Seeing the Invisible

“For God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth, since what can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what He has made. As a result, people are without excuse. For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles. Therefore God delivered them over in the cravings of their hearts to sexual impurity, so that their bodies were degraded among themselves. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served something created instead of the Creator, who is praised forever. Amen.” (Romans 1:18-25 HCSB)

“The lost enjoy forever the horrible freedoms they have demanded, and are therefore self-enslaved.” — CS Lewis in The Problem of Pain

We all have someone we tend to look up to or consider an example to follow. The “who” might change over time as we mature and grow, but I think the tendency stays with us all of our lives. Someone we see as having achieved or accomplished something that we would like to achieve or accomplish and, therefore, they shape our goals, our actions and they even shape how we see ourselves or how we approach life. For me, there have been several people who have fit that role. When I was a kid, my older brother was that person and, in many ways, still fills that role. I have a younger brother who has filled that role, in much the same way. I suspect that both of them (and they are very likely reading these words) would agree that we were all more influenced by our father and his example of Christian character and love. In addition to those men, I’ve also had several supervisors at work (whom I would now call friends) that filled that role. A couple of them taught me things about myself and about business that continue to shape and drive me, to this very day. Several of them taught me about sacrifice and service to others and served as an example of Christian character that still influences my choices and personal goals.

But Paul says that there is one factor in our lives that can shape us for good and drive us forward and upward or it can destroy us and leave us lying on the floor in total failure and absolute loss – our understanding of and desire for the truth about God. Last week we took a look at what it means for “saving” faith to lead us into a “living” faith as we begin to trust God in our daily process of living. We came to the conclusion that life without God is really not life at all. The best way to know what life is meant to be and how to get the most out of it is to learn to trust the One who made us and knows best what we truly need and actually want out of life. This week, we will focus in on the results of suppressing the truth about God and how that impacts our lives and our world.

As I mentioned last week, our basic knowledge and understanding of God is built into our very souls. In fact, it is even written in our DNA. When a scientist tries to explain in simple terms our DNA or the human genome, they almost always use the terms “instructions”, “information” or “programming” in their description or explanation. Those ideas imply that design and intelligence is at the heart of the information. It isn’t enought for me to simply place letters on this page to create this blog entry. For the letters to convey information then the letters must follow a sequence that creates words that can be read, but they must also include intelligence so that the words are not just randomly placed together but actually express intelligble thoughts, language, communication and ideas. In other words, when you read these words you recognize that the words MUST have an author because they are intelligble. So, while you might disagree with my ideas, thoughts, or words you are still able to read, understand and evaluate my thoughts because I’m not just typing random letters. Our DNA is not just a random collection of “letters” but an intelligble, designed and specifically programmed collection of instructions that tell our cells the how and what regarding human life. They are visible signs of the invisible God…

Paul uses the phrase, “being understood by what is made.” A literal rendering of this phrase could read, “being understood are perceived.” In other words, when you understand then you are able to see (or perceive) that which is unseeable or invisible. This isn’t hocus pocus and I’m not trying to persuade you with smoke and mirrors. I want you to simply take the same approach to knowing and understanding God that you do with many, many other things in your life. For example, you are unable to see gravity or the wind but you are able to see their effects and you believe in their existence and the impact they have on your life. Just because you can’t see them doesn’t mean you doubt their existence or their impact. You base your knowledge, understanding and belief in the existence of gravity on your daily experiences encountering it and living under its influence. We base our knowledge, understanding and predictions regarding wind and its influence on our weather based on our life experiences and daily encounters with wind. Being understood and perceived…

So, that brings me to Paul’s statement that “though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude.” This is the core argument regarding Paul’s view of God’s wrath upon men. We fail to glorify Him as God because we refuse to see or acknowledge Him, even though we have clear evidence of His existence. Some might say, if God would just “show Himself” then I would believe. He did, His name was Jesus. However, they reject Him as God and deny the truth and power of the resurrection as the proof of who He was. But here’s the key, it isn’t enough to merely acknowledge the existence of God. Paul says, they knew God (deep down in their hearts) but they did not GLORIFY Him as God or show gratitude. We live in a world in which a large majority of people believe in the existence of God, but they fail to properly glorify Him as God or show gratitude towards Him. It is less about their belief in God and more about their response to God. Let me see if I can illustrate what I mean…

I live in central Oklahoma in what is commonly referred to as “Tornado Alley.” It is an area where we see an average of about 120 tornadoes per year. Most of these tornadoes are small and do very little damage, but some can become massive and quite deadly. As I mentioned above, wind is really invisible but we know, understand and recognize its reality based on the effects it has upon our lives, surroundings and our weather. I have grown up around this area and have learned to deal with living in “Tornado Alley” by becoming knowledgeable of the ways and conditions under which a tornado forms and how to protect my family and myself from its wrath.

To be honest, on most occasions when a severe storm begins to develop in our area then I step out on the front porch and watch the conditions and the sky while listening to our local weathermen who are very experienced in identifying these conditions and spotting developing tornadoes. I wait, watch and react when it becomes obvious that a tornado might be dangerously close. In fact, one of the most dangerous conditions is what is commonly referred to as a “rain-wrapped funnel.” The tornado has formed but cannot be seen by the spotters because it is enveloped in a heavy downpour of rain. This is even worse at night when you have a “rain-wrapped funnel” in the dark. You can’t see it, but you can see its effects as the tornado causes the electrical transformers to spark and explode. That’s a tell-tale sign of an approaching tornado that you might be unable to see. It isn’t sufficient to know of their existence. It’s not even enough to recognize the power and destruction they are capable of producing. What’s necessary is to properly respond to their power and protect my family and myself from their destructive power and actions.

It’s also insufficient to just believe in God’s existence. You must believe and then respond in a way that is consistent with who He is and the power He exhibits. Back to my tornado story. On May 3, 1999 we had a storm developing to southwest of our home. The weathermen were watching and the storm chasers/spotters were tracking it. As the storm developed, a tornado began to form and move towards Moore and south Oklahoma City. However, this would not be an ordinary storm or just any old tornado. As I said, most are small and do very little damage partly because much of Oklahoma is very rural and sparsely populated. This tornado quickly became a monster at a mile wide and the strongest winds EVER recorded on earth, 308 MPH, and it was headed directly into one of the most densely populated parts of the city. I clearly remember the warning from the weather station, to survive this tornado you MUST be underground. That day, those facts and the resulting devastation are etched into my memory because I witnessed its power, first hand. It isn’t enough to acknowledge its existence, you must respond properly to its power. You would have been absolutely foolish to stand on your porch watching that tornado and taking “normal” tornado precautions. You would not have survived.

It isn’t enough to acknowledge God’s existence, we must respond properly to His person, presence and power by giving Him the glory He is due and the gratitude He deserves in the manner He expects. You and I would be foolish to do otherwise. As Paul says, there’s no excuse.

I’m going to pause and insert a personal note here. I am writing this on Friday morning, July 10, sitting at my dining room table in the midst of an Oklahoma thunder storm. No threat of tornadoes, but lots of strong wind, lightning and rain. Just as I finished the paragraph above, my phone alerted me that a “motion sensor” on our church alarm system had triggered, and I received a phone call from our alarm company. Sensing that the issue was likely storm related and not caused by someone breaking into our building, I told them I would go to the church and verify and call the Sherriff’s office if I needed them. When I arrived at the church, I discovered that our building had been struck by lightning and it had destroyed our fiberglass steeple and blown out several pieces of electronic equipment in the building. It feels a bit like God just wanted me to put an exclamation point !!! on that last paragraph. You and I would be foolish to refuse to give God the glory He is due and the gratitude He deserves!

What about those who do refuse? Paul tells us, those who refuse to acknowledge the reality and truth of God that is on display all around them begin to think nonsense thoughts and their minds grow dark. Now before you jump to conclusions and begin assigning people you know to that group, take a moment to stop and consider the words of Christ: “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:4 ESV) or “But I tell you, everyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Fool! ’ will be subject to the Sanhedrin. But whoever says, ‘You moron! ’ will be subject to hellfire.” (Matthew 5:22 HCSB) Paul doesn’t inform us of these things so that we can judge others and have evil thoughts about them regarding their response and relationship with God, but so that we can assess ourselves, our own response, our own relationship to God and our own thoughts.

You see, that’s the problem with justice and judgment. We want judgment for our enemies and justice for ourselves, but never justice for our enemies or judgment for ourselves. We love the idea of forgiveness when it is applied to us for something we’ve done wrong, but we tend to despise the idea of forgiveness when we are expected to forgive someone who has wronged us. Judgment for others, forgiveness for ourselves. Wrath for them, grace for us. Sound about right? Instead of trying to identify and categorize the faults of everyone around us, I want to encourage us to stop and use these thoughts and insights about God to assess our own response and relationship to God. In what ways have we failed to honor God? How often have we failed to express our gratitude to God for every breath we take and every joy we experience?

When we read and study passages like this where God is severely chastising those who fail to honor and obey Him, our sinful response is often to stop and toss theological hand grenades over in their midst. Have you ever read this? Toss. Hey, did you know God says that those who refuse to honor Him are senseless and foolish? Toss. You know if you don’t believe then you’ll DIE and spend eternity in hell! Toss. I hope you notice the difference. Paul’s words regarding God’s wrath and judgment are not directed at a specific person, but rather at anyone who adopts that mindset. Our tendency is to direct Paul’s words at specific individuals. That’s what I mean by theological hand grenades. When you lob a theological hand grenade at someone the general intent is not drawing them into reconciliation with God but at causing them emotional harm or even spiritual damage. God’s goal is reconciliation, our goal is often retribution or revenge. Big, big difference.

So, what’s my point? Paul says that if we truly recognize God’s presence and power in creation, it should cause us to glorify Him and express our gratitude to Him. I’m not talking about THEM, I’m talking about us. It should cause US to glorify Him and express our gratitude towards Him. When was the last time you intentionally sought to bring glory to God through your thoughts, words or actions? Often those thoughts enter our minds during structured worship, but seldom when we’re washing dishes, fixing the car or mowing the yard. Next time you’re standing at the sink washing the dishes, express your awe, wonder and praise to Him for His majesty, glory and incredible power and then pause and whisper a prayer of thanksgiving that you have the blessing of the meal that gave you dirty dishes that need washing. When you‘re lying under your car fixing the brakes or changing the oil on your mower then give God praise for His incredible blessings and then thank Him that you have the skill to be able to fix your own vehicle or the physical health to mow your own lawn.

Lately, we seem to have been so wrapped up in our own self-pity regarding the things we can’t do or places we can’t go that we fail to see the glory of God on display in the people around us. We’ve become so accustomed to the quick fixes for our health issues (just take a pill for that) that we quickly grow weary or frustrated when things turn difficult or challenging. We’re so tied to our consumer lifestyles that we’ve forgotten how to live and thrive on the simple pleasures of life. We need to stop for a moment, take a deep breath, exhale slowly, then slowly look around and notice the fingerprints of God all around us. You’ll find them in things like the smell of rain, the awe of a night sky full of stars or the contagious laughter of a baby. If you watch, you’ll see them in the caring hands of the nurse at the clinic or in the kindness of the couple next door. If you really pay attention, you will see them on the kid with all of the tattoos who delivered your food, bagged your groceries or made your latte. It’s not that God is gone, it’s that we fail to notice His presence, and we fail to give Him glory and our gratitude.

How do I know God is real? I see Him every day. I’m able to see the invisible God because He’s made Himself very visible in the world around me. I just have to look, listen, pay attention, and be willing to have my eyes opened to the truth… glorify God and tell Him, thank you.

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