Or, Nature’s Light on Neutrality’s Lies
October 17, 2021
Lord’s Day Worship
Hubris really is the right word for all of this. Hubris is juicy pride; press it like rare steak and self-conceit squishes out like blood pools on the plate. Hubris is arrogance, but with a fist raised toward heaven more than against other humans. Hubris is a kind of insanity, so we can modify Einstein’s definition to fit: hubris is receiving the same gifts over and over and expecting the Giver to be gone the next time. Hubris is also expecting the Giver not to mind being ignored.
It is funny, as in, so shockingly unbelievable, that you’d think it must be satire. Imagine the headline: “Man gets breath, would rather die than say ‘Thank you.’” We aren’t shocked because we breath ingratitude’s exhaust all the time. We’ve been lead to believe, by God’s enemies, that honoring God is weak and foolish. It’s supposedly simplistic to acknowledge and worship God. But deep down in places people don’t talk about at parties, they know. Their knowledge haunts them like an embarrassing shadow.
The wrath of God is being revealed against this suppression of truth. They are desperate to keep it on the down low, even though they know.
They know that there is a God who made all that they see, a God who made the the world and who made them. God showed and is showing Himself to all men through creation and they are “without excuse.” The Greek word (ἀναπολογήτους) means without apology, as in, they have no defense.
In verses 21-23 it’s as if Paul backs up the theological bus and runs over the Great Pumpkin of Hubris again. He gives a second “because” (διότι), a second set of refusals with reasoning based on their knowledge of God, knowledge that is real, relevant, and that they are committed to reject.
Five characteristics of this hubris:
The first part of verse 21 is the fundamental failure of man since the fall. It is the face of suppression. Certainly some men go out of their way to protest against God, so-called militant atheists, but this is the typical, mundane “practical” atheist version of unrighteousness.
“The wrath of God is being revealed…because having known God they neither give God glory nor give God thanks.”
The ESV “honor God” is okay, but the verb (ἐδόξασαν) is related to the noun doxa, glory. Men will not give glory to God. They refuse to acknowledge His worth.
It’s so insane it is immoral. How can a person be trusted who can’t, who won’t answer such a simple A or B choice correction? Jonathan Edwards once proposed the following thought experiment. Imagine there was a third-party judge in the universe with impeccable wisdom and courage. Imagine this judge was assigned the case of determining worth between two sides. On one side is God and on the other side is all the best of mankind and the rest of the universe. The judge looks at the scale. There is no question. Even considered collectively, all creation cannot be more glorious than the Creator.
To know just a little bit more than the above is to know that man’s glory goes with God’s; reflections are only as good as they are turned toward the original. When we worship the God of glory we are being made full (see Ephesians 3:19), and failing to do so we shrivel, we are hollowed out, we are nothing but dust. This will be obvious soon.
It is an interesting connection: they did not give God glory and they did not give God thanks. Both praise and gratitude are parts of worship, sometimes overlapping but able to be distinguished. But it is ingratitude that corrupts man and rusts out his soul in hubris and resentment. Men will call themselves women before they will give God thanks. Men will literally go to hell rather than give God thanks.
Being thankful is the image-bearers godly response to all the gifts of God. Being thankful is inverse of truth suppression. Being thankful, rather than grumbling, is what makes a man of faith stand out in this dark, twisted, and perverse culture (see Philippians 2:14-15).
For what should we give thanks? Just everything. We’re accountable for all we have. What do we have that we have not received? (1 Corinthians 4:7). We cannot keep count, we do not even know all that God has done for us, through history, extended through the network of peoples, and also in the unseen realm. The fact that His gifts are so many argues that we are without apology for not giving any acknowledgment.
Men suppress the most obvious truth in the world, their lives are devoted to denying ultimate glory, they are busy rejecting any and every reminder of their dependence on a Giver, and it makes for an empty mental effort.
“but they were rendered futile in their thinking”
Thinking is a word that gives the impression of reasoning through an issue. The process and point of this reasoning is empty; the only “point” is to miss The Point. It may echo Solomon’s wisdom that, under the sun, without reference to God, all is vanity. There is no substance, no traction, no hold. Men are reasoning sans meaning. Education cannot be the savior because it’s the computation part that’s broken. (Secular) education is a cover-up operation. Men would rather turn everything into garbage than give thanks to God.
It’s a constant state of cognitive dissonance; what they think (“no Giver”) is fully inconsistent with their experience (“look at all these things I didn’t really get for myself”). That’s how adultery can be called “love,” that’s how abortion can be called “health-care,” that’s how theft can be called “equity,” and how men can be called “female Olympic weight-lifting contestants.” Their reasoning is impaired.
“and their foolish hearts were darkened”
Foolish is “without understanding,” senseless. Hearts are the seat of determining value, but these hearts are uncalibrated. They are flying with broken instruments. They are loving in the dark.
Elsewhere Paul wrote about darkness and futility and hardness.
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. (Ephesians 4:17–18)
Without understanding they do not even know what to love. Insanity is a state where normal perceptions don’t work. Their perceiving mechanism is unhealthy (not sanus, the Latin word for healthy). They are blind with their eyes duct-taped shut and a box on their head in a dark room with no windows at midnight.
Always up the challenge, hubris is the least capable of proper self-assessment.
“professing to be wise they became morons.”
All the paragraph has been showing the foolishness, but this is futile foolishness. They lie about their own status, though many of them certainly believe their own deceptions. The wise, the philosopher, the elite, they are the worst. They convince themselves that they are hot snot.
“and exchanged the glory of the imperishable God for the likeness of the image of perishable men, and for birds, bovine, and bugs.”
This is worship. They will worship. Man is homo adorans, worshiping man. This is value acknowledgement, this is trust, this is adoration, this is crazy. Such exchange is worse that something like, “I’ll give you this bar of gold in exchange for a fleck of dirt under your toenail.”
Again there is God, and there is what God has made, and here considered in parts not even in whole. There is Original, there is copy. There is imperishable, immortal, incorruptible, and there is dying and dead. There is fullness or partiality, bright glory or dim reflection. And then there is just the backwards-ness of it all, exalting the winged, the walking, and the creepy-crawlies, glorifying crows and cows and caterpillars. Or, make it great, eagles and lions and lizards. How impressive.
There are a few applications to press home.
First, at least some of the ancient idols had life. Our idols today are more “sophisticated,” says we. Maybe we should say they are more subtle, since we’ve stopped using the superstitious language about “God” and “gods” and “idols.” But our exchanges for the glory of the imperishable God are often less meaningful than something you could at least milk.
We do still worship men, but more like the “idea” of man. We worship man’s potential, which we have to imagine. Humanism, Secularism, are very pompous exchanges that return empty.
Second, these truths about unbelievers who suppress these truths are written for believers. Paul is writing to the saints in Rome, not the suppressors, so that their faith would be stimulated and strengthened. He is giving the Christians wisdom, not giving them an example of how to talk to an atheist, or polytheist.
What is most important when speaking to a truth-suppressor is not your outline of truth per se. It doesn’t matter whether you kick the ball with your left or right foot, whether you kick high or low, whether it’s straight or curved, the goalie has one job: keep the ball out of the net. Understanding what we’re up against should be somewhat freeing, from seeking the perfect approach and from seeking the goalie’s approval. There are not really “tips” for evangelism or apologetics. Don’t be surprised at the resistance, keep kicking, as in, keep telling them the truth.
I asked Jonathan to read Acts 17:22-32 because that is one example of bringing God’s glory and reality to bear among those who were false worshipers. Paul’s presupposition about their hatred of truth didn’t mean he had nothing to say.
Some other examples: “Oh, you love science? Science is amazing! Let me tell you about the God of science.” “Oh, you love America? America is awesome! Let me tell you about how God blessed America and how God will damn America to hell if we won’t repent and acknowledge Him.” “Oh, you love sex? Do you know the God who invented it?” “Oh, you love money and all the things that money can buy? Let me tell you about the God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills.”
Third, these truths about unbelievers who won’t glorify God or thank God are for believers. And how ironic would it be if we do not glorify God or thank God for His wrath being revealed.
He gives and takes away, whether it’s things or relationships or understanding, to persons and to peoples. As he has GIFTED His people with repentance and faith, gifted us with humility to worship Him in truth, gifted us with wisdom and growth and reflection of His glory, we would appropriately desire for God to keep revealing His righteousness and show His power in the gospel to turn men to the living God. Forgiven people, people freed from their futile thinking and fleshly lusts, people of GIFTS, people of faith in God through Jesus Christ, those people are blessed and bring blessing. It is the disciple-making duty that our Lord instructed us to be about.
And also, as God reveals His wrath on unthankful men, we ought to be thankful. This gratitude is not giddy about their peril of enslaving passions or eternal punishment, but neither is our gratitude embarrassed at God’s wrath, as if He was just being petty about this little slight.
We are privileged to see so much human hubris getting what it thinks it wants. Their “success” is God’s revelation of wrath against their refusal to submit to Him. Their hubris, in many cases, is hilarious, albeit costly and problematic and painful (to us). But, as a older Christian sitting next to me on a plane said to me, it is a God thing. When foolish men get what they want, it’s not only the telos of wrath but the trajectory itself that is part of God’s wrath. He is not mocked. He may use it to make them sick, a sort of aversion conversion. He may use it to punish their consciences forever.
But again, the signs of abandoning wrath we see are a reason for our faith more than fear, as a reason for praise more than panic. God is at work around us.
Ours is to worship Him when others won’t. Ours is to worship Him because others won’t.
The cost of our un-thankfulness is the son of God dying on the cross.
In all your ways acknowledge Him and lights of understanding and beauty will turn on all around you. In all your ways acknowledge Him and you will see the hilarity of little man’s hubris. In all your ways acknowledge Him and enjoy the table He’s prepared for you in the presence of your adversary. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and your cup will overflow, and let your heart overflow with thanks.
[May your] hearts be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:2-3, 6-7, ESV)