Romans (Part 06) – Revelation (1:18–22)
The point in seeing death around us is not simply for us to quake at the awesome power of God. The wrath and punishment meted out are meant to show his displeasure—his incompatibility with sin. His wrath is juxtaposed with the truth, goodness, and beauty of God that Paul goes on to say are also revealed in his creation. In Romans 1:19 and 20, Paul describes this revelation. Paul says first that what can be known about God is evident. He does not couch it in terms limiting knowledge of God to only those who believe. It is not a revelation dependent on faith. In plain terms, Paul declares that what can be known about God is evident. Verse 20 expands this thought. It is God’s eternal power and divine nature that can be known. These concepts are not about something vaguely apparent as we walk outdoors on a sunny day. God’s divine nature (from the Greek theiotes) is exactly that—his divine nature. We have discussed God’s nature several times. His nature—his essence—is truth, goodness, and beauty. Paul is simply but emphatically stating that the truth, goodness, and beauty (TGB) of God—his essence—is revealed in and to his entire creation, including the crowning portion of his creation—his image bearers—us! The whole point in making us image bearers was so we could apprehend his revealed TGB, approbate that TGB, and then articulate it back to God and to each other. The very basis for relationship with God and among God’s people is the TGB that is God’s essence. So, of course, God would reveal this—his divine nature.
Paul says also that God reveals his eternal power. The Greek here is dynamis—the inherent power residing in something (or someone) by virtue of its nature. The power of God’s nature—of his TGB—is in its expression, and he expresses it through love.
Note the chart below. On the left is God—his essence and the activity of his persons. On the right is humankind—our essence and the activity of our persons. Note the similarity in the personal characteristics.
That similarity is what is intended by creating us as image bearers. In those personal characteristics of apprehension we see his revealed truth, goodness, and beauty. In our approbating faith and hope, we assent to, agree with, and settle our lives in that revealed essence we apprehended. And then we are meant to articulate that TGB in love, reflecting it back to God and to each other. But all of this rests on the fact that God revealed his truth, goodness, and beauty to us through HIS love—the communicating power of his persons. It is God’s care as well as his nature that are evident in his creation.
From the Garden of Eden we find the picture of God’s care. As we’ve discussed so many times before, we must consider why God would create a garden in which to place Adam and Eve when the whole world was just newly made by God and all pronounced good. What was the need for a garden in a world of goodness? The need was in God’s communication of love. It was the covenant obligation to which he committed himself in this new covenant of life with his image bearers. He would care for them, and that care was symbolized by the garden that he wrapped around them where they could receive his goodness and his beauty and grow up in his truth.
But we know what happened. Our first parents did not wait to grow in God’s truth, depending on him (as was their covenant obligation) for that truth, goodness, and beauty which they, in their design, were made to crave. Rather they set God as source aside, and looked to themselves to decide on and for TGB.
And this is what Paul is describing in Romans. Paul says in verse 18 that God’s revelation of TGB and his activity as its source in giving care was suppressed. The Holman translation here of suppress is probably not the best word picture. It is not simply a blocking off so that people do not realize who God is. The King James says that people “hold the truth in unrighteousness,” which gets the Greek idea across better that God’s revelation is understood, but, in faithlessness, disregarded. I like best the way The Message puts it: “people try to put a shroud over the truth.” They understand God’s revelation but then try to put it to death, covering it up, as it were, by a shroud.
God has, therefore, given everything in his revelation. We see him—his truth, goodness, and beauty. We see his care in delivery to us. We see also in his revelation his wrath and punishment regarding all that is opposed to his truth, goodness, and beauty. We see all this, but in unfaithfulness, we set it aside. But because God has revealed it all, we are not ignorant. And Paul concludes in verse 20 that we have no excuse.
Note carefully, then, that it is not inability to understand God’s revelation. And importantly, it is not the truth, goodness, and beauty with which we as unrighteous, unfaithful creatures have a problem. God made us to desire TGB. Our denial—our shrouding—has to do with the source—with God. Paul goes on to explain this idea by stating in verse 21 that created image bearers, in their shrouding of God as source, did not glorify him. Remember that the glory of God is the manifestation of who he is—his TGB. To glorify, then, means to honor, praise, and celebrate that manifested glory. So although we desired TGB, we failed to celebrate that glory as from God. Paul also says we were ungrateful. Again, it is not that we are ungrateful for TGB. Rather, it is that we are ungrateful to God, denying him as the source.
In denying God as source, humankind turned (instead of to God’s essence for TGB) to ourselves and our own essence in our physicality or materiality. Now it makes sense that since God’s creation was infused with his TGB at creation, that we would see it and—since we craved it—look to creation itself to satisfy ourselves in TGB. But of course, with the fall, all creation was corrupted. Therefore, we have settled on a faulty, distorted source for truth, goodness, and beauty. Thus, as Paul goes on to say late in verse 21 and into 22, our thinking became nonsense and our senseless minds were darkened. We became fools. And it was all from exchanging God, as the source for our desired truth, goodness, and beauty, for ourselves as source.
We need to ensure a solid grasp on the chart above. Again, it is not that our process of thinking was broken. We, in our sinful, corrupted state, still hold all those image-bearing qualities of apprehension, approbation, and articulation. The problem, rather, is that we have shrouded over God as source of TGB and have replaced him with ourselves—creation itself. It is our feeding on corrupted source material that holds us in darkness and distortion in our thinking. And it is responsible for the lust for ourselves that Paul goes on to explain in the rest of the chapter.