Sunday, August 31, 2014

Rambling through Romans (11): 1:19-32 (III)

19 This is because what is known about God should be plain to them because God made it plain to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—God’s eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, because they are understood through the things God has made. So humans are without excuse. 21 Although they knew God, they didn’t honor God as God or thank him. Instead, their reasoning became pointless, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 While they were claiming to be wise, they made fools of themselves. 23 They exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images that look like mortal humans: birds, animals, and reptiles. 24 So God abandoned them to their hearts’ desires, which led to the moral corruption of degrading their own bodies with each other. 25 They traded God’s truth for a lie, and they worshipped and served the creation instead of the creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.

26 That’s why God abandoned them to degrading lust. Their females traded natural sexual relations for unnatural sexual relations. 27 Also, in the same way, the males traded natural sexual relations with females, and burned with lust for  each other. Males performed shameful actions with males, and they were paid back with the penalty they deserved for their mistake in their own bodies. 28 Since they didn’t think it was worthwhile to acknowledge God, God abandoned them to a defective mind to do inappropriate things. 29 So they were filled with all injustice, wicked behavior, greed, and evil behavior. They are full of jealousy, murder, fighting, deception, and malice. They are gossips, 30 they slander people, and they hate God. They are rude and proud, and they brag. They invent ways to be evil, and they are disobedient to their parents. 31 They are without understanding, disloyal, without affection, and without mercy. 32 Though they know God’s decision that those who persist in such practices deserve death, they not only keep doing these things but also approve others who practice them.

Sex and sexual practices – Paul draws on them here to highlight the evident disorder he finds in a world run amuck.  It’s critical to note he sees sexual disorder as a consequence and not a cause of the crisis humanity has gotten itself into.  It’s not as though a campaign to rid the world of sexual disorders (however we define them) would restore us to genuine humanity under God.  Far from it.  Our problem cuts far deeper than that!  In fact, such a campaign of moral reformation only feeds the problem – our presumption that we can fix it ourselves.  That’s Adam and Eve and the snake all over again.

Only when we “hit bottom” and know in the depths of our being that we can do nothing to pull ourselves out of this morass is there any hope for us.  And that’s because it’s idolatry and not morality that is our fundamental problem.  Who or what we salute and obey rather than what we do is what troubles us.

That said, sex and sexual practices remain important matters to consider – duh!  Why is it that they can play such a decisive demonstrative role in Paul’s thought?  I’m sure there are a number of reasons for this.  But I want to focus briefly on one that makes a good deal of sense to me and that I believe is in line with the direction of Paul’s thought.

I propose that we think of sex and sexual practice as the most intimate picture of our soul that we present to the world.  A world filled with sexual disorders and malpractices is one that shows itself full of malformed and disordered souls.  It is not for Paul a matter of repressive morality or right of individual choice (though those will be reasons offered by many and too often, even Christians).  Rather, for Paul, there is an order in creation, a moral order, that when transgressed hits back.  Living out of sync with the Creator and his order diminishes and deforms our souls (hearts, whatever you want to call it).  And because we are embodied souls or ensouled bodies, our soul’s condition becomes visible in the use to which we put our bodies.  And while we can argue and debate and disagree over whether homosexual practice transgresses God’s order, or whether what we know as homosexuality is what Paul uses as an example of disordered sexual practice here in Romans 1, whatever Paul describes there crosses that line and we pay for it in our own bodies (v.27).

And if what Paul describes are perhaps the most egregious examples he has at hand, it seems fair to extrapolate and claim that other sexual deviances scripture names have the same effect on us.  And it is manifestly fair in that light to claim that or culture is liable to the same critique Paul makes of the Gentile culture of his day.

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