3 May 2021Romans 11:25-36
O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! (v. 33)
Paul’s mission is directed to the Gentiles, and is successful. Most Jews (part of Israel) are resisting the gospel (‘hardening their hearts’). They are openly hostile to Paul’s success. The Gentile converts are in danger of self-congratulation: "We are now God’s favourites; bad news for Jews!" In response Paul has a divine ‘mystery’ to disclose.
Paul’s thoughts are compressed and convoluted. His argument seems to be that God has always had a secret plan for humanity, which comes to pass because God wills it. So:
- Humanity was created good (the Garden of Eden).
- The overwhelming majority of human beings have become self-centred. They have built a wall around themselves: they neither trust nor obey God.
- There are a few exceptions such as the ancient patriarchs, including Abraham. They always lived with faith in God’s care and provision.
- For their sake, God made the decision (which nothing can now change) always to love all Israel – even though most Israelites are faithless.
- God’s way with all human communities, Jew and Gentile, is to meet their refusal to trust and obey with mercy.
- The gospel of Jesus (about the crucified and risen Jewish Christ) reveals the final two stages in God’s plan to bring mercy to all. First, Gentiles hear and respond in faith to the gospel. The mission among them will continue until the ‘full number’ of the Gentiles come to faith. (Does this mean until every single Gentile is a believer? Or, more likely, until the gospel has been preached in every significant Gentile community?) Finally, at the time God appoints, all Israel will be saved – as God has long promised (verse 26 cites Isaiah 59.20-21 and 27.9).
- God’s wisdom and knowledge oversee all history. This is cause for wonder and praise! Even this previously secret plan is but a fragment of the inexpressible mystery that God is, beyond all thought and language. (The act of praise in verses 33-36 comprises a collection of Old Testament texts.)
- Our contemporary view of history is very different from Paul’s. Does that trouble you? Or is it sufficient for Paul and the Church today to share the same vision of God’s essential character – mercy for all?
- Christians believe they are being formed into people whose hearts are full of mercy. In your experience, what individuals or communities do Christians find it hard not to condemn? And how may we overcome all shreds of discrimination and prejudice?