Fore note: This has been a particularly difficult segment to write and so any comments, clarifications, or helps would be much appreciated. Before I felt like I was wading into warm tropical waters, but in this passage, it feels like I've taken that next step and wound up plunged into the tongue of the ocean.
from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans (DRC)
21 Because that, when they knew God, they have not glorified him as God, or given thanks; but became vain in their thoughts, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 For professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. 23 And they changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of the image of a corruptible man, and of birds, and of fourfooted beasts, and of creeping things. 24 Wherefore God gave them up to the desires of their heart, unto uncleanness, to dishonour their own bodies among themselves. 25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie; and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
26 For this cause God delivered them up to shameful affections. For their women have changed the natural use into that use which is against nature.
from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans (KJV)
21Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
22Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
23And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
24Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
25Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
26For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
I have broken the passage here to avoid too long a reading; however, it might be good to read to the end of the chapter and come back to take these verses in context, this is the beginning of one form of argument that St. Paul uses throughout the letter.
Okay, so today we begin to encounter the St. Paul in the presence of whom I always felt terribly uncomfortable as a protestant. This is a raving, railing, ranting St. Paul, who fulminates and casts into Hell all that he does not care for. This is the St. Paul of those who would judge others and condemn them to Hell despite the strong injunction not to do so. In short, this St. Paul exists only in the perfervid imaginations of those who have fallen under the spell of a certain way of reading the Bible.
But this picture of St. Paul is a caricature, a distortion, a slander of a great man with a great heart. And, in all likelihood, I may have been the only person to have ever encountered this fictitious (and factitious) St.Paul.
These verses, and those that are to follow shortly, are commonly amongst those used in the argument against homosexuality. For a gay-friendly analysis of these verses and those following is available here, I am dubious about some aspects of this argument; however, I did like the notion introduced of St. Paul as ironist. I'm not sure that he is exhibiting that tendency here, but it helps to make St. Paul more human and humane.
We recall from yesterday that the previous passage ended with "So they are without excuse." Who? Those, who knowing God and His glory choose to bow before created things rather than worshiping the Creator. I don't know that St. Paul condemns all paganism with this assault, although he may well be doing so; however, he is certainly condemning the Dionysian cults that seem to worship and revel in darkness and in vain animalistic pursuits. I have this small doubt about the complete condemnation of all previous practice because of the power and skill of an argument presented elsewhere that depends upon the Altar to and Unknown god.
So, let's leave aside for the moment whether this passage is meant to be a blanket condemnation of the entire pagan world and its thinkers and look instead as to what the real sin is, because it is this consequences of this sin that Paul will delineate in the passage subsequent to this.
The specific problem is delineated in verse 21--when they knew God, when they saw His Glory, rather than praising that Glory and extolling that greatness, they extolled themselves and darkened their own imaginations. They had seen the power of God and they ended up seeing nothing at all but their own reflections. They could not praise Him or give Him glory and so they became puffed up. Thinking themselves wise, they became fools--they were filled with their own ideas and their own desires--their glimpse of God pushed them solidly back into themselves. And this is a natural tendency. If we think of the Apostles at the Transfiguration, the first thing they want to do after witnessing such a marvelous event is build some tabernacles. They, at least, had a worthy thing in mind to build. Not so with many of the pagan cults. They instead choose to make graven images of Dionysius, Mithras, and other even darker entities. They see the sun and choose to transform it to suit their own purposes. (Sounds rather uncomfortably familiar, doesn't it?)
When they did this they incurred the penalty of their sin in their own bodies. For example, the celebration of Cybele left too many men incapable of contributing to the future of the race. Other cults had even darker rites.
When we see God and ignore Him, consequences naturally follow. Paul attributes them to God's wrath and perhaps that is simply a metaphorical way of saying that sins carry with them their own retribution. Take our modern era with the "sexual revolution" of the 60s. The consequences of that horrendous social experiment are with us today as we contemplate the election of a man who will do his uttermost to assure that the slaughter of the innocents can continue unabated in the name of rights that simply do not exist.
While Paul was writing of the depraved pagans of his time, his message holds true for us today. When we choose to ignore God and recreate Him in our own image, we will be serving a horrible god at a terrible price. I won't go so far as to say that it happens daily, but I think it is fair to say that daily we see the consequences of such service in the world around us.