N.T. Wright gives, I think, an important hermeneutical tool for Romans 9. He says,
if there is complete disjunction between God’s justice and everybody else’s, it would be better not to use the term at all. (Commentary on Romans, p. 639).
Having previously held to the hermeneutic “God can do whatever he wants” I no longer think it is adequate for this passage. In other words, it is not accurate to interpret Paul as saying that God hardens certain people at random – apart from anything in their nature – just because he’s God. Wright’s comment reminded me of something Anselm said in Cur Deus Homo,
the argument that, ‘If it is God’s will to tell a lie, it is just to tell a lie’, is a non sequitur … Unless, that is, we adopt an interpretation of the kind used when we say with reference to two impossibles, ‘If this thing is so, then that thing is so’, when neither ‘this’ nor ‘that’ is the case; for instance, if one were to say, ‘If water is dry, then fire is wet’, given that neither is true. It is therefore only true to make the statement, ‘If it is God’s will, then it is just’, about things which it is not unfitting for God to wish.
According to Gordon Fee Paul’s language of redemption, propitiation, reconciliation, etc. is metaphorical because, “for Paul salvation is an especially theological reality, in the sense that it is both a reflection of God’s character and the result of God’s initiative.”  In as far as salvation is a reflection of God’s character it is incomprehensible to finite man. However, this does not mean that nothing can be known for certain concerning the realities of Christ’s work but that “God’s majesty in itself far outstrips the capacity of human understanding and cannot even be comprehended by it at all …”  Neither is the appeal to metaphor a sly way of reducing the meaning of Paul’s language to mere signs. N.T. Wright affirms this idea, “Recognition of god-language as fundamentally metaphorical does not mean that it does not have a referent, and that some at least of the metaphors may not actually possess a particular appropriateness to this referent. In fact, metaphors are themselves mini-stories, suggesting ways of looking at a reality which cannot be reduced to terms of the metaphor itself.”  Continue reading “Salvation and Metaphor”