After his introduction, Paul begins to lay it all out on the parchment. But instead of starting with the good news of “salvation,” he actually starts with the bad news. Why? Because good news doesn’t sound so good unless you hear the bad news first. Here’s the bad news:
People are and were refusing God. And in their refusing to know God, they soon didn’t know how to be human either. Men to women, women to women, men to men, all hurting each other by committing sexual acts, abusive acts, destructive acts against one another. It was a terrible situation then, and it is still terrible today. When people destroy the image of God in one another, there’s no telling how far they’ll go. Well, I guess there is. They’ll go to murderous ends.
I was listening to Viktor Frankl quotes just the other morning. He’s the guy who survived a concentration camp in the Holocaust and came out with the book, Man in Search of Meaning. He has some powerful insights, and the quotes make me want to read the book in its fullness. The point of me bringing this up is that even when human beings are at their worst, God can still work. And not just that He can, but He does.
Paul tells the Romans, don’t be fooled: God is kind, but He’s not soft.
If we hear God’s message, we need to respond. And before you shut me off right there, allow me to explain myself.
Paul says doing, not hearing, is what makes the difference with God.
This is what worries me with modern day evangelicals and many professing Christians. We can hear God’s message more than ever. We can listen to podcasts, listen to sermons, catch clips on YouTube, read the Bible on our phones, read books, watch Bible studies and do online curriculums all about God’s message. But in the process, I think we grow dull of hearing. And we forget how to actually DO the right things–things like racial justice, mercy to the poor, and love to those who aren’t like us.
And I also think we lose the power of the message. It’s hard to hear the message that God is on the side of the oppressed and the poor and the broken hearted and the disenfranchised and the castaways, when we live in the most powerful military-industrial country of the world. The contrast is very stark. It’s hard to hear that God loves the prostitutes and the janitors and the cooks, when we’re in our comfortable suburbs and high-rise apartments and have no want. When I have everything I want, why do I need God? Especially “that God.”
Or maybe it’s hard to hear the message because we’ve been abused, guilted, hurt in the name of “that God” because the version of Christianity or Catholicism that we grew up with was terribly corrupt. So we hear the message of “that God” and respond, “If that’s what it is, I don’t want it.”
I get it. Trust me. I’ve walked away from the institutional church a few times myself.
But let me tell you, when you hear (or re-hear) the message of God, of Jesus, of His Spirit, as it truly is, you can’t help but respond in a positive and receptive way. Paul’s going to lay that out for us in Romans 3, and I’ll try to unpack it a bit, tomorrow…