A while ago I watched a sermon on YouTube by John MacArthur, and it was clear from his homily that he fears no man. I could picture in my mind’s eye the reaction of the legion of perpetually offended if they were to be presented with sound bites from MacArthur’s sermons.
MacArthur once said that if you preach the gospel and no-one is offended, you’re doing it wrong.
Now, the goal of preaching the gospel is not to offend, but it is a pretty reliable by-product, and that is because the sinner doesn’t want to be presented with the fact of his (or her) sin. It’s uncomfortable.
I imagine that John MacArthur would love to meet the apostle Paul.
Paul is writing to the church in Rome, Believers thriving and making a name for themselves in the belly of the pagan beast, resting on the seven hills of the empire’s capital. A quick online search shows around 900 churches in Rome and curiously, a Baptist congregation with specialised Sunday services for Africans, Filipinos and Chinese.
Paul sort of starts with the good news of where he’s leading us: the gospel being the power of salvation for everyone who believes, and the Christian who lives by faith:
Having told us where we will land, he takes off in the next verse and sets out to convince both the pagan and the pious that we are in need of salvation. Paul is like a prosecutor entering into the record the evidence of our misdeeds.
It’s brutal. Earth 2019 is a dumpster fire.
If the world ever found out about Romans 1 and 2 from us, or from coming across it accidentally, they would howl at what Paul writes.
No Hallmark cards that I know of quote this passage. No feel-good movies that I’ve ever watched come close to even touching the subject matter.
Paul has to convince us that we are utterly devoid of virtue before we can see that we are in need of salvation. And he does a pretty good job of that. His fellow Jews would hardly need to be convinced that the pagans were doomed, however Paul also reminds them that they do the same things, and behave in the same ways as the most unspiritual pagans.
If I can summarize this part of Romans it’s the idea of wrath. God is justifiably angry. Most people would obviously not like to consider this, especially as it pertains to them.
For those who simply follow their own desires, without consideration of God, the passage is terribly offensive. However from God’s point of view, the behaviour of those who live however they want is offensive to Him.
Rock, paper, scissors, God. He always wins.
The wrath that Paul writes about is building (Greek: Orge) and will one day reach a point of exploding (Greek: Thumos). For the modern reader it can be likened to being in traffic for an extended period with several incidents, one after the other, until the driver stuck in traffic can no longer contain himself and goes berserk. Of course the analogy is not sufficient, because with God it’s not an emotional reaction but a considered, moral imperative to punish sin.
One of the most genuinely terrifying ideas that Paul explores is the wrath of abandonment.
Sexual expression was created by Him, for enjoyment and procreation, to be kept for the marriage bed. Many people have cheapened and adulterated that gift and the wrath that He visits on them is to let them have their way, until its logical conclusion.
A movie scene comes to mind from ‘Brewster’s millions’:
In making a video for Montgomery Brewster to receive a fortune after his death, rich relative Rupert Horn recounts a story of getting busted smoking cigars while under aged. To teach him a lesson, his father locks him in a closet with a box of cigars and will only let him out when they’re finished. The thing is Rupert learns his lesson and his Dad ultimately lets him out of the closet. In the scenario where there is a wrath of abandonment, it seems like the closet stays closed unless the sinner comes to his senses asks to be let out. Although in terms of this type of wrath, they would never want to be let out.
That to me is genuinely scary. I want God to tell me when I’m wrong. I want correction. Some people don’t want that and they get what they want.
The idea that a cosmic thumping awaits earth is the MacGuffin in many Sci-Fi movies, a disaster that suddenly rears its head. An asteroid, a nuclear exchange, a zombie plague. Paul’s language (in contrast) presents the idea that God’s wrath is gradual and increasing.
His wrath is revealed (Greek: apocalypsis) from heaven. The idea in the passage is that people can deny that God’s way is clear, however if we eyes, ears and a brain, we can get an idea of what He is like and what He requires of us, even without Scripture. Merely from nature, and from life.
His wrath is revealed from heaven, and has been unfolding for a long time. As people, we collectively have been suppressing knowledge about Him by way of our wickedness.
A very popular idea nowadays is that man’s carbon footprint is causing extreme weather (also known as global warming, and since re-branded to climate change). In my view, it’s as possible that extreme weather could have man’s moral footprint as a cause as his carbon footprint.
If God can remove his restraining hand from our sinfulness if we kick Him out of our lives, why can nature not be an aspect of that? The curse of sin is expressed in creation and creation’s fall.
Paul writes of the Greek and the Jew. The pagan and the pious. Both are equally sinful and both are equally in need of salvation in Christ.
His kindness to those who know Scripture was meant to lead to repentance but instead they turned it into a license to sin. Expressed in the cynical view of former French president Mitterand: “God will forgive, that’s his job…”
Paul uses the word ‘stubborn’ to refer to the religious people in his day, the Greek word ‘skleretos’ which modern physicians will recognise as referring to a plaque build-up in the artery. The pious are as susceptible to sin as the rank pagan. Every pushback against God is like plaque build-up in the arteries.
The trajectory is pathological.
When you sit down and take the medicine that Paul is dishing out, it tastes bitter, but like the best medicine it leads to health.