ROTTEN THROUGH AND THROUGH
“Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant, and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve those who practise them.” Romans 1:28-32.
What am I reading, the Bible or the newspaper? Who is Paul writing about, the people then or now? Nothing has changed, has it? What a description of dehumanised people and a dehumanised society!
In my country, the decision was made by parliament to write into our constitution that we are a secular country. God is no longer welcome or acknowledged. The results are obvious; many wicked practices have been written into our law books as legal; abortion and homosexual marriages, for example; human rights now tip in favour of the criminal and the lawless ones; parents are losing their right to discipline their children and there is now a move to disallow parents the right to have a say in their children’s education.
Lawbreakers, thieves, fraudsters and corrupt public servants simply disappear from one portfolio and turn up somewhere else, as arrogant as ever. Convicted criminals who happen to be public figures are let out of jail on trumped up health issues. They quietly move back into society as though nothing happened.
The prophet Habakkuk had the same complaint about society in his day. He took his problem to God: “Therefore the law is paralysed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted.” Habakkuk 1:4.
Although God seems silent and inactive; He is actually righteous and just by simply allowing the wicked to go their own way. Their judgment is written into their choices and actions. God does not have to do anything because they have done it to themselves. They have become incapable of living decent human lives. Their minds have become so depraved and perverted that they call right “wrong” and wrong “right” and applaud those who do what they do.
There is no place in God’s presence for those who think and behave contrary to the nature of God. They are rotten and putrefying in their sin and the only place that will accommodate them in the end will be the rubbish dump. They enjoy their wickedness now, but they have no idea what it will be like to live forever in complete darkness, physical and moral darkness so dark that they cannot even see a finger in front of their faces and can only think evil thoughts always.
Hebrew people described hell as a boundary less place. Boundaries are never intended to be restrictive, but protective. When people deliberately overshoot the boundaries, they have to face the dangers that lie on the other side. To deny them does not make them any less real. God had clearly stated His boundaries and when they are ignored, the consequences come into play.
Why did Paul paint such a gloomy picture of his society and ours? For two reasons: firstly, because it was accurate and secondly, because it formed the backdrop to God’s amazing answer, His grace revealed through His righteousness. However, first of all, Paul had to show his readers that the whole world is guilty before God. There is not one sector of society or of the world that escapes God’s judgment. Before Paul can give them God’s answer, he has to ensure that they understand their plight.
No amount of religious fervour or rule-keeping can change the heart of a human being. Of what use is it to eat or not to eat certain foods since food only influences our bodies? What can the “holy” water do to cleanse a polluted conscience? It only touches the skin but leaves the soul unchanged. How can doing good alter our debit balance in God’s books? Even good works are done by people rotten with selfishness.
Paul is building up to a solution so breath-taking that only God could have thought it up!
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