A Scripture Vignette on Romans 1:13
I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you, but have been thus far prevented, in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles.
— Romans 1:13 (author’s translation)
What strikes me about this passage is that Paul and God weren’t on the same page. Paul had what seems to be a very godly and right-headed intention: to travel to Rome and minister to and among the church there. He wants to see a harvest reaped among them, to see fruit born in their individual lives and in the lives of their church. Surely God wants that too, right?
Well, probably He does. But evidently He doesn’t want it in the way that Paul does, or by the same means or on the same timetable. Paul has been trying to get to Rome, and “has thus far been prevented.” By whom? By circumstances? By other people (like Roman jailers)? By Satan? By God Himself? Maybe … by all of the above? Who knows! But no matter who or what it is preventing Paul, the responsibility ultimately “rolls up” to the sovereign God who controls all things. No matter how you slice it, it’s arguably “God’s fault.”
So, Paul wants something it seems like everyone should want. But God doesn’t give it to him. God has other plans, and Paul clearly doesn’t understand them. If we read on in Romans, what do you think we’ll find? If Paul were the average American Christian today (and far too often I can relate), we might find a ton of whining about how unfair the world is — which means God, whether we admit it or not — or a bunch of demands that God explain Himself. But that’s not what we hear from Paul. Instead, he clearly states that He is under obligation to go when he can (1:14), eager to preach (1:15), and unashamed of the gospel (1:16). The obvious implication: “I don’t know what God’s doing or why, but I’m ready to go when He is!” And then he goes on to write arguably the most powerful and significant theological treatise ever put to paper.
And who knows but that God prevented Paul from being in Rome in person explicitly so that he would write down his message to them and send it ahead in letter form — which means that it went not only to them but to us as well!?
Life is chalk full of stuff we don’t understand, can’t explain, and would never do if we ran the universe. Good thing too, because every day of the week and twice on Sunday, I’d much rather have God’s infinite intellect and purity and love and power running things than I would my brokenness and limitations. Or yours!
I suspect Paul was keenly aware that it is absolutely God’s proper place and right to do things he didn’t understand. I suspect Paul graded his circumstances by what He knew to be true of God, not the other way around. And I suspect he would commend to you and me the same approach.
So do I.
Photo credit: Bob Marshall, Think Different