God’s mysterious riches, wisdom, and knowledge

Posted Sep 11, 2021

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Daily Scripture

Romans 11:25-36

25 I don’t want you to be unaware of this secret [or mystery], brothers and sisters. That way you won’t think too highly of yourselves. A part of Israel has become resistant until the full number of the Gentiles comes in. 26 In this way, all Israel will be saved, as it is written:

The deliverer will come from Zion.
He will remove ungodly behavior from Jacob.
27 This is my covenant with them,
when I take away their sins [Isaiah 59:20-21; 27:9; Jeremiah 31:33-34]

28 According to the gospel, they are enemies for your sake, but according to God’s choice, they are loved for the sake of their ancestors. 29 God’s gifts and calling can’t be taken back. 30 Once you were disobedient to God, but now you have mercy because they were disobedient. 31 In the same way, they have also been disobedient because of the mercy that you received, so now they can receive mercy too. 32 God has locked up all people in disobedience, in order to have mercy on all of them.

33 God’s riches, wisdom, and knowledge are so deep! They are as mysterious as his judgments, and they are as hard to track as his paths!

34 Who has known the Lord’s mind?
Or who has been his mentor? [Isaiah 40:13]
35 Or who has given him a gift
and has been paid back by him? [Job 41:11]
36 All things are from him and through him and for him.
May the glory be to him forever. Amen.

NOTE: Today we recall the terrible events of 9/11/01, 20 years ago, which made us painfully aware that the bitter divisions in our world have horrible results. It is a good day to ponder Paul’s summary of God’s vision of the world. “God has locked up all people in disobedience, in order to have mercy on all of them,” he wrote. Left to ourselves, we tend to see the world in “us and them” terms. But God sees one human family, offers mercy to every one of God’s earthly children, and yearns for us to accept that offer. Which is why Paul closed with a great hymn of praise: “God’s riches, wisdom, and knowledge are so deep!....May the glory be to him forever. Amen.”

Reflection Questions

Reading all of Romans 9 – 11 this week should help us see why it doesn’t work to read a fragment of 11:26 as a stand-alone conclusion. N. T. Wright pointed out, “The question: how is God saving his whole people, Jew and Gentile alike? How is ‘all Israel’ going to be saved (verse 26)? Many people find this puzzling. Surely, they say, ‘all Israel’ must mean ‘all Jews’–either all Jews who have ever lived, or all believing Jews, or all Jews alive at the time of final salvation. But Paul himself has indicated otherwise.”* And William Barclay wrote: “Paul argues that there is more to Jewishness than descent from Abraham, that the chosen people were not simply the entire sum of all the physical descendants of Abraham.”** Verse 32 returned to what Paul wrote in Romans 3:23-24, now applied more fully to the tension between Jewish and Gentile Christians.

  • We often want a complex analysis to end with a neat, simple “executive summary.” Paul did not do that at the end of Romans 11. Instead, in verse 35 he quoted Job 41’s trusting response to God’s mysteries. Scholars Michael Gorman and William Barclay highlighted Paul’s final verses:
    • “Paul now concludes his heart-wrenching struggle with Jewish unbelief in the gospel, scripture and God’s faithfulness by writing a hymn of praise to God’s mysterious mercy.”***
    • “Here theology turns to poetry. Here the seeking of the mind turns to the adoration of the heart. In the end all must pass out in a mystery that man cannot now understand but at whose heart is love….Paul had battled with a heartbreaking problem…. He does not say that he has solved it, as one might neatly solve a geometrical problem; but he does say that having done his best, he is content to leave it to the love and power of God.”****
  • What helps you respond to some of life’s hardest questions with hymns or poetry that express trust in God’s love and power?

Prayer

Creating, redeeming God, your riches, wisdom, and knowledge are so deep! Thank you for a mind that can wrestle with hard questions, and for a heart that can trust you to know answers I cannot yet fathom. Amen.


* Wright, N.T., Paul for Everyone, Romans Part Two: Chapters 9-16 (The New Testament for Everyone) (p. 59). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

** William Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series: The Letter to the Romans (Revised Edition). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1975, p. 128.

*** Michael J. Gorman, study note on Romans 11:33-36 in The CEB Study Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013, p. 294 NT.

**** William Barclay, Daily Study Bible Series: The Letter to the Romans (Revised Edition). Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1975, p. 155.

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Mindi McKenna

Mindi McKenna

Mindi McKenna is a 22-year member of The Church of the Resurrection. She volunteers with our Adult Discipleship, Silver Link, and Global Missions ministries and participates in a Sunday School class and women’s small group. During retirement, Mindi is devoted to teaching people to more deeply love God and others.

I’ll admit that I don’t completely follow all the details in today’s Scripture reading (Romans 11:25-36).

At times like this, I appreciate the advice once given to my classmates and me by a helpful elementary school teacher. She told us, “When you are reading something that is hard to understand, look for the subjects, nouns, and verbs in each sentence. Doing that will usually help you identify the key points of the passage.” And she is usually right.

Here are some key points I see in Romans 11:25-36:

1. All people have disobeyed God-–including both Jews and Gentiles.
2. All people can receive God’s mercy.
3. God’s riches, wisdom, and knowledge are deep and mysterious. Humans cannot comprehend God’s judgments, God’s paths, or God’s mind.
4. All things come from God, through God, and for God.

At the time Paul wrote this letter to the Romans, there was tension among Jesus’ followers, particularly between the Jews and the Gentiles.

I know a little about tension that can arise in a large, blended family. (I am a step-great-granddaughter, a stepdaughter, a stepsister, a stepmother, and a step-grandmother.) And one thing I know is this: Any time one family member thinks they belong more than another family member, nothing constructive results.

Families function best, I’ve learned, when everyone accepts everyone. When everyone realizes that everyone belongs. That includes those who were part of the family first, and those who became part of the family later. It includes those who have a genealogical connection, and those who were merged in through marriage, or adoption, or any other means. Family is family, no matter when or how we came to be a part of it.

So, back to Romans 11. Although I cannot understand the mysterious ways of God, I can appreciate some things these verses teach us about God: God loves all His children. God wants all of us to love and accept Him. God wants all of us to love and accept all His other children.

We’re meant to realize that everything loving, merciful, and wise was created by God and exists to fulfill God’s purposes. Once we realize that, we can see why Paul summarized his passage with these powerful words: “May the glory be to God forever. Amen!”

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