Yesterday we thought about Paul’s assertion that God reveals himself constantly in and through his creation. Now Paul describes the woeful response of humans to that divine revelation: ‘For although they knew God, they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things’ (vv. 21-23). For Paul, idolatry is to be explained as the wrong response to the very clear divine revelation given in creation. Instead of being regarded as worship, idolatry is an expression of rebellion against God and rejection of who he is.
Paul points out that something preceded their idol making and that was their failure to honour God, which they should have done by expressing their gratitude. In the context, the gratitude is for the natural benefits that God provides throughout the creation. There could have been songs of thanksgiving written and used by them, but instead they chose to do something demeaning of God and of themselves.
Such a failure does not remove the innate desire for worship that exists in every person. Humans only know two realities – one is God and the other is the creation. If they reject God, their worship inevitably involves something or someone within the created order. Those generations about whom Paul is writing showed their rejection of God and their limited range of alternatives by making idols connected to what they saw in the created order. What else could they do? It is impossible to think of anything that is outside our system. Today, the projections and ideas that replace God are all taken from within the system that we know, whether it is in science or in art or whatever.
Those previous generations concluded that their idols were an expression of wisdom, of their ideas. Today’s generation think the same about their more refined idols. But what happens when idolatry is dominant in human behaviour? Paul tells us in the next set of verses, and we will think about them tomorrow.