Does God Make Addicts?
What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. Romans 9:14-16
In writing about addiction, I often emphasize our personal responsibility. When Jesus said we must cut those things out of our lives that cause us destruction, I embrace that. When Paul insists that we must daily crucify our flesh nature, I get that. Today’s passage however, doesn’t – at first glance – seem to align with my ideas of personal responsibility. In fact, it almost seems to suggest that my addictive, destructive behaviors are all God’s fault.
In the narrative, Paul referred back to the Old Testament story of the brothers, Jacob and Esau. Before the boys were born, God told their mother, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated (Romans 9:12-13).” The boys destiny, it seems, was sealed before they were even born. Paul went on to ask if we have the right to question God. How is it fair that God could love one child and not the other before they were even born? If God chooses for us, then we have no choice. That’s not fair!
I think most of us who’ve struggled with our own destructive nature have asked this question. If you made me this way, then it’s not my fault. How can you allow me to suffer for it? How can you hold me responsible?
The passage does indeed say that God does what God wants. So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills (Romans 9:18). His decisions regarding his mercy or wrath aren’t based on our will or deeds (Romans 9:16). This is difficult for me to fully understand, but the passage clearly says that God is in sovereign control.
The temptation then, is to assume that we have no power over our own actions. If God made me an addict, then I’ll just be an addict. The passage doesn’t say however that we don’t have any capacity to make our own choices. In fact, today’s verse acknowledges that human will exists. The very fact that Paul is making an argument to change his audience’s thinking is based on the premise that men can change.
The difficult thing for me, is that I want it to be simple. I want it to be one way or the other. Either God is in control, or I have free will. Paul, however, seemed to have no difficulty with both being true. I think Paul would tell me that God absolutely allowed/caused me to be created with a propensity for addiction and that I have the free will to indulge in it or to daily do what it takes to abandon it and follow God. I may have been created with faulty desires, but I cannot blame God for my self-destructive choices.