Wednesday, January 28, 2015

To God Be the Glory

There is this widely popular concept of God as a Righteous Deity out there in the ethereal spaces, divinely perfected and simply unable to tolerate sin. He hates sin even more than that dad and mother hate the dreaded germ threatening the life of their beloved. God hates sin even more than that careening car and drunk driver running over their innocent child. This God is keenly aware of the imperfections, failures, and broken rules and relationships that injure, maim, and destroy human life.  

I grew up singing a hymn that conveys this conflict well: “Sin Can Never Enter There.” A further vision expressed in song described an “all-seeing eye of God” that sees every sin that can keep me out of God’s Presence. The conclusion comes that it is a fearfully awesome thing to fall into this predicament.

Paul’s letter to the church at Rome identifies him as a bond servant (doulos) of Jesus who is an Apostle. He proclaims holiness “by the resurrection” [of Jesus]. Part of his message reveals God’s wrath against ungodliness and his list of sins in chapter one must include every known category of sin known to man. Yet, when Paul looked about, what he saw was an abundance of temples of human ignorance and debauchery in that Graeco-Roman world.

When men deny God, says Paul, this is who they become. He then lists the “sexual vices” of homosexuality along with “wickedness, depravity, lust , and viciousness … envy, murder, quarrels, intrigues” - the list seems endless (Romans 1:18-32 Moffatt Tr).

Interestingly C. H. Dodd suggests that “while Paul has frequent occasion to make use of the theological concept of ‘wrath,’ there are only three places where he uses the expression ‘the Wrath of God’” (here, Eph. 5:6 and Col. 3:6). This is noteworthy, for while some view this humanized God as “mad as hell” (as portrayed by some evangelists), Dodd suggests “Wrath is the effect of human sin.”

Dodd makes a strong case for Paul’s teaching that God loved us while we were yet sinners (RO. 5:8). We quote: “But he retains the concept of ‘the Wrath of God’ (which does not appear in the teachings of Jesus, unless we press certain features of the parables in an illegitimate manner: to find the character of God exhibited in the King who destroys his enemies is as illegitimate as to find it in the attitude of the Unjust Judge).”

Adds Dodd: “He retains it, not to describe the attitude of God to man, but to describe an inevitable process of cause and effect in a moral universe, as we shall find in the verses which now follow (The Epistle of Paul to the Romans/50). Following Dodd, what Paul seems to say in this passage is “The impiety and wickedness of men is hindering the truth about the nature of God, which is native to the human mind” (p51).

“To the stern monotheism of the Jew, idolatry is the root of all evil,” suggests Dodd. This idolatry is the “ruthless, aggressive self-assertion “ seen in lust and constantly “stands at the head of the class of anti-social sins.” Dodd calls this the “main point” that impiety and wickedness brings with it its own retribution; and this retribution is here and now being revealed … the retribution of sin is already at work, in the moral rottenness of pagan society” (pp 52-53)

Paul writes to point out that all have sinned and fallen short, that there is no advantage in being a Jew or disadvantage in being a non-Jew (Gentile) – “All  have sinned and fall short … being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (RO 3:22-23 NKJV).

Whatever this may mean to the current reader, Paul’s message in Romans is a message of love for saint and sinner. It is a message of loving grace entirely consistent with the Apostle John whose primary emphasis was that God is love (John 3:16 and elsewhere). When Paul soars high in I Corinthians 13 describing the Christian behavior of love, he is consistent with both John and with Jesus, who summarized the Law of Moses in two points: 1) love God; 2) love your neighbor as yourself - if you would fulfill the law.

My two grandsons have grown to manhood in a world of rampant immorality, poverty, starvation, abuse, watching men and nations commit genocide, ethnic cleansing, beheading, and terrorism of every description. Some of us yet dare to believe in a longsuffering God who is at the helm of this created world. GOD HAS NO FAVORITES (neither Israel nor America), but we do live in a moral universe!

We can hang truth on a cross after we have stomped it underfoot, and we can watch our culture continue its downhill slide. BUT the fact is that we live on a globe where life is as moral as planting an apple seed and growing an apple tree. When we sow our seeds of selfishness, hatred, and revenge, when we plant racial inequality and social injustice, we reap the whirl wind that continue to swirl about and threaten to destroy us!

Dodd concludes this section (p55) with this pithy statement: “Thus the way is left clear for maintaining without paradox, not only that His attitude to ‘vessels of wrath’ is one of ‘longsuffering’ (9:22), but that He actually loves men in their sins, and through Christ saves them from the Wrath (v. 8-10).

From Warner’s World, …

walk through the book of Romans and find hope via transformation (or metamorphosis), 
as Abraham discovered (RO 3-4), 
as Christ proclaimed, 
and as God authorized and established: "to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen” (RO 16: 27).  

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