The Impiety And Immorality Of Humanity
Re-Translated In October 1999
1. Today I read to you from verses eighteen on. I have mentioned that before the passage beginning with verse eighteen the fundamental theme of this epistle is presented in verses sixteen and seventeen, but from here on we can see that we are entering into what we could call "the main body of the epistle." However, even though it doesn't show up in the New Interconfessional Version, verse eighteen is actually connected to the previous verse by the conjunction "therefore, because." In other words, the main body of the letter does not begin unrelated to verse seventeen. Verse seventeen has, "But, the righteousness of God is being revealed in the gospel, it is being fulfilled through faith from start to finish. It is written, 'The righteous person lives by faith.'" So, we have seen that the righteousness of God doesn't just mean that the justice of God only condemns our sin, but rather it means that the creative work of God restores one to a righteous state within a relationship with God. But before making clear what a righteous state is, naturally the state that is not righteous must be clarified. Before clarifying God's salvation, the reality of our every day situation in which we must be saved must be clarified. Unless we make these clarifications, we may end up mistaken in our understanding of salvation. So then, Paul begins speaking on the sin of humanity and the wrath of God.
The Wrath Of God
2. I'd like to get into the details of this right away. The following is recorded in verse eighteen.
"God reveals his wrath from heaven against all unbelief and unrighteousness of humanity which hinders the work of truth by unrighteousness."4. I suppose there are a good number of people who feel opposed to this term "the wrath of God." Even though Paul has written about "the wrath of God," this [topic] is not an unusual one in the scriptures. Every where in the scriptures, especially in the Old Testament, descriptions regarding the wrath of God are altogether visible. Therefore, as long as no one is reading the Bible for the first time no one is surprised any more at how many places there are where the text speaks on "the wrath of God." But, even still, I suppose although people have been familiar with the Bible for years on end, they might have mumbled in their hearts somewhat, "The idea of God getting angry is strange." "Anger is not suitable for God." "I can't believe in some God who gets perturbed." If we give this some thought, although we may recoil in anger over some trivial occurrence during the day, when we hear of God getting angry we come to the conclusion that "that's strange."
5. Let's think a little more in this area of why we feel resistance to the very concept of "the wrath of God." When we get angry, we certainly think "I know I am right." When we think we are right and the other person is not, then we get mad. Although we are mad we are mad because there is a justifiable reason. But think about that time when you openly showed such anger, blamed the other person, and you waxed eloquent on how right you were and how wrong they were. How much did you agree from the bottom of your heart that in regards to your actions "I did what I was supposed to?" Instead, don't you always feel bad from some kind of aftertaste? It leads somewhat to the prolonging of a bad conscience and uneasiness. Why is that? The reason is obvious. We are not as right as we claim. In reality, we ourselves know the truth. We understand that we are not one hundred percent completely right and they are not all wrong. We [tend to] misrepresent ourselves and the other party somewhat. [We do that] because our anger does not completely stem from righteousness, we sense it contains impurities and we have shady recesses in our hearts.
6. Human righteousness or morality is always like that. Therefore, we do not respect a quick tempered person even if it is us or someone else. We don't think someone who is always mad or stays mad is a fine person. Because the wrath of a person cannot possibly be perfectly righteous. But, we shouldn't think the same thing about God. It somehow seems faulty thinking arises whenever we project our own human character onto God. It is a mistake in the first place to think of the wrath of God on the same level as our anger. If righteousness alone is the source of anger, then in a real sense only God is the one with the right to get angry. Far from [saying] "Anger is ungodlike," it is only a perfectly righteous God and not human beings who are justified in being angry. We need to keep that in remembrance first and foremost.
7. Also, the text says here that "The wrath of God" --the perfectly righteous "wrath of God"-- is being displayed from heaven. I think since that is the case, we shouldn't complain in front of these words, but we should instead take them very seriously. The term in use here is the same term from the preceding verse, "it is being [divinely] revealed." It is not just being taught by mere words. It is being shown in actual time and space. The wrath of God is being shown from heaven upon this world. It is being shown in the real world where sin is surely producing its effects. It is being shown in every day reality where unending troubles come up in this world that does not have a righteous relationship with God. It is already shown in the fact that paradise will not come into being no matter how much humanity tries to transform the system or change leaders. Indeed, strictly speaking, the phrase means "it is continuously being shown." It will be at the end times when it will be shown ultimately and completely. Later it will be expressed as "the day of wrath when God will carry out his righteous judgment," (2:5). We are put in the midst of a world under such divine wrath.
Against Unbelief And Unrighteousness
8. Against what is his anger being shown? Giving verse eighteen another look, the words recorded are "against unbelief and unrighteousness." The word for "unbelief" expresses sin against God. "Unrighteousness or immorality" expresses sin against people. And these two are not unrelated. The Bible speaks on this from the beginning. When Adam and Eve ignored God's word when he said, "Don't take and eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil," their relationship quit being one where they loved each other. Adam responded to God with, "Since the woman you gave to be with me took from the tree and gave it to me, I ate it." The Bible describes that Cain, who was raised under these two aforementioned persons, murdered his younger brother Abel. Based on the fact that both the way we should be with God and the way we should be with people have a connection to each other, the commandments dealing with a relationship with God and the commandments dealing with a relationship with humankind are placed together in the text in the ten commandments given to Moses. Therefore, Paul also records here in this chapter how religious sins and ethical sins deeply affect each other.
9. The first thing [the Word] speaks about here is "unbelief." You could also translate this as "impiety, irreverence." In a certain translation it is given as "arrogance, disrespect." It is a human arrogance against God. That is, they do not revere and respect God as God. If we go by the words in verse twenty-one, they are not worshipping God as God and giving him thanks. [The text] says there is no room for excuse for this sin. Why is that? Paul tells [us why].
"Because that which we can know about God is clearly in them. God has shown it. After he made the world, the essence of God which is invisible to the eye, in other words, the eternal power of God and the divinity are shown in creation, and through this we can know God. Therefore, there is no room for excuse for them," (verse twenty).11. We wake up in a world which we did not create. We have not furnished anything in order for us to live through one single day in this world. We live by receiving all kinds of things which we ourselves haven't created. We are not living [on our own power], but rather we are clearly being made to live [by a Higher Power]. Unless our eyes are opened to our creatureliness which can only live in dependence upon taking and receiving alone, there is something yet to be clearly visible to us. It is the eternal power of God and his divinity which is invisible to the eye of flesh. It is the brilliant glory of the creator. If it is invisible, it is invisible because a person's eyes are clouded up by a haughtiness in which the self lives as if not responsible to [God for anything].
12. Also, the fact that "the eternal power of God and the divinity are shown by creation" does not mean that we can grasp God by what we observe in the created order of the world. It is not saying that we can comprehend God from human reason. Instead, it is the opposite of that. Man or woman can neither grasp nor comprehend God because what is shown is "the eternal power and the divinity." A person cannot debate about God in his presence. He or she can only respect and revere God, lie prostrate before him, worship his name, and give thanks to him for letting a person live. [Because that is all we can do] it means that God is God and we are no more than creatures [of creation]. Knowing this is "knowing God." It is exactly what "that which we can know about God" [stands for].
13. Therefore, as we see from the above, we will be held accountable not over whether we understand God or whether we know how to define God, but rather only over whether we are living in worship of God and giving thanks to him. That's it. That alone is what [God] will ask of us [on Judgment Day]. [I suppose] there are a lot of people claiming, "I feel God," when mountain climbing or when getting close to nature. Even if they [don't feel God when on the mountains], there are a number of people who say, "I believe there's a God." So what? What matters is NOT whether you feel God or believe that God exists but whether you are truly worshipping God in your life. That is, what matters is are you living for and worshipping God? Are you living by praising God and giving him thanks? These are what matters most.
14. Furthermore, the clear fact of the matter is that the real world isn't worshipping God as described above or giving him thanks either. That is the character of the world which has lost its righteous relationship with God and its righteous state before God. That's the kind of world we live in. Based on this then, even if the wrath of God were to remain upon this world, we wouldn't be able to raise one objection against it. When its says "there is no room for excuse, that's what it means.
They Became Vain and Darkened
15. The truth that we have lost a righteous relationship with God is certainly being shown in our daily lives. What does the Bible say? "On the contrary, because they indulged themselves in vain thoughts and their hearts became dulled and darkened." When the text says here that, "they indulged themselves in vain thoughts," it does not mean that they have only been thinking about insignificant trifles. It means in their thinking and living they have become worthless, ineffective, and vain persons. They ended up no longer able to think as worthy persons or able to live a noble and sacred existence. So, their hearts became darkened. Here "the heart" includes everything like the intellect, the emotions, and the will. You could say it points to their entire humanity. It has become foolish and ended up darkened. Becoming darkened means they lost the light they should have had originally. Their very existence has turned into gloomy darkness.
16. Even though a person doesn't recognize God or his or her own arrogance, we can clearly see the results of his or her inadmissions. "They became empty and darkened." That is not just something that happens to others [or other countries.] In this dark period of time, the mass media [in Japan] has taken up stories about children walking around with knives and children [in junior high and high school] selling themselves in prostitution for extra spending money. The adults tell them with a winsome expression: "I really want you to live taking good care of yourself, [paying attention to the things you want]." However, we should probably say that the adults are really living and taking good care of their own selves by [their false proposals]. Aren't they? Do you live seeing yourself as a person with value and seeing human life as something that is precious? Rather, aren't the children living emptily in vain only because of adults who can't show with their lives and bodies that we have value and that there is significance to human life? Is that someone else's business? No way, I say.
17. Where does the problem lie? The true problem lies in that we are not revering the One worthy of our reverence and we are not living in worship of the One worthy of our worship. The problem is in the very fact that we are not living in thanksgiving to the One worthy of our thanks. Because we creatures can discover our true value only in a relationship with the creator. For, unless we live by respecting and revering God as God and by worshipping him, we cannot know the pricelessness and sacredness of human life which is created and kept alive by God.
18. "Because, while they knew God, they were neither worshipping him as God nor giving him thanks; on the contrary, because they gave themselves over to vain thoughts and their hearts became dull and darkened." This is the reality of a human being who does not have a righteous standing and is under the wrath of God. Paul makes perfectly clear the kind of condition a person is in whose heart is dulled and darkened. Paul turns us and this world inside out, and he brings out to the open the deep darkness which is permeating inside us and he makes us focus in on ourselves. As long as we are under this black darkness, there is no salvation there no matter how much we try to change the situation in which we are placed or how much we seek to remove the heavy load of life. But, the reason Paul brought our actual situation in this world out to the open was not just to drive us into despair. We've already been taught about this before. "The gospel is the power of God which brings salvation to all who believe, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." We know that the light has already shone in. Therefore to know the darkness is also to know how great the light is.1
1 This last sentence can be paraphrased as: Paul describes how dark the sinful world around us is and how dark the sinful life of humanity is. But he's not doing that to make us despair. No, not at all. We know that. For we know the light has already come. Therefore we know that to set our eyes to the dark realities without deceiving ourselves does not lead us into despair but into the knowledge of the greatness of the light.