Please close your eyes…
Let’s imagine again we’re in court. God is the judge and the apostle Paul is the prosecutor. We have several criminals being charged with crimes that are so horrible. The jury looks at these scums and don’t even really need to hear the evidence against them. They are GUILTY AS CHARGED!
Prosecutor Paul starts with his opening statement in verse 18:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”
And why does Paul say this? Well he continues in verse 19 and 20
“Because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen (nice wordplay here – invisible/clearly seen), being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.”
Strong opening statement I’d say! Simply put; He charged the ungodly and unrighteous people with the fact that they knew who God was by simply looking at creation.
After all, when you walk in nature, see the complexity of all things, the structure of our brains, DNA and so much more, how is it possible that you come to a different conclusion? God left His fingerprints all over the place and He did that not by accident. Creation is pointing to a Creator. Yet human intelligence – when left unchecked – rather believes in a lie by denying this!
But prosecutor Paul isn’t done yet. He continues his argument.
Not only did they believe a lie about God and themselves (as it started out in the Garden of Eden), it led to a blissful ignorance. Humans knew God, but they did not want to know or honour Him as God. Instead of thankfulness they gave Him the finger…This is called idolatry. Anything that takes the place of worship but God is idolatry. It’s an uneven exchange. To replace God’s glory (His manifestation of goodness and love) for something else (shame, corruption) by believing a lie that we can become as God knowing good and bad.
I read of a famous atheist that said that He could never believe in a God that just demands his obedience and worship. Why? Because ultimately his intellect was god. He was his own authority.
It’s a small step from idolatry to immorality. If people are ‘free to choose for themselves’ what is right and what isn’t, he’s free to indulge on whatever suits him. If there is no God, there isn’t any judgment either and therefore fear of punishment isn’t needed. AND even if there were a God (the way they would imagine it) He’s love so He’d never send people to hell.
Yet, God did punish. He did judge, but perhaps in a way we didn’t see coming. We tend to think that judgement – if it is on our radar at all – is something that will happen somewhere in the future. But Paul makes it clear that judgement is already here. Why? Simply put. God gave men (and women) over to their own sinful desires. It’s not that God wanted it that way. Basically, it was God saying to humans: ‘Fine, you want that? Your will be done!’
The consequences were tremendous. Things got progressively worse. When you read Romans 1:18-32 you need to have a strong stomach to handle what Paul is writing about people. You read the lists of sins and perhaps the sin of homosexuality, a practice very present in the Roman society, just stands out. How can Paul write such a thing? Isn’t that bigoted? Cruel? Intolerant? Don’t we know better now?
But did Paul have a point here? Is human nature indeed so wicked? Do we all have a tendency to be so wise in our own eyes, sometimes at the expense of others. Last week we witnessed the cricket scandal with the Aussie cricket team. The news went viral and the players involved felt sorry because they got busted. Careers destroyed. Shame! Condemnation. What is it about people trying to get advantage over others? This perhaps was just a very mild example.
The next topic that Paul introduces isn’t that mild. In fact, it’s so hotly debated that in church we probably wouldn’t like to touch it. After all, unbelieving people often throw this at Christians. You are nothing but a bunch of intolerant hypocrites. Didn’t we recently have this referendum about same-sex marriage? If you followed the discussions on TV or on Social Media, the sight wasn’t pretty.
Perhaps there is something here to think about. Why did Paul have to highlight homosexuality the way he did? Christians all of a sudden get the impression that this is probably the biggest sin of all and in a society that is leaning so much towards inclusion, tolerance (at the expense of truth) and pluralism, you need to be careful with what you are saying.
This week the Aussie rugby superstar Israel Folau made a spicy comment on Twitter about gay people. He tweeted: “What does God want with gays?” This was not a question, because he immediately tweeted “HELL!”
He got the indignation of many people and organizations. It’s one thing to believe it. It’s another to express this. It’s hate speech. Perhaps 30 years ago in Australia this would have been handled different but times have changed. I will get back to this a bit later. There is some unfinished business here…
Allow me to go back to prosecutor Paul. His final indictment against the ungodly and unrighteous is this one. Even though they knew God, they exchanged Him for a lie, became immoral idolaters in the process. Judgement came when God gave them permission to indulge their fleshly desires, but there were also consequences. You’d think that when there are consequences, you’d reconsider your ways. But people didn’t. It went only downhill from here. Paul mentions 24 (!) sins that shows how deprived people without God really are. When you read the list, it hurts your eyes. Some sins we may even justify a bit. Disobedient to parents? Well, don’t teens go through a phase? Isn’t that ‘normal’? Or what about gossip? Just look at how people’s reputations go down the drain on the internet. You kill they person’s reputation by just throwing out a few lies or half-truths and voila…the damage is done. Still, it’s rampant. Not just on social media, but also in many churches. I am just saying…
Prosecutor Paul makes his final statement when he says in verse 32:
“who, (those who practice these sins) knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things, are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them”
It’s one thing to do the wrong thing, but it’s even worse, if you cheering others on to do the wrong thing as well. Evil spreads much more this way. And that is what we obviously see all over the world.
The defendants are sitting in the bench, flabbergasted. Prosecutor Paul just gave an X-Ray of their heart condition and they have guilty written all over them. Guilty as charged!
The jury, some decent people that listened carefully to the brilliant argumentation of prosecutor Paul, could only nod and heartily agree with. Some had to even bite their lips to not pass out the verdict before the judge could come to the final verdict of this bizarre trial that didn’t take long at all.
Suddenly there was an amazing twist in the story. Nobody saw it coming, except prosecutor Paul AND the judge. They knew this was next…
What that is, you will read in my next blog.