“They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy.”
Romans 1:31 NLT
Paul’s rant about those who “thought it foolish to acknowledge God” continues with a damning indictment of their deeds. He lists four qualities that define a mindset befitting wicked and sinful people.
He firstly says they “refuse to understand”. But what is there that they are closing their minds to? How often have we had a response to some comment or other like “but you just don’t understand”? Perhaps the person, who is apparently being misunderstood, is in the process of some action that is not normal behaviour or is responding strangely to some question or action undertaken by another. A problem easily cleared up most of the time, but what Paul is referring to is the action of wicked people in closing their minds to any explanation or idea that does not fit in with their sinful mindset. For example, walk down any High Street and ask a random person what they think about God. A person prepared to stop and discuss would be a rare response. Mostly, the person would just walk away or even come up with an angry retort. “They refuse to understand” fits their position very well.
In Isaiah 6:9-10, God said to the prophet, “And he said, “Yes, go, and say to this people, ‘Listen carefully, but do not understand. Watch closely, but learn nothing.’ Harden the hearts of these people. Plug their ears and shut their eyes. That way, they will not see with their eyes, nor hear with their ears, nor understand with their hearts and turn to me for healing.” Why was Isaiah given an apparently impossible task? To try and evangelise a people whose hearts had been hardened to the extent that they did not understand anything concerning God anymore. Where is the merciful God in all that?
The answer comes in Romans 1:28, “Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking …”. If God abandons them they will lose the ability to hear Him and His words of love and grace. And for most no amount of pleading or evangelising will be able to break into a heart that “refuse[s] to understand”. That was the situation in Isaiah’s day, and such behaviour is still with us today, as it was in Paul’s times.
So what is the remedy for our serial refusers? Will they never be able to turn to God and embrace His words of eternal life? Will they never be able to experience His love? To say so would be to adopt the same position as them, refusing to understand the grace of God. God’s grace can melt the hardest heart. It can penetrate into the very inner core of our beings, as we read in Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires”. Even for those He has abandoned there is hope.
So what do we pilgrims do, when faced with an apparent brick wall of unbelief and a refusal to respond from those we love in our families and communities? We persevere. We pray. And we believe in faith that God will find a chink in the armour that protects the hardest of hearts. It happened with me, and I’m sure that it has happened to many of my readers today. Through God’s grace, He revealed Himself to me one Saturday night, penetrating a heart hardened by wrong thinking, by a “refusal to understand”.
Is there someone reading this today who has a heart that fails to understand God’s love and grace? Who thinks it might apply to someone else but not to them? Through Jesus and His sacrifice at Calvary, we have access to a loving God, but only if we open our hearts before Him and repent of our wickedness and sin. And His love, grace and mercy will flood in, opening a door into a new world of hope.
Dear Father God. Please help us to persevere in our prayers for our loved ones. We name them before You today, in faith that the word they need is, right now, on the way to them. Thank You. Amen.