knit sweaters. Some will become leaders, others will live mostly in the shadows. That’s the way life is. And that’s not just the result of sin in the world. You’re different because God made you that way. No one can talk back to God and say, “You blew it.” Number one, he didn’t blow it. And number two, even if you think he did, he’s not taking any complaints from you or me.

That’s answer # 1: God has the right to do whatever he wants to us and in us and through us and with us.