Oh the Humanity, Romans 9:1-3

There are certain circumstances in life that remind us as humans of how small and helpless we really are. As incredible as it is to be human we understand the reality that there are powers that exist that are far greater than our own; powers that are beyond our ability to control them. Weather is a prime example. Weather describes the ability of naturally occurring elements to give you a sunburn at the beach, a brisk day at the park, or to destroy everything within a hundred square miles. Oddly enough it is during these moments of disaster that we seem to feel most human.

When Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast there was a fascination with the awesome power of nature, but in the wake of disaster the news coverage changed from wind speed to a theme of “what will become of us?” By “us” I mean the humans, those of “us” who struggled for survival, whose homes were destroyed, whose lives hung in the balance. Through television sets in isolated corners we watched “them” but somehow there was an unmistakable element of “us” involved. There is a capacity in humanity to feel compassion for people simply because they are people.

When Michael Phelps won, so did we. Humanity had entered a new day of seemingly super human achievement. Humans all over the globe were faced with the fact that the bar for human achievement in a body had been raised. We all felt that, but there was something different about the experience for Americans. When Michael Phelps won, so did we, Americans. He was our son, our man, our hero, our human representative; but even more so, he was American. There was an identity in that moment that was unmistakable. It was a lecture in human achievement and a pep rally for how great it is to be an American.

In the opening verses of Romans 9 Paul pours out his humanity. Unbelief is a human disaster. Even worse, the unbelief in view here is that of his countrymen. “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart (Romans 9:2).” The words Paul chooses here communicate unmistakable felt pain. Paul felt pain in something that was more a part of him than of his body, his heart. It was a pain so deep and so real that it was verifiable only by his conscience and the very Spirit of God. Thus, when Paul says, “For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh” there is nothing trite in the statement.

The greatest of human tragedies is unbelief. From verse 4 onward the text will take a deeply theological turn, but let us be careful not to exile it simply to theology and ignore the humanity. When I say theology I realize I am degrading the truth of the term by referring to the mere academic exercise of trying to “reason this out” and make it fit within certain logical parameters, or camps. In speaking of the sovereignty of God we often, and naturally so, ignore the humanity. Make no mistake; what we are witnessing in the sovereignty of God is something that should, like an unimaginable storm, provoke within us strong feelings of humanity. The sovereignty of God should make us feel very human as it is a reminder of our helplessness and an instrument to provoke within us a sincere sense of awe. This is no mere academic debate. To make it so is a tragedy of a different sort, very inhumane.

Romans 9 is as much about national tragedy as it is about Divine sovereignty. It is about a timeless God, but it is also about people who wear watches. Romans 9 is about sovereign election, but it is also about human reaction. If we read this marvelous chapter and do not grieve, like Paul, over the tragedy of human disbelief we are denying the very essence of what it means to be a soul, a human, able to feel for humanity.


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