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!