RO 9:19 One of you will say to me: “Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?”
First we should notice what Paul doesn’t say, he doesn’t say that men freely choose to sin, and thus God is just in condemning them. This is a perfect opportunity to give this reply, and solve the knot. Instead, Paul says “God has a right to do what he wants with us”:
RO 9:21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?
Now is God wrong to do this? The motive is what we look at, to determine guilt or innocence. And if God’s motive is always good, then he is not guilty in carrying out his plans for a good purpose, and a good result.
And even with the vessels of wrath here, perhaps what God wants to do with each of them is show his mercy:
Romans 11:31 … they too have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy.
That would include the rebellious Israelites, those who were rebellious by God’s decision.
We may see an indication of this with Joseph and his brothers, as well:
GE 50:20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
And then we may note that Joseph’s brothers, who sinned, were some of the ones being saved. So God had a good purpose, even for them. If we may hope for all to be saved, then that would solve the knot, for then the problem reduces to asking why God doesn’t save each person immediately, from the start, and this is not as problematic.
Romans 11:32 For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.
But is God unjust to judge a sin that was caused to happen by him?
In regard to this question, we may consider a bull that gored someone, and was to be stoned (Ex. 21:8). Or a man who killed someone unintentionally, and yet had to live in a city of refuge until the death of the high priest. There is accountability, and those decisions were not free ones: “God let him fall into his hand” (Ex. 21:13), God was in control of this, of both events. So accountability does not require freedom, or similarly, a conscious decision, because even an unintentional sin still bears guilt, and merits punishment:
Leviticus 4:27 If a member of the community sins unintentionally and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands, he is guilty.
Luke 12:48 But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows.
No “no blows”…
Exodus 21:28 If a bull gores a man or a woman to death, the bull must be stoned to death, and its meat must not be eaten.
And “its meat must not be eaten” implies more than just putting the bull to death to prevent it from goring anyone else.
Genesis 9:5 And for your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal.
Here is an example in the area of salvation:
1 Peter 2:8 They stumble because they disobey the message–which is also what they were destined for.
And also we see this aspect of God’s control of even sinful actions in the cross:
Acts 4:27-28 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.
And those who brought the cross about were not able to do otherwise:
Luke 22:22 The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him.
It also could not have possibly been someone other than Judas:
John 6:64 For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him.
But we also know that God bears suffering, he bears the punishments that he inflicts, and bears sin as well. So there is condemnation, yet God is not limiting his involvement to bringing about sinful acts, and then only punishing them. He does this for a good purpose, thus we may hold that no suffering is meaningless:
1 Timothy 4:10 … we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.
Now there might also be an objection that responsibility requires ability, yet if a command implies an ability, what can we say about the command to “be perfect”? And doesn’t the parable of the man who owed 10,000 talents show us an example where something impossible (the repayment of the debt) is yet required?
And as far as judgment is concerned, surely it is fundamentally the motive God judges, and not the deed per se. If you see someone commit a crime, and rejoice in it, then that is a sin, even though you didn’t do any part of the crime yourself. So if God ordains a sinful action, and the person does it, and rejoices in it, then that rejoicing in it is similarly a sin:
ISA 10:12 When the Lord has finished all his work against Mount Zion and Jerusalem, he will say, “I will punish the king of Assyria for the willful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes.”
Not for all the sinful deeds he did, per se, rather for willful pride, and haughtiness, for his attitude in his heart. So if people are to some extent sources of their motive, for sinful actions, the source of the motive for which they are judged comes from the peoples’ hearts.
MT 15:18 But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’