Explore the Bible: Guilty

The Explore the Bible lesson for March 8 focuses on Romans 1:18-28,32.

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  • The Explore the Bible lesson for March 8 focuses on Romans 1:18-28,32.

It doesn’t take more than a casual glance at the daily news for one thing to become clear—and frightening. America has lost its ability to define what is true, right and good. No one can agree on a central definition of those critical, essential qualities of conscience.

Perhaps it’s a naïve, sentimental view of things. But those who endured World War II almost certainly would agree that one reason America came out on the winning end was because America’s values and passions were united against the unspeakable horrors of the nightmare that was Nazi Germany.

Of the millions who served in the military, died in combat, served in countless industrial work and otherwise sacrificed to make that victory possible, on the whole, Americans had a common value of freedom that drove them forward. What else, for example, could have driven 156,000 Americans to step into the vortex of violence that was the beaches at Normandy on June 6, 1944?

The Bible can be a complex book to understand. Most who read it will confess to experiencing bewilderment at how it continues to come to life in each generation. The text for this day’s study certainly fits that pattern.

Unchecked human nature: Not a pretty picture

The Apostle Paul paints with mostly broad strokes to describe the depravity of unchecked human nature. Our generation has no right to complain that we are the morally most broken of all generations. Reading today’s text reveals Paul’s observation of graphically wicked behaviors on the part of the world that was his moral context 20 millennia ago.

Nonetheless, it’s tempting to cherry-pick certain verses from this text to justify one’s stance on this morality or that. Great care must be exercised in order to hear the true heart of these timeless words.

Some might choose to use this text as a justification for their viewpoint on homosexuality, for example. Even though many Christ-followers can’t agree on that particular issue, that certainly is one issue to which this text adds its voice. It would seem, however, that we first should step back and look at the bigger picture of Paul’s soul-bearing.

It would do us well, too, to remember Paul’s confession in Romans 7. He is not standing at a distance judging all humanity as though he was not among them. That didn’t prevent him, however, from describing the greater moral dilemma with which we all live every single day.

Paul’s words echo those of a prophet centuries before he even lived to write his.  “They have forgotten the Lord their God,” (Isaiah 3:21). Has there ever been a generation or a people group to which those words would not apply?

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Humanity’s moral dilemma

Put another way, the scripture casts a spotlight on the central moral dilemma of humanity. We have not worshipped God as God. Other things, even the passions of human flesh, have become the principal around which we measure our values, our behaviors and especially the ways in which we treatment of those with whom we share this planet.

When God is no longer God to us, we become a planet of almost 8 billion all looking for direction by at least that many different moral compasses. If we stop and ask directions from others, can we trust the compass they are using to point to true north? No one human knows all truth or good.

People have been known to die for following the wrong directions. They still do, physically and spiritually. And no one person or one person’s convictions are “god.”  God is God and our only moral hope is to acknowledge that each of us is nothing more than a fellow seeker of the Truth that is God.

All moral compromises and failures can eventually be traced to that one thing—we too often forget from Whom we came into being to Whom we will someday answer.

It is true that we should grapple with the great ethical concerns of our day. That always will be true. There will never be a generation that can afford to be casual about morality. It is our obligation, as those who claim to worship the one true God, to engage the conversation about God and human morality. We must constantly let the Scripture, and the gathered community of truth-seekers, help us discern which way is best and which is not.

When we fail to do so, we tend to use the moral code of generations long gone or of those that our immediate gratification demands. That engagement must cause us to look again and again at Scriptures that guide our steps and even be willing to allow it to reset our moral compasses from time to time. The greatest, good changes that ever have been made in history have been made by those who, sometimes in late life, allow God to constantly reset their moral compass.

We can never presume to make moral judgements in a sterile environment. We all come that task with guilt on our hands, as Paul confessed he did (Romans 7).

It is only when we confess that we, too, are guilty of forgetting God that we will have any hope of discovering the life for which God created us and for which God wants to empower us to live those lives out in ways that glorify him and grant us peace and hope.

Glen Schmucker is a writer in Fort Worth. He has served as a Texas Baptist pastor and as a hospice chaplain.   

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