The Guilt of Mankind (1:18-23)
We fallen humans are ingenious in ignoring the reality of sin within us. Thus, there is always an excuse, someone else who is worse, some compelling good intention that justifies our evil deeds.
In this passage Paul uses the undeniable, sordid sinfulness that permeated the Roman Empire to convict all humanity of their fallen state. That is, this most glorious, powerful human achievement of empire is shown to have resulted in maximum scope and depth for sin. Thus, concentrated human power leads not to an improved humanity, but rather to greater opportunity for cruelty and vice.
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; 21 for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened.
Far too many Christians choose to read this passage as an indictment only of contemporary Rome. They thus avoid facing up to the truth that Paul is only using Rome as a concrete example of the vile sin that infects each and every human soul, then and now. They deeply need to believe that they are saved because of something “good” within them that separates them from the condemned. Their vain pride demands this belief, and there is no length that they will not go to remain within that false dream. So Scripture is ignored and distorted, arbitrary human rules are created, and human pride is substituted for humble greatfullness to a merciful God.
These darkened minds sow destruction both within and outside of the Christian Church. They are aggressive, active and relentless in their pursuit of self justification. Were we left to our own devices there would be no stopping them. But they are contending not against us, but against God almighty. So, just at the mighty Roman Empire failed to stop God in Jesus Christ, so too will the vile contemporary empire of social and political power. However, I dread the reckoning to come. If only we would turn from our evil pride and seek forgiveness perhaps it could be avoided. I pray that a new reformation of Christianity will restore our civilization.
22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.
If we are to be saved from God’s judgment it can only be caused by that same God’s mercy. For, “claiming to be wise” we have become fools. May God have mercy upon our darkened souls!