An uncomfortable truth
The Apostle Paul starts his great presentation of the Christian gospel in a most uncomfortable way:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against the godlessness and wickedness of people… (Romans 1:18)
That is a very tough start! We might find him longing to be more positive, but Paul starts with this mighty problem. God is angry — the word used is the normal Greek for “anger”. The cause of His anger is human wickedness: we suppress the truth about Him, we live in His world as if He’s not there, we make our own ideas of God (1:18-23). The expression of it is there for all to see: He hands humanity over to our sinful desires, and so our lives, and our world, become the messed-up things they are (1:24-32). The culmination of it will be on the day of God’s wrath (2:5).
We find that difficult. Partly this is because we assume God’s anger must be like ours: expressing itself in rage and malice of the kind which can only lead to apologies afterwards (it is not; it is a purely righteous anger at all that is evil). And we don’t want to believe that this could be God’s verdict on humanity, or present a negative message. Imagine starting Focus (our undergraduate Bible study) this term with something like this!
But we did — because Paul does, and we’re reading Romans together. This is where we begin if we’re to be faithful to Paul. We really do want to investigate Christianity as it actually is.
If we do leave the uncomfortable truth of the wrath of God out of our message, we will find it hard explaining the world. The Bible tells us that ours is a world under judgment, and the evidence of that is all around us. In World War One, some lost their faith, because they’d been brought up on a wishy-washy form of Christianity at the end of the nineteenth century, which had no place for the wrath of God. Consequently they had no way to make sense of the world as they experienced it.
If we leave this uncomfortable truth out, we will also find it impossible to make sense of the Bible. It is everywhere in Scripture, precisely because it’s a problem God urgently wants us to hear about — indeed, it’s the theme of the first public preaching in two of the gospels (see Matthew 3:7 and Luke 3:7).
If we leave this truth out, we will not be able to make sense of the cross. For the Bible presents this as God’s marvellous answer to the problem of His own anger: Christ bore it, in our place, willingly, so that we might be fully forgiven (Romans 3:25).
There is a huge temptation to leave this out. But if it’s real, then the only responsible thing is to face it. Don’t brush it aside. It is an uncomfortable truth - but it is the truth.
Just as with medical problems only the true diagnosis leads to proper treatment, Paul is honest about our biggest problem in order to help us. He wants us to come to Christ for forgiveness, and so find life, and health, and peace.
Have you done that?
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