If an autobiographical note can be permitted, I spent a number of years in Christian ministry before I came to the Reformed faith. I recall one time when I was witnessing to members of a cult, one devoted to works righteousness, and my presentation of grace successfully provoked the same objection that Paul had to answer in the sixth chapter of Romans. "If what you are saying is true, then why can’t we get to sin up a storm?" I was presenting the same gospel Paul preached, and not surprisingly it provoked the same reaction.
But there was one objection that I never provoked. During all that time, no one ever said to me, "Wilson, if what you are saying is true, then why does God still find fault with us? For who can resist His will?" (Rom. 9:19) However, after I came to a Reformed understanding of grace, I discovered why people had never said anything that resembled v. 19 to me. It was because I never said v. 18. As soon as I affirmed v. 18 (and in some cases, as soon as I hinted at it), I couldn’t get people to stop bringing this issue up.
The point here is not to answer this particular objection to election, at least not to anyone’s satisfaction. The central point is to point out the fact of this objection, and its essential identity with the objection that Paul had to handle. Paul anticipated this objection, which meant that no doubt he had been in more than one discussion in the back of more than one synagogue after one of his sermons on the sovereignty of God. Those who want to reject a Reformed understanding of these chapters have an exegetical responsibility which I have never seen them assume. This responsibility is to show how their interpretation of these chapters could possibly provoke this objection. The reason they have difficulty doing this is because their exegesis of the passage is actually driven by the objection, and hence cannot be an adequate response to it. They have more sympathy with Paul’s nameless objector than they do with Paul.
None of this is said with an intent to disparage, because the problem really is a thorny one. If I may continue my testimony, it had me by the throat for years. All of us feel the impulse to raise the objection. It is preeminently reasonable, at least initially. When I finally came to the Reformed faith, one of the first to raise it to me was my oldest daughter who was in sixth grade at the time. In our table talk, we were working through these great issues around the dinner table. And now it is in someone else’s Table Talk.
But the objection, at the heart, is not an objection to "Calvinism." In principle, it is an objection to the Christian faith, not to the Reformed faith, and the ultimate target is not the doctrine of election, but the doctrine of creation. The Bible teaches that God will judge the world. But the world He will judge is in the condition it is in because He created it. He made it. And who can resist His will? Both sides of the debate acknowledge that He created it (irresistably) knowing full well what would happen if He did. For both Calvinists and Arminians, God looked at all of human history, all the pain and suffering, all the unbelief, all the stumbling blocks, and, having seen it all, He still said, "Let there be light." When we have all parties speak into the microphone (which some are admittedly reluctant to do), we see that every form of orthodox Christianity provokes the objection, at least in principle.
Some, in what is called the openness of God movement, have sought to get around this problem of evil and judgment by maintaining that God does not know the future. But this solves no problems at all. The doctrines of creation and providence still mean that God made the world the way it is, and he lets the world be the way it is right now, and He will judge the world for being the way it is. Process theologians (rightly) have charged the openness theists of radical inconsistency at this point. If the charge against God is that He created the world the way it is and hence cannot rightly judge it, it is no solution at all to blindfold him before he creates. Will we insist that he keep the blindfold on at the judgment as well? Given the spirit of this objection, the spirit revealed in v. 19, the only way out is to deny that God created the world. And we should look for this as an upcoming development in "evangelical" theology.
We can find peace, however, if we heed Paul’s response to all this. He is the apostle, and he knows how this whole thing is to be handled. He says to us all -- uppity pots -- to keep our lid on. God made us, and it follows from this, that He knows what He is doing. Shall the pot say to the potter, "Whoa! Who told you that you know how to do this? Let me see your diploma from an accredited pottery academy."? God made us, He created us. We in our pride see this as the problem. But it is the solution. He is the Creator. And we are not.