We come now to the conclusion of this series that provides a biblical answer to the question posed by the curious, and perhaps cynical, Sunday school class member (Part 1) who asked: “If God is in charge of everything, and if He hates sin, why would He allow Adam and Eve to sin?” We have concluded throughout this study that He ordained to allow evil to enter His perfect universe through the voluntary choices of moral creatures in order to dramatically display His glory through His holiness, wrath, mercy, grace, love and power. The apostle Paul gives us great insight into this vast mystery when he says:
“What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles” (Rom 9:22-24).
Here we learn of at least three reasons God gives for ordaining evil: one, “to demonstrate his wrath”; two, “to make his power known”; and three, “to make known the riches of His glory on vessels of mercy.” Let’s look more closely at each one.
ONE: TO DEMONSTRATE HIS WRATH
We must ask, “Why did He resolutely determine to endure ‘with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?’” (v. 22b). First he answers, “To demonstrate His wrath” (v. 22a; emphasis added). Since God’s ultimate goal in all He does is to bring glory to Himself, we can reason from this text that He not only ordained sin to enter the world, but chose to endure the wickedness of men until a day of ultimate reckoning when “the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Eph 5:6: cf. John 3:36).
Here Paul teaches us that God’s mercy will continue to endure until the last of the pre- kingdom judgments have been executed, culminating in unimaginable fury when our Lord Christ returns “and treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty” (Rev 19:15). Then, in transcendent glory, “the kingdom of the world (will become) the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever” (Rev 11:15). The glory of such a display of divine retribution exceeds the limits of language and imagination. This will be a spectacle of sheer majesty and supernatural power, all part of His eternal plan to glorify Himself, as Solomon made evident in his inspired declaration where he said, “The Lord has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for the day of evil” (Prov 16:4).
Think of the immense joy when some great evil is put down and justice is finally served. Who can forget the day our troops dragged the Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein from a hole in the ground? The civilized world erupted in celebration. Then later we witnessed his public hanging, and again people danced in the streets with joy. Remember the elation when the U.S. Navy Seals killed the mass murderer Osama Bin Laden? Whenever a wicked fiend is finally punished, and the oppressed vindicated, there is great happiness among the people and honor bestowed upon the victor. The same will be true when sin, Satan, and death—although defeated at the cross—will one day be vanquished forever. For this reason God is glorified in His wrath. At Christ’s second coming, divine justice will be served upon the nations (Rev 19:15,16). His holiness will be vindicated as He takes vengeance upon His enemies (Dt 32:41). His victory will also be our victory as we share in the undeserved prize of eternal glory, for we are His “children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Rom 8:17; cf. Col 1:12).
In God’s wrath we also see an unrivaled contrast between His mercy (Dt 32:35, 36) and the mind-boggling disparity between heaven and hell. In addition to the numerous instances of divine judgment manifested down through redemptive history and the ultimate wrath of eternal hell, both the Old and New Testaments also describe a period of eschatological wrath that will occur during a time of unprecedented worldwide tribulation just prior to the unveiling of Jesus Christ when He returns in majestic glory as King of kings and Lord of lords to establish His promised Messianic Kingdom. The Bible speaks of this as a time when the wicked will cry out “to the mountains and to the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?’” (Rev 6:16, 17). Can there be a more stunning display of God’s glory? So indeed, the existence of sin and evil provides the perfect context in which God will demonstrate His holiness through the display of His wrath, and by contrast, the glory of His grace toward those who believe.
TWO: TO MAKE HIS POWER KNOWN
Paul’s rhetorical question offers a second reason why God allowed sin to invade His universe: “to make His power known” (v. 22; emphasis added). Biblical illustrations abound in this regard. Think how God’s power was made known when He poured out His wrath upon the Egyptians who dared to trifle with the God of Israel by pursuing His people. After the sons of Israel walked on dry land through the midst of the sea “and the waters were like a wall to them on their right hand and on their left” (Ex 14:29), the Lord covered the pursuing Egyptian chariots and horseman with the waters (v. 28). Then we read, “Thus the LORD saved Israel that day from the hand of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. When Israel saw the great power which the LORD had used against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in His servant Moses” (vv. 30, 31). Astounded by the irresistible power of divine wrath, Moses and the sons of Israel then burst into song (Ex 15:1-18).
In His Revelation, the Lord Jesus Christ discloses similar demonstrations of divine wrath being poured out upon this sin-cursed earth just prior to His return (Rev 6-19). The very thought of such catastrophic violence causes us to tremble. The sheer magnitude of His power is incomprehensible and inconceivably glorious. Even as His glory was manifested in creation, it will also be revealed again in His re-creation when “the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up” (1 Pet 3:10). Peter then adds, “But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (v. 13). Language is not capable of expressing the kind of power and authority this would require, nor could words possibly convey the magnificent honor this will bring to our Lord Christ.
Nevertheless, some will still argue that God is unfair in His sovereign rule over the affairs of men, especially in light of His wrath being reserved for “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” (v. 22c). But it is important to remember that while it is true that God has ordained sin to be in the world, it is equally true that man is the one who voluntarily chooses to act wickedly. The blame cannot be placed upon God, but man. That this is true is evident in the Greek verb katartizo rendered “prepared” (v. 22c). Grammatically we see that this verb is in the passive voice, meaning God is not the subject doing the preparing, it is the willful disobedience of sinful man. All who refuse to embrace His gift of grace through faith are responsible for their rebellion and are therefore preparing themselves for the wrath to come. All who cry out for mercy will receive it; those who reject it will be judged. They are therefore described as “vessels of wrath prepared for destruction” (v. 22c).
Surely His power will be made known in the wrath of His indignation upon those who have willfully chosen not to believe and obey. Yet we beg God to spare them. To this end we pray, even as Paul prayed for his fellow countrymen, “my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved” (Rom 10:1).
THREE: TO MAKE KNOWN THE RICHES OF HIS GLORY UPON VESSELS OF MERCY
Paul goes on to describe yet a third reason God ordained sin, “He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom he also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles” (Rom 9:23, 24; emphasis added). Here we are reminded again of God’s love for those whom He has called unto Himself. A vessel is not a fountain, but a container, and the One who fashioned it must fill it up. How thankful we can be that we received mercy instead of the wrath of justice we deserved.
Here again we see that by allowing sin in the world, God provided an opportunity to glorify Himself not only in His wrath and power, but also in the redeemed (v. 23). What a magnificent reality for all who have been saved by His grace. He saved us “to make known the riches of His glory”—and to think that we are “vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory” (v. 23c). I cannot think of a more humbling and spiritually motivating truth than this: our salvation was part of His sovereign plan to glorify Himself, determined and decreed in eternity past (Eph 1:3-14; cf. 2 Tim 1:9; Titus 1:1, 2). For this reason Paul rejoiced in his sufferings and in the privilege of preaching the “word of God . . . to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:25-27). May this be our sincere testimony as well.