18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21For 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. 22Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
In this well-known passage, Paul is beginning an explanation of universal human sinfulness that will take him through Romans 3:20. Along the way, he will establish that all people—regardless of their race, knowledge, or attempts to establish their own righteousness—stand condemned before God. But here in chapter 1, he begins at the root of the problem. The problem with the human race is not that it is unaware of God. The problem with the human race is that it values itself more than it values God. At the core, humanity’s sin problem is not a horizontal problem, but a vertical problem. And as a result, God has given us over to our own desires for the creature rather than the creator. Yet even in that sin-darkened state, people are aware of something beyond themselves. We are aware of God, but we do not acknowledge God. We know there is something transcendent, but we do not want to let go of what we hold dear to find it. And as a result, God has given us over to our own dark hearts, and the result is disaster.
By considering Romans 1:18-23 in the light of Ecclesiastes 3:11, it becomes clear that there is an awareness of eternity (Ecclesiastes 3:11) and even of God (Romans 1) that is sufficient to condemn, but not sufficient to save. Therefore, it is important to note that left to himself, man will always remain lost. This is the point of the entirety of Romans 1:1—though the reality of God is revealed to us in creation, we have substituted the created thing for the creator himself. We have exchanged the glory of God for manmade gods.
Most of us don't have carved gods. For some of us our God is me, my sexuality, my career, my little family here. We choose horizontal, fragile, and equally fallen objects to try to fill that longing for transcendence in us. That's a bad plan. What happens if you try to put something else in the place where God belongs? Sooner or later He will tear down every rival that you elevate against the knowledge of Him.
Prayer: Father, David prayed, “Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression. Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalms 19:12-14). Let that be my prayer throughout this day. In Jesus’ name, Amen.