I have spent a number of days looking over this passage. I have read commentaries old and new, study Bibles both scholarly and liberal and theological and conservative, and even read some internet articles and I have come to one conclusion: this blog post is going to unsettle everyone. I am not looking forward to that. I guess I could take the safe way out and just talk about it like it is pretty much accepted to talk about it (you know, the whole “God hates gays” and all the stuff about it being the worst sin and ignore everything else Paul mentions), but I am not comfortable with that. But that is only one front in which this post is going to ruffle some feathers.
The other issue is that this is probably going to be a rather long post. I haven’t written a long one in a while, and am sort of out of the habit of it. But I want to deal with every section, if I can, in as few posts as possible, section by section. I have a plan, and I need to stick to it. And that is what I am going to do.
So, now that we have that out of the way, let’s start wading through the results of the fall of mankind from original perfection.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 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. (Romans 1:18-20 ESV)
In a total change in direction, Paul goes from speaking of the glories of the gospel to the sinfulness of humanity. In just a few words, Paul makes it clear that all of humankind is without excuse when it comes to the existence of God. God has plainly revealed Himself in the created order, but, in their fallenness, people have chosen something else.
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. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (vv. 21-23)
Although all around us, there is ample proof of God’s existence, we want something else. As a prime example, Paul brings up the issue of idolatry. What begins as people simply ignoring and trying to hide God’s existence turns into idol worship. God hardens man’s heart, and we are left to our own devices. We think we are wise when we say that, thanks to M Theory, God is no longer necessary, when in reality we are merely showing that we are missing the point. “The glory of the immortal God” has been replaced with nature or people or iPods or money or politics or…well…you get the idea.
Paul says that this is foolishness. This does not mean, though, that it is stupidity. When Scripture refers to someone as being “foolish,” it is referring to their morality. As in the Psalms, when David says that the fool says in his heart that God doesn’t exist, this isn’t an intellectual mockery. Rather, a fool is someone who lives as though there is no God to whom they will someday have to answer. They live by their passions and lusts and do whatever they please no matter what harm may come to them or others. Foolish living, then, is not living stupidly, but rather living immorally.
Immorality is not necessarily stupid. Shady business deals very well may provide amply for our families. But there are consequences for those actions, even if they aren’t meted out in this life.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (vv. 24-25)
Because people have made this world their god, the Lord God says, in essence, “Fine. You want this world, then you can have it!” This is symbolically shown in Adam and Eve being turned out of the garden. God gave them the best and they chose to do things their own way. So, God gave them the whole earth to live off of instead of a small, fertile garden.
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (vv. 26-27)
First, notice what Paul is NOT saying. Paul is not saying here that homosexuality is a choice people make to simply be defiant. People don’t choose to be gay because they are looking to make God angry. In fact, if we truly believe that our natures are inherently sinful, then all sin is beyond our control to “fix.” Secondly, Paul also doesn’t say that these people are hated by God because of their gayness. Thirdly, he doesn’t say that homosexuality is worse than other sins. I’ll explain this more in a moment.
When taken together, Paul is basically saying simply that, as a result of people choosing the earthly over the heavenly, God gave people what they wanted: more freedom. But, when given freedom without serving any penalty, people will not choose the best, but will go with what comes easiest.
In regards to homosexuality, Paul, in this passage, is saying that people are behaving in a manner that, under ideal and perfect circumstances, you know, if we were still in the garden, they would not otherwise behave. Some animals have been known to practice homosexuality as a naturally occurring means of population control, for example. Paul is indicating something similar here, with one caveat: God had asked his people not to practice homosexuality (and many other sexual sins, which are implied in this passage), which therefore renders “unnatural” uses of sexuality sinful. But it is not the sin to end all sins. Paul goes on and, I think, makes a deeper point that is actually the main thrust of what he is saying in this entire passage.
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (vv. 28-32)
Despite humanity being turned over to whatever they desire physically, God was still knowable. But people still chose not to acknowledge Him, and their corruption was completed. Just as in the end of time, the worst was saved for last. God let their minds become warped as well.
Where damaged sexuality is merely called an “error” by Paul, the corruption of the mind and the actions that flow from it are considered “what ought not to be done.” An error implies that the action is out of your control, this, however, seems to imply that the actions are deliberate. These are premeditated actions. Murder. Slander. Arrogance. Torture. Cutthroat business practices.
Not only, though, do people practice these things, but they praise others who do. They join in the action. They become copy-cat killers. We know these things are wrong, and that they come to no good in the end, but we do them anyway. It’s building a kingdom and using the devil’s tools to do it.
I think there is a good reason why so many Christians read this passage and use it as ammunition to attack the GLBT community. Most Christians are not personally dealing with homosexuality in their own lives, but we do some pretty terrible things behind closed doors. Other people’s sin is so much easier to call out than our own. It’s also easier to see other people’s sin as worse than our’s. and, let’s be honest, sins of the flesh stand out much more clearly than sins of the heart. But this is why, I think, Paul makes it clear that sins of the heart are a bigger deal, and why he names more of them. It’s similar to what some interpreters say Jesus was scribbling in the sand when they brought the adulterous woman to Him. They say he was writing out all of the accusers sins in the dirt, making it public.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. We’ll go there next time.