“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).
Suppressing the Truth
The first element that Paul talks about is the realization that people “suppress the truth by their wickedness” (vs. 18b). What an interesting line. Do you think it is true? Let’s explore it a bit further. After all, the concept of “suppressing” things isn’t too foreign to us, is it? People suppress their emotions. People suppress their memories, especially if there is trauma involved. And we all know that people suppress things without realizing that they are doing so.
So, let’s get rid of that first doubt right off the bat. When we hear that people “suppress the truth by their wickedness,” we can’t dismiss this diagnosis from the Great Physician just because we all know that a lot of people are not aware of what they are doing. That shouldn’t suprise us but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t true.
And if you think about it, suppression of our morality and sensitivity to loving others is very real as well. A soldier is trained to suppress his emotions and his morality and become entirely obedient to the commands he is given. He is told not to think but to obey. He is trained to become cold and uncaring. He is treated badly in order to toughen him up.
Love recieved makes you more willing to give love. It’s called Attachment Theory. The more love you recieve as a child during your formative years, the more love you are able to show in adulthood. Soldiers are not shown a lot of love. But they are expected to show loyalty and a commitment to their unit, thier brothers-in-arms which can lead to incredible acts of bravery. It’s hard to get rid of completely, isn’t it?
The point being that suppression of love and morality from within or from circumstances through traumatic experiences is a well-documented reality. Why would it not be true that the more wickedness you commit (acts of unlove), the more you are suppressing your ability to love and protect and care for others.
But this passage is saying even more than that. We are taking it in steps. Being aware of it or not doesn’t change the fact that we are doing it. Wickedness in the context of a godless life will suppress our moral sensitivity. But we must go a step further. It not only suppresses our moral sensitivity but also our awareness of and submission to God. The passage says that we “suppress the truth.” What truth? The truth of the existence of God and His moral claim on us. Paul explains himself by saying “since what may be known about God is plain to them” (vs. 19a).
Apparently this is part of the connection between godlessness and wickedness. The more godless we are, the more wicked we become but it is also true that the more wicked we become, the more godless we are. The more we suppress the truth of the existence of God. The more we believe our own justifications that there is no God that we must be accountable to. The more we can pretend to be God’s to ourselves.
I always remember the story of the Pharoah at the time when God brought the people out of Egypt by the hand of Moses. As each of the ten plagues occurred, the Bible showed the progression of the wickedness of Pharoah. You might think he was just a victim of the circumstances but that is not so. He considered himself to be a god and a rival to the one true God. He was a wicked dictator whose forefathers had been saved from a terrible famine by God through his servant Jacob. The Pharoah’s had been given absolute power in Egypt in the process. The people of Israel were treated as revered guests at the time and given the best land the country had to offer to settle in.
Now, this new Pharaoh had enslaved them and was killing their baby boys in order to control his slaves. God was upset and would intervene by bringing ten plagues on the Egyptians.
When Moses came to announce the plagues, one by one, the Bible tells us that Pharoah’s “heart was unyielding and he would not let the people go” (Exodus 9:7b NIV). But as things progressed and he continued his stubborn rebellion, there came a time when all of this suppression of the truth as to who was God in heaven and who was not, turned into judgment. There comes a time when our sin and rebellion will no longer be tolerated. The Bible says that “the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron” (Exodus 9:12 NIV).
People who are godless, who cut God out of their lives as if He doesn’t matter, “suppress the truth by their wickedness.” What is that truth? That there is only one God in heaven and it is not us. That we are accountable to him sooner or later whether we like it or not. That if we harden our hearts towards him, there will come a time when He will harden our hearts and there will be no recourse to forgiveness or salvation. Suppressing the truth that a godless life leads to wickedness is a dangerous endeavor and will end in disaster.
The Desert Warrior
P.S. Let’s talk to God….
Lord, I am beginning to see things more clearly from your point of view. It is so easy for us to just assume that this world is godless and that our wickedness is just the way things are. But if you exist, then all the rules of the game are changed. All of our assumptions are now in question and we need to think about things from a different point of view. Teach us how to see things with fresh eyes so that we no longer suppress the truth of your existence and our moral and relational responsibility to you. In your name I pray. Amen.