“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.” Romans 1:18-20, NIV.
I grew up in church memorizing miles of scripture when I was very young. I remember quoting, “There is one God and one mediator between God and man – the man Christ Jesus,” so I could get some kind of Sunday school reward for verses memorized. But I was so young I didn’t even know what the word “mediator” meant.
What I’m saying is, I grew up with a lot of scripture flowing through my head, and I had many favorites, but Romans 1:18-20 was a passage I always preferred to avoid. One of the reasons was this: The bold heading in my Bible over those verses read “God’s Wrath Against Mankind”. The two parts that affected me the most were the beginning – God’s wrath revealed from heaven; and the end – so that men are without excuse. Those words just always kind of set my teeth on edge. Not that I was afraid of God’s wrath against me, or my family, or my church friends. I knew and loved the verses that told me my sins were forgiven because of what Jesus did for me on the cross. And I understood, intellectually, that God has the righteous right to be ticked at all of us since Adam and Eve. But in my heart, there was a battle about all those people who didn’t know Jesus – those who hadn’t had the opportunity to be raised in a Christian family, and go to church, and have a big Bible all their own, like me . . . that bothered me. People in foreign “unchristian” lands, who had never heard the name of Jesus.
So at some point, I decided to just stop thinking about Romans 1:18-20. I sort of made a decision that God would work it all out somehow and it really wasn’t my business anyway. And that’s kind of where it stayed between me and Romans 1:18-20 for a few years. But in my late teens something dramatic happened. What happened took place in my head – my mind – was a talk I had with God about this passage.
As I recall, I started the conversation with some small talk.
“Hi God, how are you doing?”
And he replied, “I’m doing fine – how nice to hear from you – is there something on your mind I can help you with?”
“Well, yes as a matter of fact.” I thought I might as well just jump right in, so I said in my boldest voice, “I want to talk to you about a passage of scripture that I’m just not comfortable with.”
“Oh,” he said, acting surprised.
“Well yes. As you know God, I have been going to church all my life and now I am – older (17) – and I have probably heard in all these years over a million sermons.”
He smiled. “1,872,” he said, “to be exact.”
“Oh yeah. Well thanks, God, for keeping track.” I couldn’t believe I had just exaggerated so much in front of God. “Anyway,” I went on, “I don’t ever remember hearing a message on these verses in all those years. So maybe no one else is comfortable with them either.”
“I see,” said God. “So what is it you don’t like about these verses, my child?”
“Well,” I replied, “you know how when you are reading your Bible, and sometimes over the beginning of a certain passage of scripture there will be a bold heading, and it tells you what the next verses are about?”
“Yes,” he nodded knowingly. “I purposely wrote the Bible that way.” I thought maybe I saw Him wink at that point, but I just went on rapidly.
“The bold heading in my Bible directly above the verses I’m telling you about reads: ‘GOD’S WRATH POURED OUT AGAINST MANKIND.'” There, it was out – I had said it.
There was a long silence, and then he questioned, “You have a problem with that?”
“Well,” I rushed on, “the only times I have heard any discussion of these verses, it seems to be with people discussing their concern for others; like lost tribes in Africa that don’t know about Jesus, and yet somehow because they see nature all around them it gives you, God, the right to do whatever you want to with them, and they are without excuse. It’s not that I don’t think you should be angry with all of us – we are pretty much a mess – but it just makes me so . . . uncomfortable.”
God listened politely, and then he said, “What if I do this for you – what if I shift your paradigm?”
“Will it hurt?”
“That depends on you and whether you try to hang on to the old paradigm.”
“Oh, I won’t hang on,” I promised.
And then God laughed and assured me he didn’t think I would hang on either. He thought I was ready for a paradigm shift. Suddenly, I was aware that I was feeling rather giddy, and light-headed at the same time. I hurriedly looked around in my mind to see if I could find a place to sit down while God changed my paradigm.
As I found a chair and slid into its seat, I realized God was still talking. “A paradigm,” he was saying, “is the way you look at something, or think about something; the way you think it is, like the way you have thought about these verses.”
When he said “verses”, I realized I hadn’t even told him which verses I was referring to. So before I knew what I was doing, I blurted out, “but I didn’t tell you which verses.”
I think he noticed at this point that I was kinda coming unglued. He looked directly at me and in a calm, even voice said, “You are talking about Romans 1:18-20, my child.”
It was the second time he had referred to me as his child and that was kind of undoing me as well. I think I was wondering why I had ever thought I could talk to God about this, but it was too late to back out now. I looked up from fiddling with some imaginary string in my lap, and God was looking directly at me for a second time. And in that instant I felt totally warm and like I was wrapped up in love – the kind of love that feels like a cozy blanket on a chilly night.
Now, I settled into my chair, suddenly very confident and cozy, and I said, “Go ahead God. Change my paradigm.”
He was thoughtful for a moment, and then he spoke. “In the past when you have read Romans 1:18-20 you have seen in your mind’s eye a wrathful, angry God, taking vengeance on sinful, helpless people, and it has made you uncomfortable, right?”
I nodded. I knew it was a terrible thing to think about God that way, but when I heard God reciting my ugly thoughts about him, the thoughts seemed to lose their ugliness. There was no sting in them, and there was also no power in them.
“What would you think,” he continued, “if I told you that the Romans passage that describes my righteous anger against all sin and evil that destroys my people has embedded in it a love story from me to my beloved creation, my children?”
“Oh please tell me,” I cried.
“Alright,” he said, “let’s read this part together.” He was pointing to a line in a Bible, but I wasn’t sure where the Bible had come from.
I cleared my throat and we started, “What may be known about God (I noticed I said ‘God’ but he said ‘Me’) is plain to them, (I noticed I said ‘them’ but he said ‘you’).”
Then my voice faded away and he continued in a voice that sounded like music. “What can be known about Me is plain to you, because I have made it plain to you. For since the creation of the world My invisible qualities – My eternal power – My divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what I have made . . .”
“Do you remember what I said in Genesis, when I completed my creation?”
“Oh I do.” I was almost shouting now. “I learned way back in Sunday school. You said, I mean, it says in Genesis, you looked at what you had made and you said, ‘it is good.'”
“Yes, my child.”
There it was again. That indescribable feeling in the pit of my stomach when he said, “my child.” I was glad I was already sitting down.
“Sunday school taught you well; but I am going to take you further in your understanding of the words I spoke after my creation was complete. When I said, “it is good,” and there was no one else there to hear it but me; do you think it was because I needed to compliment my own handiwork?”
I almost laughed thinking about that, but he had moved on in a more serious tone.
“Don’t you understand, I did it all for you? My creation is good because it is representative of my eternal power and divine nature – my invisible qualities. I designed myself into every part of nature so that I — an invisible God — can be seen by my children. So you will be able to believe, I am with you. You can see my goodness all around you, and know therefore, how tangible my love is for you. It is a plan of indescribable kindness. A plan that would allow you, and all my children, to be surrounded by, and interact with, every minute of your earthly existence, and any place on earth, visible images of my invisible nature. This, my dear daughter, is one of the kindest messages contained in my Word.”
As I heard his words, “kindest message,” I immediately thought of Romans 2:4 where the writer of Romans questioned, “do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” I saw in a flash that it is the kindness, tolerance, and patience of God that allows everyone, including the God-hater, the atheist, the proud, the ones who don’t need God, the I-will-do-it-my-way folks, all those given over to the evil described in Romans 1, to still hang out in His nature — God’s very divine nature, revealed in nature — and reap, in this life, the benefits of everything he offers us in creation. As they are rejecting God, they are at the same time living moment by moment in his blessings: breathing his air, drinking his water, feeling his breeze on their faces, watching his sunsets, skiing down his mountains – on his snow, flying in planes, because of his laws of science and mathematics, helping people get well in hospitals, because of his healing power designed into every person’s body . . . and on and on and on it goes. Every single thing taken for grant in life – ‘It’s just life on this planet, as we know it’ – is actually a marvelous gift of our invisible God’s divine nature being revealed in every aspect of our world.
My face flushed as I realized, I’m not as tolerant and patient as God. It took everything within me to keep from suggesting to God that he just shoot these folks out into space without space suits for a little while, and see how long before their paradigm shift kicks in. Don’t they understand, they are refusing his love! I had a moment of wanting to protect God from such ridiculous people.
My cheeks were burning, and I felt wetness on my cheeks and dripping off my chin, and my heart was beating wildly, telling me to just run and jump into His arms, but I felt myself more or less glued to the chair. And as I looked down, I saw wetness on the front of my blouse and even in my lap; and I wondered how long I had been crying, and if I had made any noise while doing so.
God was continuing his dialog, so, I guess if I had made any noise it hadn’t distracted him. As I was focusing back on him, I realized he was asking me a question.
“Have you ever heard the phrase, ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’?”
Now I brightened up because I had, in fact, just looked up the history of this phrase for an essay I was writing for one of my classes. “Indeed I have,” I said a little more boastfully than I intended. “It was coined in America in the early ’20’s by the advertising companies to help sell their ads. What the advertising industry had hooked into was the understanding that a picture can touch us in ways that pull from us every emotion we are capable of feeling; it can capture our hearts.” And as I was saying these last words, “capture our hearts,” I wasn’t sure I could control my emotions that were on a rampage in my heart and mind.
It was all so clear now. God was the first to give the gift of a prophetic picture: his creation!! In the splendor of nature, God shows us his heart, and as it says in those scriptures I had never liked, he reveals his eternal power and divine nature. He gives us a picture of his invisible qualities. It is a picture we live in and interact with – move around in. The visible images are representations of the divine nature of an invisible God. A picture worth a thousand words – God’s desire to capture the hearts of his created ones.
I wanted to fall at his feet and beg his forgiveness, but when I looked at him, he was smiling a huge, accepting smile, and suddenly he seemed to be full of fun and light and life, so I couldn’t stay sad, and it seemed whatever I thought I was going to say, he had already understood anyway.
I thought I saw a twinkle in his eye, and then he mused, “Kinda funny about those twentieth century American advertisers, thinking they had coined the phrase ‘A picture is worth a thousand words.’ Little did they know they had tapped into a concept as old as creation its’ self!”
God seemed to be having a lot of fun with that idea, so I just laughed out loud for the first time in this conversation, and it felt so good. I was feeling such freedom and joy in fact, that I just bounced out of the chair I had formerly felt glued to, and found myself sort of dancing around in my mind.
God looked across my mind at me and said, “Well, I do believe you have had a paradigm shift.”
And through my laughter, I shot back, “You can bet your bottom dollar I have!” And then I laughed all the louder that I had just said something so ridiculous to God. But I think he might have been laughing the loudest.
Original Photos by Contributor, Janey Houghton.