This week's question was prompted by a daily devotional reader. "Romans 11.32 indicates that God created humanity specifically to be disobedient so God could show mercy. Any truth in that?"
There's truth in every verse in the Bible, but it isn't always very evident. Romans 11.32 reads, "For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that God may be merciful to all." On the surface, read out of its context (and honestly, to an extent even in its context) this seems to be what Paul is saying.
This particular verse is found at the end of a rather long treatise by Paul showing the divine election of the Israelites as the chosen people was permanent and forever; however, Paul goes on to say the gospel had been presented to the non-Israelite because God is merciful and besides, the Israelites had generally rejected it anyway. He concludes his discourse with the notion that all humanity was created to be disobedient so God could show mercy.
The question is, does Paul mean literally what Paul wrote?
The answer is, not likely.
The Israelite understanding of the creation stories is indicative of the "norm" Paul would likely have believed. According to these stories in Genesis, particularly in the first story, when God created humanity it was "good" (Gen. 1.31). Then, in the second creation story we watch in horror as a wily serpent tempts the humans through deception and they become separated from God through their disobedience (Gen. 3).
But in neither story can we assert, deduce, or find implication that humanity was created to be disobedient. Rather, the inverse is true humans were created to be both good and innocent (note the forbidden tree had fruit of the knowledge of right and wrong humans were supposed to be fully and forever innocent).
On the other hand . . . there's reality.
As an omnipotent (all-powerful) and omniscient (all-knowing) God, YHWH certainly would have known what sort of creature had been created. Perhaps God hoped (?!?) we would always and forever be good and innocent, but the reality was something else again. Although, humans each have the ability to do good, we do not seem to have the propensity to do so. And it seems the biblical writers knew this and assumedly God did too (Psalm 14.3; 53.3; Romans 3.10). So God shows mercy even though humanity is, has been, and continues to be disobedient to God (by disregarding those two little commands love God supremely, love neighbor as self).
But humanity doesn't seem to have been created intentionally disobedient. Which brings us to the question, just what did Paul mean? Again, in the larger context of the passage, Paul speaks of the disobedience by the Israelites in their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah and the disobedience of the non-Israelites in their earlier (pre-Christian) rejection of the Law. All were, according to Paul, disobedient. And because of this disobedience God was "able" to show mercy to all. And so, according to Paul, this was God's whole plan a plan we can't fully understand, but one that nonetheless takes into account humanity's disobedience and God's mercy. Paul concludes his treatise with this doxology, a word of praise regarding God's sovereignty and our little understanding: "O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are God's judgments and how inscrutable the Lord's ways!" (Romans 11:33).