God is love. God is forgiving. God is kind. God is too good to pronounce eternal judgment on anyone. Or, only the really, really, REALLY bad people will be eternally punished. But not most people. Just the Hitlers and Husseins of the world. This is common thinking in our world today. But Paul has a completely different idea about the character of God. To understand God’s righteousness fully, we need to understand our problem.
18 For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, 19 since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them. 20 From the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse. (HCSB)
In the previous verse Paul told us that God’s righteousness has been revealed through the gospel, the good news of Jesus being ruler over all things. But in revealing that God is faithful to his word to save those who are righteous, there is another side of this coin. If God is faithful to his word, then the message of Habakkuk has another important, strong point. God’s righteousness also condemns the wicked. There is a flip side to God’s words to Habakkuk. The righteous live by faith. The wicked do not. If God is faithful to keep his word and has promised to deliver the righteous, save the righteous, and vindicate the righteous, then by necessity God is faithful to judge all ungodliness and all unrighteousness. The gospel, which reveals Jesus delivering from sins, also reveals Jesus as judge since he is ruler of heaven and earth. In the same message, God’s wrath has also been revealed. Notice that this is a contrast between God’s righteousness and our unrighteousness. God has been faithful, but we have unfaithful. God has kept his word and his covenant, but we have not. God has been just, fair, and right, but we have not.
Suppressing The Truth of God
In their unrighteousness they suppress what is evident and plain about the truth. This mirrors something that Peter taught also. They do not see not because the truth of God has not been revealed. No, they do not see because they do not want to see. They are suppressing the truth about God. They do not want to see that God’s righteousness and his wrath have been revealed. People want to ignore that the wrath of God does exist. People want to ignore that there is a penalty for sins that must be paid. God can be known because God has revealed himself.
I think this is an important point that must be expressed. God has made himself evident. There is no one who can say that they did not know. We often try to come up with exaggerated hypotheticals about some person in the middle of the South Pacific on an island who does not know God. But this is not an issue. God has made himself plain and evident. How?
Since the beginning of creation God’s invisible attributes are clearly seen. I love statements like these. God’s invisible characteristics can be clearly seen by humans. How can we see what is invisible? Just as much as we say that we can see the wind, we can see God’s invisible attributes by their effects. There are two invisible attributes that Paul particularly has in mind: God’s eternal power and his divine nature. God has revealed himself in the creation of the world. People can come to a knowledge of God by seeing these invisible attributes of God. All people have a knowledge of God by observing the created order. Unfortunately, this knowledge about God is suppressed and distorted. Paul is not saying that we can know what to do by looking at the creation. We are not going to learn God’s will or God’s law for us by looking at the created world. But the creation is to cause us to see the invisible God, particularly his attributes, so that we will seek after him.
Thus, the first point that Paul makes is that all people are without excuse. It is not that most people are under the power of sin, but that all people are. No one gets a pass. God has revealed himself in the creation. Just look around and be in awe about how perfectly made everything is. Compare the things humans make to the things God has made. We make things that work and are functional. We make cars and skyscrapers and the like. But look at the beauty of the human body. It is functional, self-regulates, and yet functions beautifully in a way no one has ever made. Consider the healing powers of our body. It is amazing. Nothing that humans make fixes itself. It can tell you that it is broken. But our bodies heal in the most amazing way. We suppress the truth when we choose to think that there is not an Almighty Creator who has formed us, made us, and rules over us. God has made himself plain for he has revealed eternal power and divine nature in the creation. Therefore we have no excuse.
21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (ESV)
Sin is the rejection of God as God. Sin is the transgressing of God’s law. But such acts are rooted in a rejection of God as God. In looking around and seeing God’s invisible attributes in the creation, people are expected to seek after God. We should be motivated to learn about God, know his will, and worship him. But that is not what happened. Humans have refused to honor God, worship God, or give thanks to God. The appropriate response should have been glorying God, worshiping God, and giving thanks to God.
Instead of being smart, we turn to foolishness. Instead of being smart and trusting in God in all things, we turn to created, physical things. Our thinking and our hearts become warped and damaged because we are not worshiping God as we ought. Of course, people who do such things think they are intelligent and enlightened. One such person whose arrogance pours out is Bill Maher who produced the movie, Religulous, a combining of the word Religion and Ridiculous. He has made himself to be god. He thinks he is absolutely brilliant and those who believe in God are utter fools. This is what happens. We think we are being so smart and yet are acting foolishly and ignorantly. He thinks he is so smart and yet I look at him and see a fool. The book of Ecclesiastes teaches us that life without God is futility. Without God, our outlook on life and our way of thinking is false and darkened, not wise.
Can’t we see the foolishness? We are exchanging the glory of the immortal God for images that resemble humans and animals. How can we possibly think this is a good exchange? We have traded away worship to the Creator of all things for the worship of created things. We worship our jobs rather than God. We worship our families rather than God. We worship our possessions rather than God. We worship our bank accounts rather than God. We worship our bodies and its desires rather than God. We worship ourselves rather than God. How is this a smart exchange? Why are we worshiping ourselves and the things we own? We can’t control anything and the things we are worshiping break and fade.
This is exactly what the nation of Israel had done in the days of Moses. The psalmist tells that story from which Paul quotes:
19 They made a calf in Horeb and worshiped a metal image. 20 They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass. 21 They forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt, 22 wondrous works in the land of Ham, and awesome deeds by the Red Sea. (Psalm 106:19-22; ESV)
The prophet Jeremiah declared this foolish exchange that Israel had made:
Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. (Jeremiah 2:11; ESV)
Consider this: what we are doing is the same as having an original, priceless masterpiece and exchanging it for a reproduction, a mere copy. You have the real thing and you make a trade for a fake. It is like taking a one hundred dollar bill and exchanging for one hundred dollars in Monopoly money. Who would do such a thing? Yet this is what we do with God, trading him in for some clunker of a false god that we put our hope in. We exchange God for pitiful substitutes.
- God’s wrath has been revealed. His wrath is real and stands against our unrighteousness. God’s righteousness demands that God be just and execute justice.
- Sin is the rejection of God as God.
- We cannot refuse to honor God or give thanks to God. Worship is the only appropriate response before God.
- Don’t exchange the glory of the immortal God for false gods.