The Letter to the Romans
He Don’t Get No Respect
Let Us Examine Together: Romans 1:18-32
When many of us think of anger it is often described in terms of what is being felt. Anger is a type of felt pain where biologically we feel uncomfortable, hot, and ready to fight. We describe the anger in people as “boiling over” or as being “pent up.” However, this approach to describing anger often misses the core reason behind anger. Anger is concerned (almost to a fault) with justice. There is good anger which is directed towards real injustices and then there is bad anger which is towards unrealistic injustices and is deeply rooted in our own pride to be right. This was common knowledge among any who have read Aristotle who had become somewhat of a bedrock philosopher before, during, and after the time of Jesus’ ministry on earth. In his book on rhetoric, the philosopher analyzes the human emotions as understanding the emotions is important in the art of rhetoric. This gives us a somewhat interesting look at the world of the New Testament writers who would have thought somewhat in lines with what was commonly held definitions. The bible is not here to define what the Greek word ὀργη means but it certainly does adopt it to communicate truths to a people that live and breathe the Hellenistic culture around them.
Some of you might now ask, “how is this helpful with the book of Romans?” Well, I’m glad you asked. When we read Romans 1:18-27, we see a rather by-the-book definition of anger played out. God’s wrath, His anger, His ὀργη, is to be seen as fundamentally concerned with justice. In the last post we had seen that the righteousness of God is being revealed. There is a righteousness of God that is being revealed in the gospel but there is also a righteousness seen in the just wrath of God, namely His rectifying the injustice against Him by those who slighted Him in their suppressing the truth. When men gave glory and honor which is due to God alone to undeserving creatures, they slighted God and brought Him below the creatures and belittled His status as the Almighty God. For Aristotle, the appeasement of anger comes from the rectifying of injustice. If I were hurt by someone, my anger demanded that this person be hurt in similar fashion or that my hurt would be removed. If this were a misunderstanding, then perhaps clearly up that my slight towards someone was done out of ignorance would give reason for calmer heads. However, the text shows that this is not the case. God is not angry because of a false perception of injustice. God is angry because “what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them” (v. 19). Paul continues to state that “his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world in the things that have been made” (v. 20). The philosophers of Paul’s time all argued for the most part that the existence of God is evident and clearly perceived in the world. Paul merely borrows what the pagan philosophers saw as being patently obvious. But notice that it is this very fact, that “what can be known about God is plain to them” that “they are without excuse” (v. 21). They knew God but instead of living in accordance to that truth, they instead dishonored Him. They became fools.
God will not allow injustice towards Him. So, what is it that God did in response? Paul states that “God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (v. 24). Although they knew God, they decided to not live in light of this knowledge. It is for this reason that God allowed them to be captured by their passions to do that which is dishonoring rather than to think rightly to act rightly in order to have an honorable position before God. It is for this reason that Paul states that “God gave them up to dishonorable passions” (v. 26). Their slavery to their dishonorable passions led them to exchange their natural relations with the opposite sex for unnatural ones. This would reflect the complete overturning of the created relational order as the image of God is reflected in the male-female gender complement. Thus, Paul says that they received “in themselves the due penalty for their error.”
It is because they “did not see fit to acknowledge God” that “God gave them up to a debased mind.” Keep in mind (no pun intended), the theme of the mind as we continue this series. In the ancient world, the mind or rather the thinking faculty of a person, was raised higher than what was considered to be the more animalistic passions. Paul did not adopt this Greek view of the person in totality and he certainly did not think emotions were on the whole evil. Rather, Paul is aware of the ways in which our emotions, passions, and desires play into captivating how we think and what we perceive is the story of this life. The debased mind is filled with “all manner of unrighteousness” (v. 29). They care not about the death they deserve but continue to do the things that deserve death and “give approval to those who practice them” (v. 32). Their condemnation is just. Those who thought they were wise, who having the knowledge of God suppressed it and denied it, became fools. Those who were wise, who thinking that they had discipline over their own animalistic passions, became captive like an animal in a trap to their own evil desires. The Apostle Peter resonates with Paul here when speaking of the false teachers among the people, stating, “Bold and willful, they do not tremble as they blaspheme the glorious ones, whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a blasphemous judgment against them before the Lord. But these like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant, will also be destroyed in their destruction, suffering wrong as the wage for their wrongdoing. (2 Pet. 2:10b-13a). The wrath of God is something to be feared, not because God is easily-angered or flippant but because it is concerned with justice; and we are guilty. Is there any hope in escaping God’s righteous judgment? Is there any hope to escape the fullest expression of His just anger on the day of Christ’s return? All those who continue to live their lives denying the true God and slighting him in every moment of their lives will receive his just recompense of their deeds, but the righteous will live from faith.