Romans 1 24 – 32 God’s wrath against sinful humanity
Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator – who is for ever praised. Amen.
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. 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, 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 of those who practise them.
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My struggle with Paul’s teaching goes on.
Let me start by affirming that I believe wickedness, evil, greed, depravity, envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice, gossip, slander, God-hating, insolence, arrogance, boastfulness, devising evil, failure to respect parents, lack of fidelity, lack of love, and lack of mercy, are wrong. I would add to that list promiscuity, whether by gay or straight people. So far, so Pauline.
However, there are three topics where I really struggle to accept Paul’s teaching in this epistle:
- “…God gave them over…”;
- Paul’s view of gay sex;
- The meaning of “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.”?
What on earth does Paul mean when he writes “…God gave them over…”? He appears to mean that God deliberately willed that non-believers should behave in a flagrantly sinful manner. Surely that can’t be right?
Then there is Paul’s outright condemnation of gay sex. I know several gay married couples. They all have stable, loving, monogamous partnerships – and what can be wrong with that?
In my third point of difficulty, I need to remember that the ‘they’ to which the sentence applies refers to the people described in verses 18 – 23. These are people who have rejected God, despite having the evidence of “God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature,” as shown in his creation of the world. I suppose these people may be either non-believers in general, or Jews who have refused to follow Jesus.
Whichever it is, Paul’s description doesn’t match my experience of them either. Of course, I know people who behave with ruthless selfishness – but I also know some militant atheists who live by a very high ethical code, placing the welfare of others above their own interests.
Let’s compare Paul’s teaching with the teaching of Jesus in the gospels.
Matthew’s gospel gives us two commandments: Jesus replied ‘ “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’ (Matthew 22: 37 – 40)
This is different. Instead of starting from sin and condemnation, Jesus starts from God and love. Surely this is a more authentic vision of God?
I believe that God loves all humanity. He wants the best for each one of us. Certainly he doesn’t want us to sin, but the example of Jesus is that our focus should be on love, not on how sinful we are. We need, with Jesus’ help, to place love at the centre of our lives.
Please help me, and anyone else reading this blog, to place you at the centre of our lives. Please help me to love my neighbour as myself.
In Jesus’ name, Amen