Since they didn't bother to acknowledge God, God quit bothering them and let them run loose. And then all hell broke loose: rampant evil, grabbing and grasping, vicious backstabbing. They made life hell on earth with their envy, wanton killing, bickering, and cheating. Look at them: mean-spirited, venomous, fork-tongued God-bashers. Bullies, swaggerers, insufferable windbags! They keep inventing new ways of wrecking lives. They ditch their parents when they get in the way. Stupid, slimy, cruel, cold-blooded. And it's not as if they don't know better. They know perfectly well they're spitting in God's face. And they don't care—worse, they hand out prizes to those who do the worst things best!
Those people are on a dark spiral downward. But if you think that leaves you on the high ground where you can point your finger at others, think again. Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors. But God isn't so easily diverted. He sees right through all such smoke screens and holds you to what you've done.
You didn't think, did you, that just by pointing your finger at others you would distract God from seeing all your misdoings and from coming down on you hard? Or did you think that because he's such a nice God, he'd let you off the hook? Better think this one through from the beginning. God is kind, but he's not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.
You're not getting by with anything. Every refusal and avoidance of God adds fuel to the fire. The day is coming when it's going to blaze hot and high, God's fiery and righteous judgment. Make no mistake: In the end you get what's coming to you— Real Life for those who work on God's side, but to those who insist on getting their own way and take the path of least resistance, Fire!
If you go against the grain, you get splinters, regardless of which neighborhood you're from, what your parents taught you, what schools you attended. But if you embrace the way God does things, there are wonderful payoffs, again without regard to where you are from or how you were brought up. Being a Jew won't give you an automatic stamp of approval. God pays no attention to what others say (or what you think) about you. He makes up his own mind.
This passage hits home on so many levels. Reading it in The Message it feels more like an application commentary than it does direct translation. It is for this reason that I read The Message devotionally. It opens my eyes and heart to passages that have become theological fodder for me.
Romans 1-11 are usually engaged with as though they are a cold, wooden, systematic theology. Yet, when we dig in and consider the ramifications of what Paul is writing we see them as calling us to something deeper in our understanding of the sacred.
Romans 2:4 in the NIV reads, “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” Peterson puts it this way, “Or did you think that because he's such a nice God, he'd let you off the hook? Better think this one through from the beginning. God is kind, but he's not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.”
We would be so much better off if we could understand “repentance” as “radical life-change.” This life-change is rooted in God’s kindness. Do you see that? This whole passage of tough talk roots itself in the kindness of God.
Why does Paul challenge the Romans and call them out for their sin-sick behavior? Is it because he thinks himself better than them? No. He makes that quite clear when he writes that when you pass judgment on someone else you judge yourself. So is Paul just bringing judgment on himself? No. He is describing a reality that many of us don’t want to see but more than that, he is reminding the Christ followers of Rome that God wants more for them. God wants them to experience heaven on earth. How? By embracing God’s kindness and experiencing radical life-change.
Yet, we struggle so deeply with this. The fact of the matter is that we wag our fingers at those who we consider to be “the other.” Whomever they are. We judge them and place ourselves above them. Too often there is a “holier than thou” attitude as opposed to a “but by the grace of God go I” attitude.
As I process this this morning I realize how far I have yet to go. I am too quick to judge and too quick to look down on “the other.”
I need to take God’s kind hand and follow God into a radical life-change.