Wednesday, April 21

Whole Lotta Seekin' Goin' On?

In Romans 3, Paul quotes from Psalm 14 and Psalm 53, and in that quotation is the statement, "There is none who seeks for God". Now, if you live in the world, you know that there is great deal of what appears to be seeking God out there. A whole lot of people seem to be looking for someone or something to bring meaning to their lives. If we look back through time, we can see all the various historical religions of the different people groups, and it seems that throughout history, people in general have been seeking to understand their Creator. So isn't this statement from scripture found in Psalms and then repeated by Paul counterintuitive? Doesn't common sense tell us that there are and always have been many people who are seeking God?

Well, yes, the statement is counterintuitive. Paul doesn't quote that statement out of the blue, though. He quotes it as part of a nice little summary of the argument that he's made in chapters 1 and 2 of Romans. So what does Paul say previous to this that would support the statement that "There is none who seeks for God"?

What Paul tells us is this: there has indeed been a whole lot of what looks like God-seeking happening throughout history, but it never has been genuine God seeking. Instead of God-seeking, it's really a fancy sort of God avoidance. Romans 1:19, 20 NET:

....because what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made...

Everyone knows some things about God from what God reveals about himself through creation itself. They can look at creation and see that it has to originate in something totally other than what they are, something that is completely outside of creation. They can know from the witness of creation that the something-that-created is eternal, for it had to exist outside of this temporal world in order to be the cause of it. They can see the extreme power the Creator had to have. These things can be known about God without any real seeking activity. It is something Paul calls "plain" (or clear) to all people.

Besides knowing something about who God is, all people know something about what their response to him ought to be:

although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks.... (v 21 NET)

People know, deep down, anyway, that their response to the God they can know something about through creation ought to be thanks for their very own lives, and for all the provisions that come to them through creation; and that this Creator God, being so wholly other than they are, ought to be worshipped. Is this how they respond to Him, though? Nope, for they all, to a person, choose not to honor him as God or give Him thanks. Instead they

exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image resembling mortal human beings or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. (v 23 NET)

If people exchanged the glory of the immortal God, that means they had it in their grasp at some time. The true God they understood in some way they traded for something else: man-made replicas of other created things. Of course, all this scurrying about making idols looks an awful lot like God seeking, but according to Paul (and God) it is not:

They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshiped and served the creation rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. (v 25 NET)

Instead of being God-seeking activity, it's purposefully trading what truth of God they already have from the witness of creation for something that they like more: the worship of the creation itself. They prefer to worship things more like themselves than the Wholly Other God Who Is.

What looks to us like God seeking is really, underneath it all, God avoidance. It's saying, "I don't really like doing what I know I ought to do, so I'll do all this other stuff that I'm more comfortable with instead." It's part of a process of fooling one's own self ("...they claimed to be wise, but became fools..."), and it's effective at that deception. It's all fancy footwork by people--and this has included every single one of us--who don't like to hold onto their knowledge of God and what they owe to him, but want to be able to believe they are responding as they ought to be to the spiritual questions that we all face when we look out at the universe.

So David and Paul can rightly make the bold statement that "No one seeks God" in spite of how counterintuitive it seems, because they understood exactly what all that looks-like-God-seeking really is at it's core--a way to avoid facing the Creator God Who Is.