Here are the key verses used by the case-in-point spokesperson, John Piper, with some key words put in bold for some comments a bit later:
What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory...?
The context of Romans 9 is, of course, the issue of Israel and the gentiles, and the big question of who are the chosen people of God?
The Piper interpretation is not the only one, I hope to give my opinion of the alternative in a separate post. For the record, one of my favourite Christian books I have ever read, was the Pleasures of God, a great Piper read. I love the sense of sovereignty in his writings, the way he draws out from Scripture that God is ultimately in charge. It is reassuring.
This episode from Dale Tuggy's viewpoint recontextualises this sense of reassurance, for it is reassuring for us who do believe - we were chosen for grace. For those that do not, the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, the situation is much less clear. The predestination version is that God knew and planned the whole deal. Any perceived freedom and decision-making that we might experience is totally within those immovable confines.
The conclusion of Piper's reasoning is that we cannot fully understand and glorify God for the depths and wonder of this grace of selection if we cannot witness or understand the horrendous, yet deserved, eternal torment of those predestined to receive it. This is not my view.
Couple of quick notes, some of which is from memory from what I recall of Fudge's the Fire that Consumes:
- The question of God's patience is utterly mysterious to me. The God who transcends time and space should not experience the pain of waiting unless somehow under the laws of that universe. This raises the question again of God - not just the Son - having entered into this world to interact with us in meaningful ways.
- Is it really so clear that vessels must always refer to individual human beings? Yes, individuals are mentioned, such as Pharaoh, and Isaac. But these are already ancient forefathers at the time of writing, representing nations today. Scripture is pretty big on the whole issue of mediation. Much ink has been spilled on the dia role of Christ (e.g. through whom all things were created). A vessel is also a way of transiting something, like coal, potatoes, and wrath or grace. A fuller answer requires a word study on the Greek word for "vessel".
- This very example is undoubtedly one of the annihilationists' classics, because it includes the word "destruction". That is to say, that the judgement to be experienced by those were not predestined to receive the grace of God in Christ, is not one of eternal torment, but of judgement and then total destruction, ultimate death. The number of eternal torment passages and total destruction passages are roughly equal in number in the Bible.