“Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarrelling, deception, malicious behaviour, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.”
Romans 1:28-32 NLT
More verses than usual today, but they run one to the next. They constitute a Pauline descriptive diatribe of how God-deniers fall into all sorts of wickedness and sin. Paul starts off with a warning that if people consider a belief in God to be foolishness, then they will have to face into the consequences of such thinking. Once a person denies God, then he or she falls outside Godly protection, and, somehow, their thinking then leads them into all sorts of wickedness and sin. I’m sure that once a person is outside of God’s protection, abandoned by Him, then the devil will have an opportunity to exploit their vulnerability. And doesn’t he just!
We pilgrims blithely talk about the “Fall of Man”, and “Sin”, and shake our heads in wonder at the propensity of human beings, when faced with the possibilities of doing good or doing bad, they choose the latter. But we cannot stand afar off, taking a “holier than thou” attitude, climbing up onto the moral high ground. Just to read Paul’s list is depressing, because much of what he wrote about still applies today – some would say even more so. We see the greed embedded in our capitalist economy, we see advertising based on envy, our lawmakers quarrel incessantly, office gossip abounds – the list is endless. And all because the people concerned have “thought it foolish to acknowledge God”. So what do we pilgrims do?
There are several possible responses to the sin and wickedness so prevalent around us. One obvious course of action is escapism. Perhaps life in a monastery or convent would insulate us from a society that cares nothing about God. Another possibility is to get involved in social or political enterprises, to try and proactively bring some sort of change. We see in our society today small groups of demonstrators, preparing to break the law to make their voices heard about the issues they care so deeply for. Or perhaps we just sit back and put our heads in the sand, hoping the problem will go away. Perhaps we just try and keep our noses clean and pray for the strength to survive the life we have, untainted by wickedness. Democracy is a political system that works well in a society of Godly people, but when wickedness abounds it falls into depravity and lawlessness. And as we pilgrims try and live a righteous life we see around us a society that seems to favour the wicked rather than the righteous.
The psalmist, Asaph, wrote about a similar dilemma he was experiencing. We can read about his problem in Psalm 73:2-3, “But as for me, I almost lost my footing. My feet were slipping, and I was almost gone. For I envied the proud when I saw them prosper despite their wickedness.” His problem is similar to ours – why do the wicked people around us seem to do so well, when righteous living is despised and could in the end work against us? Asaph went on to write, “Look at these wicked people— enjoying a life of ease while their riches multiply. Did I keep my heart pure for nothing? Did I keep myself innocent for no reason? I get nothing but trouble all day long; every morning brings me pain.” (Psalm 73:12-14). He continued in verse 16, “So I tried to understand why the wicked prosper. But what a difficult task it is!” I’m sure we pilgrims would echo that!
In Psalm 73:17, Asaph finally realised the best response to the sin and wickedness around us. He wrote, “Then I went into your sanctuary, O God, and I finally understood the destiny of the wicked.” We know what will happen to wicked people, to those who deny God and consider it foolishness to acknowledge Him. In Revelation 20:11-12 we read, “And I saw a great white throne and the one sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide. I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books”. Asaph saw this coming long before the Apostle John was give the vision he wrote down in the Book of Revelation. Referring to the wicked, Asaph wrote in Psalm 73:18-19, “Truly, You put them on a slippery path and send them sliding over the cliff to destruction. In an instant they are destroyed, completely swept away by terrors”. And then Asaph realised where he had gone wrong. He wrote in Psalm 73:21-22, “Then I realised that my heart was bitter, and I was all torn up inside. I was so foolish and ignorant— I must have seemed like a senseless animal to You“.
We finish today, hopefully in the same place as Asaph, when he wrote, “Yet I still belong to You; You hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny. Whom have I in heaven but You? I desire You more than anything on earth. My health may fail, and my spirit may grow weak, but God remains the strength of my heart; He is mine forever“. (Psalm 73:23-26).
We pilgrims never need to concern ourselves about the wickedness and sin blighting our society. God is on it!
Dear Father God. We thank You for Your presence in our lives. We worship and praise You today, and forever. Amen.