Paul uses an illustration to show the folly of trying to understand all the reasons behind God’s way of fulfilling his purpose. He likens God to a potter and humans to pots. A pot is incapable of understanding why the potter works one way with it and another way with a different pot. If a pot somehow could object to what the potter was doing, it would be indicating it was as intelligent as the potter.
The fact is, there are some things in life that we cannot understand. Why are we living in the twenty-first century instead of the nineteenth or the twenty-second? We have no involvement whatsoever in that decision and there is nothing we can do about it. Why are some born male and others female? Why is one person born with a brain capable of understanding a great deal and another born without that ability? It would be silly for a person to try and change those features of life.
Similarly, we are unable to do anything about God’s hidden decisions regarding salvation. Instead we are to focus on what he has graciously revealed, which is that he has chosen some and not others, and that each person who hears the gospel is invited to believe in Jesus. If we have heard the gospel, we have been given an invitation from God.
It is important here to notice a difference in how Paul uses the word ‘prepared’. He writes that some are prepared vessels of wrath and others are prepared vessels of mercy. And he is very clear on who prepares the vessels of mercy – God prepares them. But he does not say who prepares the vessels of wrath. It could be the individuals themselves by their ongoing rejection of God, it could be God by hardening them for their ongoing rejection, or it could even be society as a whole turning away from God and so preparing one another for wrath, or it could be the devil preparing them by his temptations and his distractions. What Paul says about the vessels of wrath is that God is patient with them, not judging them immediately.
The obvious reality is that everything about God is far bigger than we can imagine. So it is good for us that he has told us some details about himself and his plans. We are told that he is sovereign and that he is the saviour, and he has told us how to respond to both these details. As his subjects, we submit to his sovereignty; as sinners, we should trust in the Saviour he sent, Jesus.