We’re in week two of the Romans series. Last week I wrote about the Simplicity of the Gospel. This week it’s time for the dark side of Good News…
[reading from Romans 1:18-32 – 3:20]
When I was a teenager I lived for almost 2 years with my grandmother who at the time was quite sick with cancer. Sometimes we’d have conversations about things of life like family (the good and the bad stuff), the world, politics, the past or even religion. She was raised in a Dutch Reformed tradition, but she married my grandfather who was a Jew. They married all of a sudden due to her pregnancy which was obviously out of wedlock and just after WW2 that was considered an issue.
Sometimes, when both of us would watch the news together, she’d shake her head and make comments like these:
“What is this world becoming these days?”
“It’s getting from bad to worse…”
“People cannot stand each other anymore”
That was well over 20 years ago.
Anyhow, every now and then religion would also be touched. Her picture of God wasn’t a bright one. Imagine memories of preaching about hell and damnation, wearing black clothes, not being allowed to make a noise in church. Later on, she wanted to baptize my mom who was the oldest of 3. The pastor refused because the father was a Jew and how could he raise the child in the Christian tradition with him being a Jew? 7 years passed by and my uncle was born. Same issue came up. They wanted to baptize him, but the pastor was doing difficult. They found a place where the reverent was willing to administer the sacrament.
Yet, the damage was already done. It scarred my grandma and even my own mother for life. The impression they got was that God must be angry, distant and not interested in human affairs and they probably came that conclusion by what church people did to them.
As a new believer in God, I found those conversations with granny very difficult. I got sad in my heart to see so much hurt. At the same time, her own life choices didn’t exactly show that she was better off without God either. She’s not with us anymore. Only God knows what was really in her heart.
Back to the letter to the Romans we are in chapter 1 verses 18-32, the passage that I’d like to discuss, is probably one of those chapters that you’d rather say: ‘OK, let’s skip this one.’ After all, what Paul is saying here is so in your face that particularly for people like my granny, they would be confirmed in their understanding of an angry, distant God who just sends sinners to hell.
To make matters worse, this passage contains some topics that are some of the most controversial ones in our time; homosexuality. It’s tempting to either skip this, rip it out of the bible or redefine it according to the mindset of our culture. But that wouldn’t do justice to the Bible which for me is the final authority.
So, allow me to dig into this passage.
First off, when you start reading verse 18, it comes as a surprise at least, perhaps even a shock. You are reading about the Good News (Gospel) which is God’s power to salvation. You read about the fact that in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed through Jesus Christ who became sin by taking on himself the punishment that we actually deserved. God is love but He is also holy and just and good.
You can only appreciate good if you don’t like the bad. Let me tell you a story. Let’s suppose you are in bed and you hear a burglar sneaking into you house. You get up quietly to find out what’s going on. Suddenly you see the man. He panicked and slammed you with something on your head. Now you’re unconscious. The next thing you know is that you are in a hospital bed, still figuring out what happened. That was 2 days ago…
Your mom sits at your bedside and she’s the first face you see after the terrible incident.
“Good news my boy!” she says quietly in your ears.
“What do you mean?” you reply.
“They got ‘em!”
“Got who?” you answer, still unaware of what really happened.
“The guy who did it! The burglar!”, she whispers.
Time passes by. You recovered well, although the whole thing left you with a bad scar and for sure a bad memory. Still, there is hope. They got the man who did it. The trial is set and you are attending, wanting to get justice obviously.
You are sitting in the courtroom, which is a rather unfamiliar place for you.
The clerk shouts with a loud voice: “ALL RISE, the honourable judge Stevens is presiding. We are now in session.”
The counsellor shows the evidence which was all over the crime scene. The man was an amateur and left his fingerprints everywhere. To make matters worse, the victim, before he passed out was able to get still a good look and to his surprise it was someone he actually knew from work.
It wasn’t looking good for the criminal. The session didn’t take long and everything was pointing at just one verdict: GUILTY AS CHARGED!
The judge just before he wants to read the verdict asks the defendant if he’d like to say anything, which he did.
The man stands up, knowing that he got busted and soon jail time would be waiting for him. As he stands up, he breaks into tears feeling sorry for what he did. He was desperate, without money and in need of something. He never wanted to hurt his ex-colleague, but in a state of utter panic he slammed him and we know what happened after that.
In tears still, he shares a few words:
“Your honourable judge Stevens, I know I am wrong and I am so sorry for that. But I was in a terrible condition. I got fired 2 months ago and money was running out. I was just…well…desperate. But you know, under normal conditions I would have never done this. When I was still working, I was a good colleague. I worked hard, but the company wasn’t doing well, so they had to let me go. Come on judge, I did many good things. I volunteered for a charity organization and didn’t hurt a fly. What do you say?”
The judge listened patiently, but now needs to give the verdict. What to do? Let the man go? After all, his situation was understandable, right? And he did also a lot of good things.
You sit in the room impatiently waiting for the judge to read the inevitable verdict: GUILTY! GUILTY! GUILTY!
Now let me ask you a question: What would YOU do if you were judge Stevens? Let it slide? Or still punish him for his wrongdoings?
You see, people can do good things in life. We don’t need to close our eyes for that. It happens. Yet, even good people can mess up big time and that still has consequences whether we like it or not.
The Gospel, or the Good News, can only be understood, let alone appreciated if we also understand the dark side of it. There is also some bad news. If not, how can good news truly be good. If God is a Judge – and He is – He needs to be good AND just. Loving and holy. He can’t just close His eyes to justice. It has to prevail. It’s also called the wrath of God. Wrath is not a word we use a lot in modern English. Perhaps we’d use anger, but this may give us the idea that God is an angry God and a lot of people already have that picture of Him. It’s true that God has wrath or anger but it is so different from human anger which seems sometimes so arbitrary and often unjustified. Not so with God. If God loves good, he must also hate evil. We do too. On a different level of course, but we do this as well.
Yet there is a dilemma here. How do you tell people really about Good News? How does a doctor, for example, tell a patient that there are great chances of recovery? Recovery? Of what?! You can only appreciate the treatment if you have made an adequate diagnosis, right?
In my next blog I will continue with the Good News. Good News relates to Bad News. journey is to be continued…