18. Claiming Wisdom

Meditations in Romans : 18:  Claiming Wisdom

Rom 1:22,23.   Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

We started off the previous meditation by noting that so often we think our thinking is right and good, i.e. we think we are wise.  Yet we went on to note that Paul said that our thinking (without God) is futile or hopeless, and those descriptions surely cannot stand alongside wisdom! Yet part of the deception is that we think we are wise; we think we know about life and the world and so we feel confident but, sadly, it is a false confidence.  As I listen to or read the modern crusading atheists, there comes over a confidence. When I wrote an appraisal of one of these men, I found myself writing, “He gives himself the position of almost divine authority. You wonder can he possibly be wrong!” This is a man who seriously ‘claims to be wise’, and certainly wiser than those of us who hold a biblical faith!

But Paul says that these people who failed to see God in His Creation, having become futile in their thinking, have also become fools. Now my dictionary describes a fool as a person with little or no judgment, common sense, wisdom, etc.” That is what a fool is. In the Old Testament we find, “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psa 14:1, 53:1). A fool, says the psalmist, is one who makes out there is no God. I also note that there is a footnote in my Bible that tells us that, “The Hebrew words rendered ‘fool’ in Psalms denote one who is morally deficient.” So, a fool is one who is lacking judgment, is godless and is morally deficient. What a condemnation of one who thinks they are wise!

But this is exactly what deception is all about. The Bible speaks again and again of Eve being ‘deceived’ by Satan in the Garden of Eden (e.g. Gen 3:13, 2 Cor 11:3, 1 Tim 2:14).  When we are deceived it simply means that we have been led into a position where we believe something false. That is what Paul is saying in these verses. People who abandon God are being deceived so that they end up with futile, hopeless thinking and yet they still think they are wise! That is classic deception!

But is it obvious, Paul goes on, you only have to see what they do. They reject the wonder and the glory of God who is eternal and they replace that with man-made idols. How stupid can you get!  Yes, if you travel around the world you will still see, in a number of countries, idols that have been made in the form of human beings or animals.  The prophets of the Old Testament were particularly good at deriding the folly of worshipping idols – wood or metal made at the hands of men – idols that are utterly powerless!

Perhaps today we may think we are more sophisticated here in the West and would never dream of making such models and bowing down before them, but the truth is an idol is anything we worship other that God, any substitute we make for God, and there are many such things in modern life. Rather than me put forward my list of such things, you think about modern life and see what things modern man considers more important than God.

If we take anything and make and use it as a substitute for God, we are being a fool. These substitutes do not bring genuine, lasting meaning to our lives. They become a temporary focus but in old age we realise they were empty and hollow and meaningless and we are left destitute when it comes to purpose and direction into eternity. These substitutes could not speak to us, guide us and help us and work good in us, for they were all the outworkings of the endeavours of man. Fame and fortune may appear alluring but at the end of life when we come face to face with God, we will realise that they were simply a means to enhance our self-centredness and godlessness and they do not last and cannot be taken with us as we pass through the doorway of death.

How bizarre and crazy is the outworking of sin sometimes! Here is almighty, wonderful, beautiful, glorious God, who offers friendship and salvation to us, offers us meaning and purpose and a wonderful life that stretches into eternity – and some of us turn down these offers and settle for temporary and transient things that do nothing more than bolster the deception that we are someone of substance who thinks well of themselves – who thinks they are wise while, in fact, their thinking is futile and foolish.

Jesus spoke of God’s work of dealing with the ungodly: He has blinded their eyes and deadened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts.” (Jn 12:40, quoting Isa 6;10) But how does God do this? He allows Satan to do it: And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor 4:3,4) Yes, it is Satan who blinds people’s eyes. He simply plays on their already godless and self-centred inclinations, that are the expression of sin, and speaks into their minds what is acceptable to them – “It’s all right, there is no God; you do what you want to do. You know best,” and they follow along until a crisis in life ploughs their lives and the Holy Spirit speaks seeds of conviction to them, to turn them to God. But until then, they are deceived and foolish in their thinking and their godless behaviour just testifies to that foolishness. May that not be true of us!  I find possibly one of the saddest expressions of this deception is seen at funerals when deceived mourners extol the virtues of their deceived loved one by playing them out to Frank Sinatra’s, “I did it my way.” THAT is deception and folly!

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17. Futile Thinking

Meditations in Romans : 17 :  Futile Thinking

Rom 1:21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

So often we think our thinking is right and good. We trust in what we think. If we are one of today’s crusading atheists we are sure that what we think is absolutely right. We are utterly sincere in our beliefs. I remember, many years ago, hearing Billy Graham speak about sincerity and cited watching an American Football match and how through his glasses he watched one particular player grab the ball and run the pitch, and cross the back line. He was the most sincere man on the field as he made that run. The only trouble was that in the melee he was confused and ran the wrong way. He was sincerely wrong!

Now Paul doesn’t make it absolutely clear who he is talking about and so we have to assume he is speaking in generalities. This is what sinful mankind does. We didn’t start out like this but “their thinking became futile”. It was a process which, depending on individuals, is quick or slow. From the start Adam and Eve knew God. From the start Israel knew God. The knowledge of God was there from the beginning but something changed. You would have thought that mankind would have worshipped God because when you have a being as great as Almighty God and you are a mere human being, worship is the logical expression of what you would feel, but that didn’t happen.

You might have thought the Adam and Eve would have just been filled with love for God, meeting with Him on a daily basis, enjoying the wonder of the world He has obviously made for their enjoyment. You might have thought that Israel, when they encountered God at Sinai, would have just been overwhelmed by His awesome presence so that worship would have been their automatic response, which just would have gone on and on – but it didn’t.  You might have thought that humanity in general would have so enjoyed the wonder of the world which God has given us that we would be ever thanking and praising Him for it. You might have thought that but you would have been wrong! The presence of sin in us leads us to have skewed thinking. We don’t appreciate our world and we don’t appreciate God. But it is a gradual thing.

Have you ever watched little children act almost with surprise at finding a daisy? Little children ‘discover’ the wonder of our world, but then they grow up and become sceptics and take life and the world for granted and then, during this process of growing up, their thinking becomes futile. It is true of all of us; it is the effect of sin within us. We remain like that until a crisis hits and we realise our frailty and our need and God’s Spirit speaks to us and convicts us, but we did need the ploughing effect of the crisis first, before the Spirit could sow the seeds of conviction. The hardness of our hearts had to be broken up and turned over by the upheaval of a crisis. Until then our thinking had been futile.

If we are sci-fi enthusiasts we have come across the word ‘futile’ before. We have heard the cry of the Borg that, “Resistance is futile!”  It simply means hopeless, so when Paul says “their thinking became futile” he is really saying, “their thinking became hopeless.”  This is what the stupid thinking of sin does – it goes nowhere! It is hopeless. It goes round and round in circles as sinful, self-centred man tries to reason and work out his own salvation. He knows he is in a mess and struggles to better himself. That’s why so many work so long hours trying to climb the ambition ladder which they think will achieve greatness. It doesn’t; it just wiles away the years until, when we reach the end of it, we realise we have achieved so little that is meaningful in eternity. Solomon, in Ecclesiastes, arrived at this place, of wondering what it had all been about when, within a few years after death, you are forgotten. Until our lives have been ploughed by adverse circumstances that bring us to our senses and then the Holy Spirit has sown the seeds of conviction, we remain in futile, hopeless endeavour. It is only when we come back to God and submit our lives to Him do we find ourselves with a new sense of genuine meaning.

In the meantime our minds and our hearts are ‘darkened’. Light and darkness are contrasts we use when speaking about good and evil. Darkness represents evil. Our hearts became evil in that they became rebellious against God and put self on the throne of life instead. The heart is the place of origins of intent. It isn’t that organ that pumps blood round the body, not in this context at least. ‘Heart’ here refers to the centre of our being (wherever that is) where we make decisions which are expressed then in the mind. Somehow, somewhere within us, we settle our intents – to be godless, to be self-centred. We rationalise it so it doesn’t sound as bad as that to us, but that is what it is. We settle our intents and then all thinking flows from that and all behaviour flows from that. Our hearts are darkened and our thinking is futile; no wonder we need saving. But how does God go about that? We’ll see in the coming meditations.