“So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies.” Romans 1:24 NLT
Just to recap, we reached this point because Paul said people in general had the knowledge of a Creator God, but instead of offering Him the thanks and worship that He was due, they went off and worshipped their own idols. We read that such people ended up in an arrogant position, claiming that they were operating wisely in whatever they were doing. But their thinking became more and more foolish to the point that they developed a very distorted view of God Himself. And the consequences were this – God abandoned them to their own devices. Presumably their consciences no longer functioned as they should have done and they behaved much as the Israelites did, as we can read in the last verse in the Book of Judges, “…. all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes“. (Judges 21:25b).
But it’s a very serious and potentially devastating situation to get into, to be abandoned by God. Normally, people go through life with at least some behavioural constraints due to their consciences. Even people who claim to have no religious belief intuitively know the differences between right and wrong, because God through His Spirit is working gently behind the scenes. But consciences can fail to work as they should, and Paul wrote about this problem to his son in the faith, Timothy. We read in 1 Timothy 4:1-2 (AMP), “But the [Holy] Spirit explicitly and unmistakably declares that in later times some will turn away from the faith, paying attention instead to deceitful and seductive spirits and doctrines of demons, [misled] by the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared as with a branding iron [leaving them incapable of ethical functioning],”. How does a conscience become “seared”? When we sear something like a finger, we burn it, and that then renders it insensitive, at least for a while, to touch and feeling. The nerves are damaged and don’t function as they should. Similarly, it is possible to sear our consciences by constantly overriding their signals until the still small voice within us fails to be heard any more. When that happens, God has effectively abandoned us, and the inbuilt restraints put in place when we were created are removed, leaving us “incapable of ethical functioning”.
Without a functioning conscience and abandoned by God, a person’s ability to do what is right is impaired and one consequence is that they end up doing “vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies”. what Paul was warning about can be seen in society today, with more and more blatant and public exposures of sexual sins that must break God’s heart. Paul, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, calls such behaviour “vile and degrading”, but to someone with a seared conscience, abandoned by God, they see nothing wrong. In fact they embark on public displays, even hijacking one of God’s signs, a rainbow, and in the process waving their arrogant and angry fists in the face of God.
Another worry is the way God has abandoned society. The “vile and degrading” actions of individuals are now being promoted by corporate organisations and even government institutions. A race to the bottom is going on unconstrained, with our legislators introducing or changing laws to ease the transition to a “vile and degraded” society. Society in general is increasingly becoming accepting of sinful behaviour. We live in an unhappy age.
It is difficult in these desperate times for us pilgrims to make a stand against such blatant sinful behaviour. But we still have a window of opportunity to extend God’s grace and love even to those currently living in a state of God’s abandonment. Here in the UK we are not yet persecuted to the extent that speaking out about “vile and degrading” practices is a crime. But there is little time left before it will be. As we read in Revelation, there is a time coming when all people will have to stand before God and account for their behaviour. And we pilgrims pray that God’s grace will continue; we pray more grace, more love, Lord. How we need You in these difficult and desperate times! Paul’s warning is perhaps even more relevant today than it was two thousand years ago.
But in the middle of a seemingly hopeless situation, there is hope. There is always hope. Jeremiah got the message. He wrote in Jeremiah 32:17, “O Sovereign Lord ! You made the heavens and earth by your strong hand and powerful arm. Nothing is too hard for you!” Nothing is too difficult for our loving Heavenly Father. And with that knowledge we can pray with assurance that God’s ways will prevail. Jesus made it quite clear, in a conversation with Peter and His other disciples, that He was going to build His church. We read in Matthew 16:18, “Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it“. In the end, there may be many people who find themselves abandoned by God. But that makes no difference to the long term reality, that one day, Jesus’ church will finally be built. See you there?
Dear Father God. We do indeed pray for more of Your grace and love to permeate into our societies. Without You this world would be a dark place indeed. We pray for our families and friends, that You will touch them with Your presence through the power of Your Spirit. In Jesus’ name. Amen.