Romans 9, the Awful and Terrible God, and Communion

When we first began attending Hope Baptist Church, we noted and appreciated that they observed the Lord’s Supper on a weekly basis. Six months later, I have come to the realization that my ability to under appreciate a sacrament knows no bounds.

For the past three weeks, the elders have been leading the church through Romans 9, and let me tell you, these are not verses that are easy to hear:

Jacob have I loved, but Esau I have hated

What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.

Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?

It is a terrifying thing to read these passages and to know that this is our God; it is a fearful thing to see Jehovah so clearly, and to know the awe that fills our heart and minds at His description. It is an entirely different thing to hear such a sermon and then to partake in communion.

Imagine for a moment that you are the child of the Hebrew king David. Your father, the king, is a man of war. In certain seasons, he takes his sword in hand and leads his armies to war. He has killed men, has with his own hands shed their blood, and he has given orders that would bring death to women and children. On days of judgement, he sits as a magistrate, and hands down rulings. He has sentenced men and women to death for crimes against the law. It is not his hand that kills them, but it is at his word and at his judgement nonetheless. But consider this: this man, the king, the man of war, the judge, the grim faced man who presides over life and death, this man is also your father. And he is not one man when he is at war and a second man when he sits at court and a third man when he sits with you and calls you by your name. He is the same man.

And this is what communion reminds me of. This is not to say that I should not tremble when I think of God. This is not to say that I am to forget that he is both awful and terrible (look up these words if you do not get my meaning – we have watered them down and forgotten what they mean). But it means that I am to place alongside this image of awe, this image of terror, an image of Abba Father, and I am to commune with him.

What I am striking out against here is the wicked idea that God must be watered down so that we can be comfortable with Him. Let me give another example, this time from C. S. Lewis’s novel, The Silver Chair. Here one of the main characters, Jill Pole, has been brought to Aslan’s country and through her own foolishness has found herself alone, lost, and looking for something to drink. Finally she comes to a pool of water, and guarding it, is a lion:

“If you are thirsty, you may drink.”

[…] For a second she stared here and there, wondering who had spoken. Then the voice said again, “If you are thirsty, come and drink,” […] [she] realised that it was the lion speaking. […] [T]he voice was not like a man’s. It was deeper, wilder, and stronger; a sort of heavy, golden voice. It did not make her any less frightened than she had been before, but it made her frightened in rather a different way.

“Are you not thirsty?” said the lion.

“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.

“Then drink,” said the lion.

“May I – could I – would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.

The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realised that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.

The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.

“Will you promise not to – do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.

“I make no promise,” said the Lion.

Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.

“Do you eat girls?” she said.

“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.

“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.

“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.

“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”

“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.

It never occurred to Jill to disbelieve the Lion – no one who had seen his stern face could do that – and her mind suddenly made itself up. It was the worst thing she had ever had to do, but she went forward to the stream, knelt down, and began scooping up water in her hand. It was the coldest, most refreshing water she had ever tasted. You didn’t need to drink much of it, for it quenched your thirst at once.

This is how communion felt after the sermons on Romans 9. Here I am, says God, I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms, and I will do so again if it pleases me. Know me. Look upon me. See me as I am… and come and drink.

14 thoughts on “Romans 9, the Awful and Terrible God, and Communion”

  1. Much to discuss here. A couple of thoughts before I head back to work.

    I could not agree more that the current trend toward concentrating solely upon God’s love without acknowledging with reverence his power and judgment is misbegotten. Absent a judgment, there is no need for mercy.

    Also, I too bemoan the absence of more frequent Communion in many protestant churches. I think the reason is that the message of Communion, i.e. make sure your heart is right with Him, necessitates instruction which discomfits people. As we all know, making people comfortable is the new mantra of church growth. See, e.g. Rick Warren.

    I have to run.

    Cheers.

  2. Much to discuss here. A couple of thoughts before I head back to work.

    I could not agree more that the current trend toward concentrating solely upon God’s love without acknowledging with reverence his power and judgment is misbegotten. Absent a judgment, there is no need for mercy.

    Also, I too bemoan the absence of more frequent Communion in many protestant churches. I think the reason is that the message of Communion, i.e. make sure your heart is right with Him, necessitates instruction which discomfits people. As we all know, making people comfortable is the new mantra of church growth. See, e.g. Rick Warren.

    I have to run.

    Cheers.

  3. My church also has weekly communion–and I share your sentiment that my ability to dumb it down is nearly infinite. Thinking about God’s awful transcendence as well as his merciful proximity may help to appreciate more fully just what we’re doing.

    Now that I think about it, God’s power can be seen as immanent as well as transcendent–as can his mercy. So maybe my thinking needs revision at more than one place (imagine that). Thanks for the post…and the good use of Lewis.

  4. My church also has weekly communion–and I share your sentiment that my ability to dumb it down is nearly infinite. Thinking about God’s awful transcendence as well as his merciful proximity may help to appreciate more fully just what we’re doing.

    Now that I think about it, God’s power can be seen as immanent as well as transcendent–as can his mercy. So maybe my thinking needs revision at more than one place (imagine that). Thanks for the post…and the good use of Lewis.

  5. Randall,
    Thanks for the thoughts. I wholeheartedly agree that the accountability communion brings is unwelcome. We shouldn’t be surprised though, it fits with the modern trend of liking the idea of accountability but disliking it when someone chastises you, liking the idea of marriage, but hating the idea of washing our wife in the Word, and liking the idea of Fatherhood, but not wanting to disciple our children. To my mind, communion is the first and frequent step of church discipline, and when practiced often and seriously, often prevents the other steps from ever having to be acted upon.

    Take care,
    Charles

  6. Randall,
    Thanks for the thoughts. I wholeheartedly agree that the accountability communion brings is unwelcome. We shouldn’t be surprised though, it fits with the modern trend of liking the idea of accountability but disliking it when someone chastises you, liking the idea of marriage, but hating the idea of washing our wife in the Word, and liking the idea of Fatherhood, but not wanting to disciple our children. To my mind, communion is the first and frequent step of church discipline, and when practiced often and seriously, often prevents the other steps from ever having to be acted upon.

    Take care,
    Charles

  7. Ariel,
    I think it would be fun to write a series of post and to always, always, always, find a way to shoehorn Lewis in. Even if you had to resort to: “it’s like chocolate ice cream, which was Lewis’ favorite by the way (source: imagination)”

    Thanks for the read. Now go revise your thinkin’ 😉

    Charles

  8. Ariel,
    I think it would be fun to write a series of post and to always, always, always, find a way to shoehorn Lewis in. Even if you had to resort to: “it’s like chocolate ice cream, which was Lewis’ favorite by the way (source: imagination)”

    Thanks for the read. Now go revise your thinkin’ 😉

    Charles

  9. It grieves me to see so many take Romans 9 out of context. Jacob (Israel) I loved, Esau I hated is not about personal election to salvation, but service. Jacob AKA: Israel was chosen to serve God, and bring forth the Messiah.

    Romans 9-11 is about Israel.
    Romans 9 Israel’s Past
    Romans 10 Israel’s furure
    Romans 11 Israel’s furure.

    OUR salvation is described in Romans 4…..based on Faith. The foundation of faith was placed first and foremost with Cain and Abel. Faith in the coming redeemer who would die and rise again for our sin. Genesis 3:15. That has not changed. Abraham believed God and was counted/imputed/reckoned Righteous with God. This is what Justification is. Calvinism does not understand the principles of Justification. Justification is not our New Birth. Abraham was not Born Again first to believe, or even born again after he believed.

    In the OT, those who placed their faith in Jesus Christ had Counted/Reckoned/Imputed Righteousness.

    ONLY those who are of the Faith of Abraham are Abraham’s true spiritual seed. Not many seeds, but ONE…Jesus Christ is the seed. The Promise is the Promise of the Holy Spirit, not the promise of Election. The True Elect according to Grace are those who refuse to bend the knee to Baal or Calvin or Joseph Smith or whoever.

    The Awful truth of Romans 9 is the many Calvinists who will be lost in some silly idea THEY are Jacob: AKA Israel!!!

  10. It grieves me to see so many take Romans 9 out of context. Jacob (Israel) I loved, Esau I hated is not about personal election to salvation, but service. Jacob AKA: Israel was chosen to serve God, and bring forth the Messiah.

    Romans 9-11 is about Israel.
    Romans 9 Israel’s Past
    Romans 10 Israel’s furure
    Romans 11 Israel’s furure.

    OUR salvation is described in Romans 4…..based on Faith. The foundation of faith was placed first and foremost with Cain and Abel. Faith in the coming redeemer who would die and rise again for our sin. Genesis 3:15. That has not changed. Abraham believed God and was counted/imputed/reckoned Righteous with God. This is what Justification is. Calvinism does not understand the principles of Justification. Justification is not our New Birth. Abraham was not Born Again first to believe, or even born again after he believed.

    In the OT, those who placed their faith in Jesus Christ had Counted/Reckoned/Imputed Righteousness.

    ONLY those who are of the Faith of Abraham are Abraham’s true spiritual seed. Not many seeds, but ONE…Jesus Christ is the seed. The Promise is the Promise of the Holy Spirit, not the promise of Election. The True Elect according to Grace are those who refuse to bend the knee to Baal or Calvin or Joseph Smith or whoever.

    The Awful truth of Romans 9 is the many Calvinists who will be lost in some silly idea THEY are Jacob: AKA Israel!!!

  11. Larry,
    I apologize for the delay in getting back to you. I almost don’t know where to start. You seem very confused about what Romans 9 is actually saying. I would encourage you to sit down and read the chapter and read Paul’s questions and his arguments. Paul does a very methodical walkthrough regarding the concept of election, at each point building on the idea from the previous section. When he says, “Jacob I have loved and Esau I have hated” (notice the division into 2 groups) and then in the same chapter as he makes his case he talks about vessels unto wrath and vessels unto honor (again 2 groups) he is building on the same argument. This is not just about Jacob being chosen to be the line through which Christ came, it is also very much about how God has chosen those who will bear his name.

    But you have to understand something else, the point of this is not that we get to determine who God has chosen, the point of it is that we understand that God is choosing a people. It is that we focus on Him as the One who has made all things come to pass.

  12. Larry,
    I apologize for the delay in getting back to you. I almost don’t know where to start. You seem very confused about what Romans 9 is actually saying. I would encourage you to sit down and read the chapter and read Paul’s questions and his arguments. Paul does a very methodical walkthrough regarding the concept of election, at each point building on the idea from the previous section. When he says, “Jacob I have loved and Esau I have hated” (notice the division into 2 groups) and then in the same chapter as he makes his case he talks about vessels unto wrath and vessels unto honor (again 2 groups) he is building on the same argument. This is not just about Jacob being chosen to be the line through which Christ came, it is also very much about how God has chosen those who will bear his name.

    But you have to understand something else, the point of this is not that we get to determine who God has chosen, the point of it is that we understand that God is choosing a people. It is that we focus on Him as the One who has made all things come to pass.

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