“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” (Romans 1: 18-23 NIV).
Intelligent Design for Stupid Fools
No. I am not trying to be rude. I’m trying to reflect what the passage above says about humans from God’s perspective. Twice we are called fools and, at least once, it is the opposite of being wise. Therefore, we are considered to be “stupid fools” especially in light of the ongoing revelation of God in creation whom we replace with “images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” (vs. 23).
Paul is not trying to be demeaning here, just accurate. His argument is quite lucid actually. He tells us that the wrath of God is because of our “godlessness” and our “wickedness” as we were discussing in earlier blogs. Now he will spend the next verses explaining what he means by “godlessness” (vs. 18b-23) and then talk about the consequences of “wickedness” (vs. 24-32) with some overlap between the two. He has already made the claim that we suppress our moral accountability to a God we deny even exists and that every conscience is a mute, but powerful, witness to the fact that we don’t even keep our own “law” much less the law of God. No one has an excuse.
What then can we say in defence of humanity? Can we retreat into the murky waters of “not knowing” or “not realizing” the truth? In a world that is incurably relgious? Now-a-days, of course, in the last one hundred and fifty years or so it has become quite popular to believe in a naturalistic, mechanistic secular humanism which dismisses all religion out of hand.
But that is not the way it was for thousands of years. Paul says that “God has made it plain to them” meaning “what may be known about God.” Meaning his “eternal power and divine nature.” In other words, it is as clear as the nose on your face that God exists and that He is obviously your Creator and that we are all accountable to him for our godlessness and wickedness. God has made his presence clear in creation “being understood from what has been made.” And therefore “men are without excuse.”
Now, is that really true? People who have never heard of the Jewish God or the Christian Jesus and who have never read the Bible are without excuse? Does that sound fair? Paul says that they have no excuse because creation clearly shows the “eternal power and divine nature” of God. Some of you may not yet be convinced.
It seems to me that there are generally two groups of people among the Gentiles (those with no access to the Bible or direct knowledge of God in the history of their people). The first group would be the people who may give lip service to religion but really had no religion except themselves. They would be the stoics in the Roman times or the secular humanists now-a-days. Of course, there were lots of people throughout history that didn’t really believe in the various religions that constantly sprouted up and they would also be part of this first group.
The second group would be the religious types who worshipped other gods from the Greek and Roman pantheon to the animistic gods in the rocks and trees of nature. Paul addresses both groups and calls them both “godless.” He does so in two “although” statements in vs. 21-23.
“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened” (vs. 21).
What does that mean that they “knew” God? Apparently, Paul is building on the previous verses to say that they “knew” God was there because God shows himself in creation. But rather than getting the correct response from people in terms of being thankful and worshipping him, God is cut off from their lives and things just get worse. Their thinking becomes “futile” or meaningless (see Ecclesiastes) and their hearts are “darkened.” Exactly what we were saying earlier. Wickedness resulting from godlessness results in a meaningless life of strife and trouble where the heart and the mind become increasingly more distant from God. It is a downward, slippery slope right into hell.
What does that mean that they neither “glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him” (vs. 21a). This is the natural order of things. God shows himself to be there in his “eternal power and divine nature” but those who deny the validity of religion live godless lives by not letting God be God. What we glorify, we worship, we value, we emulate, we imitate, we strive to become like. God becomes our moral compass (at least in terms of our own integrity which we will discuss further later). But we also do not thank God for his daily involvement in our lives. We don’t recognize that all good things come from him (James 1:17). We don’t treat him as our provider, our caretaker, our father. In both cases, as our provider and as our moral compass, God is worthy of a relationship with us in which we acknowledge him as God and we are his children. This is for all those Gentiles who are godless because they don’t believe in religion. The same is true for many people today.
We cannot use the excuse that we are wiser and more scientific today as if that somehow demonstrates that God doesn’t exist. There are more people with PhD’s alive today then at any other time in history and yet the average person is still under the impression that science has somehow proven that God doesn’t exist. It’s time to catch up. With the advent of the Big Bang and the scientific studies on Intelligent Design, there is more evidence than ever that there is a presence in this universe that is powerful, creative and intelligent. The only things in our experience that have those three characteristics are people. God created us in his image and we are sentient beings because he is a sentient being. Today, more than ever, the “eternal power and divine nature” of God is seen in creation.
What about the other group? The religious types? Do they have an excuse? Not at all. Paul talks to them in the second “although” statement.
“Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” (vs. 22-23 NIV).
This group is not saying that they don’t believe that God exists or that we are expected to have a relationship with Him by the very fact that he is our creator. This second group is claiming to be “wise,” to be religous, to know something more than the first group. They claim to know who is behind this “eternal power and divine nature” they see everywhere they look. But Paul calls them “fools.” The first group was just stupid in their meaningless thinking and darkened hearts but this second group, Paul calls “fools.” One can’t help but go back to Psalm 14:1 where David tells us that “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
It is foolish after all to fight against God, to deny that he exists and that he has a claim on your life. It is foolish to “exchange the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles” (vs. 23 NIV). Not foolish as if it was an honest mistake but rather the kind of foolishness that refuses to allow God be God. After all, to recognize, on the one hand, that in creation we can see “the eternal power and divine nature” of God and then decide to try and control that diety by turning it into something we can see and touch and get benefits from with our religious rituals, is pure foolishness. To exchange an “immortal God” whom we cannot control for “images of mortal man” such as Zeus, Apollos, Athena or Jupiter is just plain foolish. What is going on here?
Nobody wants to let God be God. Mostly because it is too scary, I would think. Thanking God for his provision when we live in a world where the good are often killed or controlled and the wicked use force get what they want from life? It isn’t very safe to say the least. Glorifying God as our moral compass whom we should emulate when his expectations are too much for us to follow? Worshipping Him as an immortal being who cannot be controlled or manipulated for our own best interests? Isn’t that all a bit too much to expect? Maybe so. But God expects it nonetheless.
Certainly it would have been easier for Adam and Eve in a perfect world to accomplish and even they failed. It is certainly more difficult to do in a world that is dangerous and evil and where “might makes right” and God seems to be hidden. But that is the point. Whether we live or die is not the issue. A relationship with God is what matters. That takes faith. You have to trust God whether you live or die. That is the right response to this divine diety but nobody does it. Nobody is willing to take a risk on that relationship without some assurances that it will all turn out in the end. Can you blame them? Maybe not. But you also can’t excuse them.
In Psalm 14, David goes on to say, “The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:2,3 NIV).
Paul echoes that same sentiment a little later on in Romans 3:10-12. No one has an excuse, secular or religious alike. Gentile or Jew alike. It doesn’t matter that they realize it or not. God has always been there and his presence has always been clearly seen. Today more than ever. Reducing him to a religion that allows you to try and control the blessings and curses of life is just an insult.
Let God be God. Treat him as your creator, your father, your provider, your moral compass. Follow him, glorify him, worship him as is his due. Otherwise your godlessness will lead you into a pit of wickedness from which there is no escape. No one is exempt and no one has an excuse. That is a truth that we would do well to pay attention to. All of this is a life and death matter with eternal consequences.
The Desert Warrior
P.S. Let’s talk to God….
Lord, I want to treat you as my Father and my Creator. I want you to be God and I will be your child, your people. I want to follow you and glorify you and worship you and become like you. I recognize that I don’t have enough love to solve the problems of my life much less the world. I know that my godlessness has always led to broken relationships and difficult situations. Forgive me and teach me to live in your world as your child. In your name I pray. Amen.