22 Nov 2018
A Commentary by John Stott
Paul continues, secondly, with *a rhetorical question*, in fact with two. The two exclamation marks of verse 33 (‘O the depths…!’ ‘How unsearchable…!’) are followed by two questions marks of verses 34 and 35 (‘Who has known…”’ ‘Who has ever given…?’
34). ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his councillor?’ (Is. 40:13)
35). ‘Who has ever given to God,
that God should repay him?’ (Jb.35:7 – 41:11)
It is frankly ludicrous, as Paul’s two Old Testament quotations make clear, to imagine that we could ever teach or give God anything. It would be absurd to claim (since his thoughts are unsearchable) that we know his mind and have offered him our advice. It would be equally absurd to claim (since his ways are inscrutable) that we have given him a gift or two and so put him in our debt. No, no. We are not God’s councillor; he is ours. We are not God’s creditor; he is ours. We depend entirely on him to teach and to save us. The initiative in both revelation and redemption lies in his grace. The attempt to reverse roles would be to dethrone God and to deify ourselves. So the answer to both questions in verses 34-35 is, ‘Nobody!’
Thirdly, Paul makes *a theological affirmation: For from him and through him and to him are all things* (36a). This is the reason for our human dependence on God. *All things* often refers to the material creation. Perhaps here, however, Paul is referring to the new creation as well, the coming into being of the new multiracial people of God. If we ask *where* all things come from in the beginning, and still come from today, the answer must be, ‘From God.’ If we ask *how* all things came into being and remain in being, our answer is, ‘Through God.’ If we ask *why* everything came into being, and where everything is going, our answer must be, ‘For and to God.’ These three propositions (*ek*, ‘out of’ or ‘from’; *dia*, ‘through’; and *eis*, ‘for’ or ‘unto’) indicate that God is the creator, sustainer and heir of everything, its source, means and goal. He is the Alpha and Omega (Rev. 1:8; 21:6; 22:13), and every letter of the alphabet in between.
Fourthly, Paul concludes with *a final ascription: To him be the glory forever! Amen* (36b). It is because all things are from, through and to God that the glory must be his alone. This is why human pride is so offensive. Pride is behaving as if we were God Almighty, strutting round the earth as if we owned the place, repudiating our due dependence on God, pretending instead that all things depend on us, and thus arrogating to ourselves the glory which belongs to God alone.
It is of great importance to note from Romans 1-11 that theology (our belief about God) and doxology (our worship of God) should never be separated. On the one hand, there can be no doxology without theology. It is not possible to worship an unknown God. All true worship is a response to the self-revelation of God in Christ and Scripture, and arises from our reflection on who he is and what he has done. It was the tremendous truths of Romans 1-11 which provoked Paul’s outburst of praise. The worship of God is evoked, informed and inspired by the vision of God. Worship without theology is bound to degenerate into idolatry. Hence the indispensable place of Scripture in both public worship and private devotion. It is the Word of God which calls forth the worship of God.
On the other hand, there should be no theology without doxology. There is something fundamentally flawed about a purely academic interest in God. God is not an appropriate object for cool, critical, detached, scientific observation and evaluation. No, the true knowledge of God will always lead us to worship, as it did Paul. Our place is on our faces before him in adoration.
As I believe Bishop Handley Moule said at the end of the last century, we must ‘beware equally of an undevotional theology and of an untheological devotion.’