When I was just a wee lad, my Mom told me to stop using certain language… or else the bathroom soap would be unleashed in my mouth! I knew my Mom loved me. She was a gentle soul, a caring person, who provided for my needs and gave me encouragement… I knew she had set up a pattern for my life… but I couldn't imagine she'd get upset enough to stick a bar of soap in my mouth. So I tempted fate and for an afternoon neglected to follow her commands. I tested her resolve to keep the created order in our house… and kept repeating certain words again and again. In essence, I didn't really trust her to do what she said she would do… and I leaned on my own understanding.
Well, I learned that afternoon that I do not like the taste of soap.***
God's wrath is something that we struggle to understand… but the truth is that we really can't struggle against it. If God chooses to unleash wrath, we'll get washed out. And yet we test God's resolve… thinking that God wouldn't really bring the consequences of our actions upon us. After all, God is love, right? We know God is gentle, caring, providing and encouraging. So God wouldn't really unleash wrath upon us… would he?
Paul says yes. Paul says that in fact God has already started to reveal wrath. Here's the deal: Throughout history, though people couldn’t see God, they could see his qualities. For example, his unlimited power is seen in the thunderous forces of nature or the scale of the heavens. His divine essence is seen in the intimate intricacies of created life. His social disposition is seen in the interwoven relationships of earthly creatures. His caring heart is seen in the provision of mothers and fathers and neighbors of the young. His holiness is seen in the kept laws and boundaries of societies. His story is heard since the beginning of time. God has made himself easily discoverable.
Still they didn’t treat God as God… but more like a neglected vagabond.
And they didn’t say “thank you” for all God had provided and all God had done.
And they began to behave in a manner that was void of God’s characteristics.
And they began to behave in a manner that was wicked against others.
When the powerful forces of nature frightened them, they imagined little geographic gods… and worshipped the mountains. When life became a chore, they devalued it… and chose to mistreat created life for their own selfish gain. When relationships became difficult, they resorted to walls between neighbors… and distanced themselves from God. When care was broken, they gave in to embittered revenge… and accepted twisted personal fates. When laws and boundaries were broken, they took up weapons… and justified their use of terror against one another. When those who had ears no longer listened, they stopped hearing the story. And no longer did they discover God…
Instead they substituted God’s image for their own. A sick, futile, meaningless leaning of understanding.
And so God’s wrath is being and will be unleashed. When people have broken the first command (to love God) and they have demolished the second (to love your neighbor)… do we not trust God to do what he says he will do?
Here are two translations to consider:
Romans 1:18-23 (TNIV) The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of human beings who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal human beings and birds and animals and reptiles.
Romans 1:18-23 (Message) But God's angry displeasure erupts as acts of human mistrust and wrongdoing and lying accumulate, as people try to put a shroud over truth. But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can't see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse. What happened was this: People knew God perfectly well, but when they didn't treat him like God, refusing to worship him, they trivialized themselves into silliness and confusion so that there was neither sense nor direction left in their lives. They pretended to know it all, but were illiterate regarding life. They traded the glory of God who holds the whole world in his hands for cheap figurines you can buy at any roadside stand.
*** I think it was a well-used bar of soap from the bathtub, not a nice new bar from an unwrapped box. Shudder. Aw gross.
*** This soap-in-the-mouth discipline actually had unintended results in my own house… as one of my children likes the taste of soap. Alas, we no longer use this method.
*** A woman in Florida was arrested in 2009 for washing her child's mouth out with soap… Well, actually she was arrested for child-abuse when she failed to get treatment for her daugher- who had a severe allergic reaction to the soap. Perhaps a sour lemon would be a better option?