Well, maybe that’s not really fair. It’s just that we don’t talk about it much (that I recall) and so maybe I should have titled this thread:
Rom 11:32 - Is God culpable for man’s sin?
Except that’s an obvious set up as well…
Here’s what it says: “For God has bound (imprisoned) all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.”
Yes, for we who embrace Universal Reconciliation (UR), this offers a nice acknowledgement that a) we are all sinners, and b) God’s mercy extends to all. It nicely and clearly identifies every human as disobedient (aka a sinner) – that’s not too hard to gather from many other texts as well – and, thus having defined those whom God has “shut up in prison” (that is, all humanity) assures us that it is this very group who enjoys God’s saving mercy.
However, it’s not all roses for we who embrace UR in this text is it? First off, there is the faintest of hints that perhaps the very disobedience which marks all rebels was of God’s doing – not ours. To be sure, one sign of our sinfulness is our urge to exteriorize blame for our acts on anything, or anyone, but ourselves. Yet this text openly states God has bound us all into disobedience. Best to just admit, I think, that on it’s face, this is potentially awkward for us.
Second, beyond hinting at the possibility that God thus has caused our sinful condition, one might be forgiven for wondering if this expression also offers an excuse to STAY in sin. As in “hey; ain’t my fault, God’s holding me here (in prison) until I’m good and ready to grasp the truth.” (-- Hearing that type of thinking should, of course, raise the hairs on the back of any evangelicals neck!) Yet the possibility is raised here, that people have not yet responded to the message of grace because they yet are bound – by God no less! – in their “sin prison” and thus have an “excuse” to remain where they are.
Perhaps this phrase (God has bound (imprisoned) all men over to disobedience) is simply an indication that God takes full responsibility for what he has allowed; which is certainly a moving and winsome thing for God to do. (Jason Pratt has talked about this many times on this site…) Further, I think this idea is too often overlooked as a fine defense of UR in itself. That God takes any responsibility at all for this sin problem which He has allowed surely suggests He takes ALL responsibility doesn’t it? Why would God only take SOME responsibility by only saving SOME? (This is something of an embryonic thought for me; anyone care to expand on this??)
Tom Talbott approaches this text by asking if we might learn the meaning by comparing it with the notion of God hardening Pharaohs heart. Talbott explains that the Hebrew word “hardening” means “to strengthen.” God thus strengthening Pharaoh’s heart to do that which he wanted to do anyway, but may have lacked the courage to do. (being something of a coward in reality. is it fair/safe to say that in many ways, ALL sinners are cowards? another topic I guess…)
It is then, as if God is saying in effect, “no no Pharaoh; you go right on ahead and act out every evil you can think of. You NEED to see the full flower of the seed you have pondered and planted. If you DON’T get to see that, if the dawning-of-the-horror-of-sin is short-circuited, you will always wonder if your plan was, in fact, the better one.”
Talbott, p. 73, “God hardens a heart in order to produce, in the end, a contrite spirit, blinds those who are unready for the truth in order to bring them ultimately to the truth, ‘imprisons all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.’” And on p. 76, “By literally shutting sinners up to their disobedience and requiring them to endure the consequences of their own rebellion, God reveals the self-defeating nature of evil and shatters the illusions that make evil choices possible in the first place.”
This all begins to paint a picture of a God who allows and encourages each human to make his choices and to watch the consequences of those choices play out on the great screen of life. The act of God which “holds” us prisoner then is His “forcing” us (lacking a better word here) to face real consequences head on – no flinching or ducking – as an ultimate means of our salvation. This “imprisonment” then fully equips us to grasp the full measure of comprehension of the mercy which has been in effect all along. A mercy which can only be fully grasped AFTER building the context of sins true effects.
God does this then, (imprisons us – all of us – in disobedience) in order to ensure that no one shirks the responsibility of building and having a context for the discoveries and revelations that are to come in the future. So no matter WHAT one believes, it will serve as context for the future learning that, surely, must be part of God redemptive promise. No one has the ability, or the excuse, of being on the “sidelines” for this great education. This idea comes to me, partly, by way of pondering Tom Talbotts suggestion that necessarily, we – our forefathers that is – were created in a milieu of ambiguity and uncertainty. See threads on his corner.
Wondering how you all interpret this phrase in Romans? Does it help you, hurt you, cause you to “excuse” sin?
PS This idea has particular relevance to my long term and ongoing concern over the violence of God. (For those who may not know of my worry, it’s basically that the fact of Universal Reconciliation possibly offers an excuse for God’s apparent violence in that He can be excused for it because He has good intent in His violence. I have referred to God as “shrugging” at violence – since it may simply be just another tool in His hands…) God then, in this scenario, sees the violence in mens hearts and openly encourages them to engage and practice it. having these violent notions, they must have the ability to see where such ideology leads. As part of the overall education process that must be a part of salvation. God allows/encourages violence then just as he “imprisons all men over to disobedience.”