Monday, March 16, 2009

The Wrath of God and Our Present Controversies (Part I of Series)

In Judges 2:14 we read that because the Israelites turned to other gods, “the anger of the Lord was kindled...he gave them over to plunderers who plundered them; and he sold them into the power of their enemies round about so t hat they could no longer withstand their enemies.” But then, just a verse later, we read that in response to the suffering of Israel, God in his pity “raised up judges who saved them out of the power of those who plundered them” (vs. 16). It is interesting here that instead of withdrawing the Philistines and the other enemies of Israel, to whom God himself had handed them over, he raises up both judges and kings to stand against and defeat the enemies of Israel.

This is what is happening in the encounter between David and Goliath, the story of the young shepherd boy who defeats the giant Goliath and rouses the discouraged army of Israel so that with a great shout they rise up to pursue their oppressors and drive them from the land.

And this is the background to Romans 1, a chapter that in recent days invites much controversy.
In Romans 1:18-2:3, we learn that all society is thankless, we do not count our many blessings, and so, as he did with the Israelites, God hands us over to our enemies, not enemies of flesh and blood like the Philistines, but enemies that are ethereal but even more powerful. “We fight not against flesh and blood but the powers and principalities." Paul lists those enemies in his “vice catalogue” that begins in verse 1:24: “therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts...women exchanged natural relations for unnatural and men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another.” But of course this catalogue of vices does not end there but goes to encompass envy and murder, strife and deceit, malignity and gossiping, slander and hating God, to name a few.

This understanding of Romans 1, helps me as a minister to answer some the questions that have been asked of me, especially as the debate grew heated around Proposition 8 in California.

Many have asked over the years if I thought men and women are “born that way” as ”lesbians or homosexuals.” The answer is is, yes of course that is possible. On the other there are also a large number of people, some known to me personally, who chose sometime in early adulthood to reject the opposite sex. But whether people have a genetic predisposition to it or whether they chose to go a certain way makes no difference to the apostle Paul. God can hands over ALL society even the littlest child in the womb to sins that range from passion for those of their own sex to a predisposition for deceit. Just as the littlest one in Israel was oppressed by the cruel and continual raids on Israel by the Philistines so from the littlest to the oldest we are all harassed and harried by the vices that attack us constantly.

And here I must emphasize that it is ALL society, including you and me, that have been thankless. ALL of us have been handed over to the vices that the Apostle Paul lists in Romans 1. Chief among them to be sure, is the unnatural relations between men and men, women and women. These unnatural relations stand like a Goliath above all the others but we must remember an entire army of giants is behind him! Perhaps we love and admire the opposite sex, we are not perhaps DIRECTLY oppressed by this “Goliath” of a vice, but we necessarily fall prey to one of the other giants on the list. If we are not envious, we are faithless; if we are not disobedient to parents, we are heartless; if we are not liars we are gossips. Not one of us can avoid the cruelties of the enemy that lies within and without.

But is this bad news? No! and no again I say!

When God in his anger against our thanklessness betrays us into the hands our enemies, in his pity he raises up a savior to stand against these enemies and give us the victory! God has raised up such a savior and his name is Jesus Christ of Nazareth!

He is our victory over all our enemies, including the Goliath of unnatural relations that we meet everywhere and know so intimately. But it is not just Goliath who is felled, but his many brethren. I can testify personally, I was, and am and would be in the power of many of the vices listed EXCEPT for Jesus. Except for Jesus I am bossy and mean to name just a few of my sins (some of which I believe I was born with), but that “except” makes all the difference in the world.

Many among my friends and extended family have told me that they believe there to be “nothing wrong” with so-called “gay marriage.” They say, “why not live and let live? No one is harmed.” I completely understand their point of view because I was once of the same opinion. But the Lord Jesus knows better. The Bible is as the theologian N.T. Wright points out “a love story.” How true that is, not just between Adam and Eve, but also between the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 and “Lady Zion” of Isaiah 54, between Jesus and his bride the church. There is no other book that cares so much about men and women liking and loving one another. In fact, the gospel itself is inseparable from the romance between God and Zion. We cannot proclaim the cross without proclaiming the love a man (God, the suffering servant) for a woman (Zion, the church).

Sometimes our troubles seem and indeed are, overwhelming. Our enemies, Paul’s entire catalogue of vice, poison our lives. But we are no different from the army of Israel standing utterly cowed before Goliath and their powerful enemies... and then comes someone entirely unexpected, a young shepherd going down to the stream to pick out five smooth stones for his slingshot. And suddenly when no expects it the giant falls flat, dead. And we rise up with a shout of victory, driving the cruel armies of the Philistines away. If it was such with Shepherd David, how much more is it with the Shepherd Jesus? The Israelites chased the enemy to their own gates, but with the Lord Jesus, even the “gates of hell shall not prevail.”