As I sat in the dark quiet morning reading the verses in my devotional booklet, I had a hard time focusing. The Bible passage of the day was a tough one, or maybe my brain was still asleep. Either way, I couldn’t capture the meaning behind the words and had to read them several times. It’s rare that I would spend so much time going over a difficult section like this; these few minutes of the day are just meant to be a quick quiet wake-up time, not in-depth Bible research hour. Yet I persisted in trying to figure it out.
Opening my Bible and reading the verses a fourth time, thinking a different context and translation would help, the meaning of the words finally made sense to me. I realized why I had such a hard time understanding. Sometimes what God has to say hits so close to home that the words lose their overall meaning. It’s like looking at yourself in a close-up mirror and only seeing details that you are unused to seeing from that point of view, unsure of where the focus lies in the whole of your face.
“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is 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.” Romans 1:18-20
First of all, I don’t like reading about the “wrath of God.” The peace lover within me wants nothing more than to believe that I haven’t done anything to warrant experiencing the wrath of anyone, and for sure not God. I like to think that I step carefully through life, thanking God for my many blessings, trying not to offend or upset and trying to love others as Jesus loves me, and enjoying the love of others in return. I like to think that everything I do is beyond the pulsing radar of God’s wrath.
The reality is that I plod unawares many days, stepping on feet and tripping over the sensibilities of others as I make my own way that serves my own desires, God-free and spotlight on me.
I have fooled myself into thinking that the wrath of God is for somebody else, when God specifically tells us that it is revealed against the “godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness”. Even though we all want to believe that we aren’t doing anything wrong, ever, we all have that wickedness in us, don’t we?
We forget that sin is sin is sin, and that all sin is wickedness to God, who is all good and cannot be in the same room as sin. We fool ourselves into thinking that sin is stuff like murder and adultery, and if we haven’t done those things, we are sinless. We forget that we are sinful. We overlook what God has taught us. We skim over the fact that he shows us who he is by his work in our lives and in the world. We forget that he shows us his power in the glory of creation. We lose focus on who he is; instead, we focus on what he has given us and the beauty of creation.
Is there a smudge on that mirror, or is that part of my face?
It’s a fine distinction, to note that we focus on the blessing instead of the one bestowing the blessing. How can that be wrong, especially if we do our due diligence and thank God for what he’s done for us? But the distinction is still there.
We all have God within us – he created us, after all. We all have a natural sense of right and wrong. Yet we go against it daily, in ways that we might not even consider wrong or immoral or worthy of wrath. It doesn’t mean we are awful people according to the world, but it does mean that we are not God. I believe it also means that we need God to help us.
Sometimes I don’t want help. I think: I’m good, I’ve got this, just leave me to it. But the fact is I do need help, with nearly everything. I am not perfect; I cannot do it all. I may try, but eventually everything I have built all by myself comes crumbling down. I need others and I need higher spiritual guidance. Admitting this is humbling and uncomfortable. It’s no wonder that this passage, and the meaning behind the words, were so difficult for me to understand right away in the morning. There’s no good time of day to realize that you are a sinner who needs to ask for forgiveness and do better.
But there’s also no better time to realize it. I’m glad that God loves us all enough to show us where we stand with him, and also for the opportunity to live better than we did yesterday.