#5, Commentary on Romans 1:20–21
To learn how and why I am writing this small commentary on Romans, see this former post. Now for Romans 1:20–21:
20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
v. 20: It sounds like an oxymoron: God can be perceived by his invisible attributes. Yet his eternal power and divine nature can be seen, felt, and understood. What does Paul mean? There’s much debate here but most clearly Paul is referencing the obviousness of all of creation demanding a Creator. Some call it Intelligent Design and some call it the teleological or watch-watchmaker argument. If you aren’t familiar, it’s a small parable about if you lived in a world of natural things and walked into the woods one day and found a beautiful pocket watch. The watch is gold, glass, and leather with moving parts, design, and the aesthetics are pleasing to your eyes. You never seen technology like this or anything constructed. You would not assume this one watch exists naturally or appeared or grew out of the ground like the rest of this natural world. It would demand an explanation: “why is it here, who put it here, and who made it?” Someone created it with great skill. The natural world in this parable is the universe we know and the earth, humans, and its creatures all existing and thriving in this intricate world is the pocket watch.
So, in one way, God and his attributes are generally invisible. Yet in another way, we can perceive that God has power. A power that creates, sustains, and controls this world and universe. Also, God has divine nature. The clock hands of the pocket watch move together. Ecology, biology, chemistry, oceanology, physics, and everything else that is worthy of study is first imagined and built by God. It is God that creates in such a way that the world is knowable by us and it’s our ‘work’ to find these items out and create after God. Nothing discovered by science has ever been a surprise to God. He may grieve some of the conclusions we have reached as erroneous and hate how we’ve crudely used science to justify immorality or set up systems that devalue human life. But nevertheless, God has made a world that runs in such a wondrous fabric that Paul can state plainly that everyone without except ‘knows’ God (v. 21). Now, as Paul will make clear, this knowing is not a saving one. However, mankind’s perceiving is deep enough to see God’s ‘eternal power and divine nature’ in so that every created human is accountable to his/her powerful Creator.
21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
v. 21: We know him, and we promptly reject him. A product of original sin passed down through Adam but also an attitude and action of sin we compound our guiltiness with every sin and refusal to honor or give thanks. Practically, our spiritual lives must work in at least two concrete ways: to live by faith which honors God for who he truly is and give thanks for all he does. A grateful heart is a godly heart. Complaining is the just the opposite. There’s godly way to pour out genuine suffering to God as prayer, pleading, frustration and request (just see about half the Psalms!) But often, we choose to complain about trite suffering which is more about our ego than any true suffering. Furthermore, our complaining symbolizes an ungrateful heart focused on ourselves and not living for the honor of God. Think of honor as living before God in all we do, including searching the Scriptures to find out what God likes and doesn’t like. Then think of thanksgiving as the completion of honor, it’s thanking him for life and circumstances as an honorable life moves forward. Thanksgiving should feel like seeing a great movie. The enjoyment of the movie isn’t quite complete until the movie ends and you get to tell someone else how good the movie was. So, it is with thanks. Tell of God’s good deeds to you and you will be in great company of Psalms. The writers of the psalms pour out their complaints to God, but often end with praise and thanksgiving no matter how dark their heart and circumstance.
Without proper honor and praise we continue to crumble. Sin takes a deeper hold, our minds become futile and our hearts darken. See sin has a cost. We are not immune, instead it’s like poison eating us. Christ can cure all but no sin is tame or puny. It’s destructive, haunting and chasing.