As I read books and study scripture, the things I thought I knew as truth I find to be only half true and sometimes untrue. This is one of those times.
I'm reading a book by A.W.Tozer on the gospel of John called "And He Dwelt Among Us". In the seventh chapter entitled "what really matters to God" he takes up the lofty goal of speaking and writing on the famous verse John 3:16. He writes much about God's love for the individual, every individual. He speaks of how God demonstrates His love toward the unrighteous by sending His only begotten Son. He tells of the message contained in this all-encompassing passage that is for every man. "I matter to God, God loves me".
While Tozer writes with great eloquence, these are all things I have heard before. Nonetheless, there is a sense of awe that comes over us when we see the wonder of this statement. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. For me there is a lot of teaching which I received from the feet of the "reformed" that I read into that simple verse. Those teachings deal with defining the "whosoever" as those elected and chosen before the foundation of the world. References are made to Romans 9 and God's purpose of election along with His right as God to do whatever He wants to. He can harden whomever He wills and He can show mercy to whomever He will. My understanding of election still stands, but my interpretation of John 3:16 according to that set of doctrines has changed.
Since Tozer is very respected among the reformed camp, I was surprised to see him write these words:
"Do not listen to those interpreters of truth who say God has chosen some and not chosen others, and that the ones He has chosen are good and the ones that He has not chosen are no good. They are vessels of wrath fitted for destruction, and God created them to have the fun of damning them. There is nobody like that in the universe...everybody matters to God."
Of course, at this point I close my book and turn to the passage in Romans 9 he is speaking of. It reads:
What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—(Romans 9:22-23 ESV)
So as I meditate on this passage and ask God what it is that I have missed, what it is that I misinterpreted, where I've gone wrong, I begin to see things differently. Paul is not saying that God has predestined some for eternal wrath and others for glory. Paul is saying that God has endured the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction. Does he say eternal destruction in Hell? No, he says destruction. Well I can certainly testify to that. I was once a child of wrath and now my flesh is being destroyed by the power of God as I walk in the Spirit according to the mercy He has shown in Christ Jesus.
I was a vessel of wrath and I am a vessel of mercy. God loved me so He sent Jesus so that if I believe in Him I would have His life. This can be true for every unrighteous, unbelieving, destitute, depraved and evil person. There is no-one you and I will ever meet whom God does not love enough to send His Son to die for and that is a very great love. That is the kind of unstoppable love that doesn't take no for an answer. The kind of love that can be rejected over and over again and not condemn. How can we further condemn an already condemned person? Christ did not come in to the word to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through Him. These extraordinary statements in John's gospel have lost their lustre to our over-sermonized ears. There is much wonder wrapped up in these two verses. Christ came because God loved, not to condemn but to save and redeem.
Lord have mercy on your children when we condemn others for unrighteousness and think that they are hopeless because they have been predestined to be apart from you forever. Rather let us hope in their destruction only in that they will be made new in Christ and know the riches of your glory as a vessel of mercy.