Roman Unraveling: Day 26
‘In the context of Romans 1:18-32, it is true that there is a certain logic to the sequence of events. First, a false wisdom suppresses the truth about God in creation. This leads, second, to an inevitable distortion of one’s moral compass and the satisfaction of desires that are inherently self-degrading. Nevertheless, the threefold “God gave them over” in vs. 24, 26, 28 emphasizes God’s “semi-active” role in the process. God is “semi-active” because, on the one hand, God actively “gives over” humans to their own desires as an act of divine judgment (“wrath”), but on the other hand, God manifests this wrath (at least initially) by passively allowing these sinful desires to take their own course rather than bringing supernatural destruction.
God deliberately decides not to intervene to thwart the control of sinful passions in order that the punishment might fit the crime. In this way, we learn that dishonoring of God leads to a dishonoring of self. The place of Rom. 1:24-27 within the larger context of the revelation of God’s righteousness to a world trapped in sin (2:4; 3:21-26; 6:1-8:17; cf. Gal. 3:22; 1 Cor. 5:5) suggests that the hopeful intent of the punishment is reformatory. Humans disgusted by their self-debasing conduct become good candidates for receiving the transforming power of the gospel and the Spirit of Christ (cf. Wis. 11:23; 12:2, 10, 20).’
(The Bible and Homosexual Practice, pp. 262, 263)
Wow. Another mouthful. When the DSM executive team went through this book together, we were challenged by the density and the layers of Gagnon’s take on Romans. It makes sense. He is a Greek, New Testament scholar, and the Romans passage is the most detailed reference to homosexuality in the Bible. Not only that, but St. Paul opens Romans--his magnum opus--with a vivid, cautionary glimpse of homosexual activity (both male and female).
Gagnon helps us to understand why St. Paul does this; the Apostle’s intent was not ethical (although it is decidedly negative and binding in that sense) but descriptive of what happens when the creature denies the clear witness of his body. Remember TOB, and West’s words, ‘our bodies are Bibles’? We can know something of the intended direction of our sexuality through our anatomy; to disavow that disavows the Creator. St. Paul holds the homosexually active morally responsible for suppressing the truth of their design and Designer.
What follows is a glimpse of disordered sexuality, in which some of the checks and balances of co-humanity give way to frenzied, addictive behavior. Unlike the Hebrews, Greco-Roman culture tolerated and, in some sectors, celebrated ‘gay’ play. But St. Paul does not let his readers, mostly Jews in Rome, off the hook. He is far too clever for that. The Apostle gets their attention by disgusting them then demolishes their smugness by asking: ‘Do you think you “moral” Jews are any less in need of this Jesus? No less and in truth maybe more because unlike the sexually damaged, you don’t recognize your need for this Savior. Don’t you know that the kindness of God invites all to repent’? (Rom. 2:4)
Another takeaway for me is the truth that God ‘hands over’ people to their addictions. I cannot help but think of the thousands who no longer feel any conviction about homosexual lust. Then and now I feel deeply burdened to pray for friends’ consciences to be sparked once more. No doubt they once experienced conflict over their divides. Doubtless, the turn of public opinion, the annihilation of moral shame, and sexy celebrity-driven persuasion numbs them now. We can pray. The Holy Spirit who created the universe can touch a deceived heart with the truth.
‘Jesus, You love our friends and family who have been “handed over” more than we do. Rouse them, O God, to what they can’t not know. You have written Your design on their hearts and bodies, and none of us can be at peace until we surrender to You. Please employ us to be a part of their merciful homecoming—at once reconciled to You, and to their own true selves.’
‘Jesus, show us Your way through the uneven, deeply divided ground of our nation. Please compose and restrain explosive hearts. Use us as instruments of Your peace. “O blood and water which gushed forth from the heart of Savior Jesus as a fountain of mercy for us, we trust in You.”’