Thursday, September 29, 2011

Here Comes the Hammer

The biggest clobber scripture of all time...the chapter in which some Christians feel they find utter justification in condemning gays as well as atheists, is the 1st chapter of Romans: (with some editing, because it's long)

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, 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... Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.  Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another...Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones...Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error...Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind...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 of those who practice them. 

Some things to point out...first, Paul (the author) is saying the wrath of God is being revealed. This does not seem to be talking about a future judgement, but a current one. Paul says God "gave them over" to a depraved mind, and they "received due penalty".  He really makes a point of how bad these people are: full of envy, arrogant, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.  And what is God's righteous decree against them?  Eternal suffering?  "Those that do such things deserve death".  (I will insert here that Paul never mentions hell.  Not even once in all his writings. Curious, don't you think?)  If you look into the history of Rome and the surrounding areas, and the sexual practices associated with the worship of idols, I think you'll get a better idea of what is being condemned here.  And even with as bad as all this is, do you think Paul is giving license to hate these people?  Do you think he's saying "We all need to take a moment and reflect on how horrible some people are and be glad we are not like them".  Let's look at chapter 2 (which is the very next sentence) to find out what Paul's real point is:

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.  Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth.  So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?  Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?
But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.  God “will repay each person according to what they have done."

Talk about a 180!  Paul takes the hammer these Christian's were using on others and turns it on them!  I don't think I've ever heard a sermon that connects chapter 1 with chapter 2, but of course when Paul wrote it there where no chapters.  Paul was writing a letter to a group of Christians in Rome, and we can never know for sure what concerns and questions of theirs that he's addressing.  All of Paul's letters are kind of like listening to one side of a conversation, but the group whom the letter was read to would have known exactly what the issue was. (as I understand it, these letters were sent by a messenger to be read out loud to the assembly, because most people could not read)  Maybe this group had been gloating over the 'due penalty' that some other city had received from God and thinking of themselves as so much better.

Have you ever had to discipline one of your kids, and looked to see your other child rejoicing over the suffering of their sibling?  How did that feel?  We have been taught that the wrath of God is only for the unbeliever, but Paul states quite clearly that these believers are "storing up wrath" against themselves by being so judgemental of others.  We had all better hope this wrath is loving discipline and not eternal punishment, because which one of us has never found a little joy and self-righteousness in seeing our enemy in pain?