Corruption in Today’s World
When the world was created, God said that it was good. God created humans to be a central part of this good world. Humans were created to know God, to love God, to worship God, to give thanks to God, and to have dominion over the rest of creation for God. This is, and always has been, the way God expected humans to live and prosper.
But man was not created to be a god. The right to rule over mankind was reserved for God alone. This means that mankind must remain humble. We must let God be God.
In Romans 1-2, Paul begins his letter by observing that the good world has become corrupted, and the root of the problem of corruption lies with the rebellion of humans. As a result of this corruption, humans are now “worthy of death” (Rom. 1.32), and are subject to the “wrath of God” (Rom. 2.5). Paul points gets to the very root of the problem in Romans 1.18-23.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools.
The Heart of Corruption
As Paul discusses the corruption of mankind, he does not, as we might expect, point to evil behavior as the root of the problem. He discusses the problem of evil behavior soon enough (Rom. 1.24-31), but the root of the problem lies much deeper. Paul begins by pointing to twisted thinking and darkened hearts as the core of corruption.
For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. – Romans 1.21
Paul speaks of those who had become “futile in their speculations.” There are right ways and wrong ways to think. This is an important truth our world doesn’t like to admit. Thought, by itself, does not guarantee we will arrive at the right answers. In a room full of different magnets, a compass will not necessarily always point north. Using thoughts and reasons to speculate about what is right and wrong does not necessarily mean that our conclusions will be right.
In the ancient world, the heart was the center of thought, motivations, and emotions. Thus when Paul speaks of darkened hearts, this idea would have been very closely connected with futile speculations. Paul understood that just as thinking can become twisted, so also hearts can become darkened.
The Deceptiveness of Corruption
People can easily deceive themselves. People can easily think of themselves as wise, while being very foolish.
Professing to be wise, they became fools. – Romans 1.22
In the world of social media, we are given constant reminders that not everyone agrees about the wisest course of actions. For some it is viewed as great wisdom to have a strong military, and to have that military stationed around the world, striking back against evil at every opportunity. Others would view even the most well intended warfare as a great foolishness. One person might think it very wise and kind to welcome immigrants of all sorts into the country, while another might think of this as extremely foolish. One person might think it as right to give women the opportunity to have abortions if they so desire. Others would view this as supremely wicked. The examples of disagreement are endless.
How can we know who is right and who is wrong? Paul will eventually answer that question, but it is important to notice the point he makes in verse 22. It is possible for a person to think of themselves as very right and just, and to think of opposite opinions as very wrong and wicked, and for that person to be completely wrong. This doesn’t mean that truth is relative, or that everyone can be right in their own way. But rather it shows that it is very easy to be deceived about what is right and what is wrong, especially when our thoughts and our hearts remove God from His throne and replace it with something else.
Warning Signs of Corruption
Given the fact that people can be easily deceived in their thinking, how can we know if our thoughts and our hearts are in the right place? For starters, we must learn to look for the warning signs of corruption.
- Not honoring God as God. That is, not directing our thoughts and affections towards God. If our awe and adoration of God do not keep up with our knowledge of God, we must stop and examine our hearts. When we look at the beautiful creation all around us, we should always respond by giving glory to God. If we do not, this is a warning sign of corruption.
- Not giving thanks to God.
Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. – James 1.17.
Every blessing we receive comes from God. Yet if our heart is not willing to give God glory for something as obvious as the beauty of creation, it won’t be long before we don’t give God the thanks for any of the blessings He gives.
If God is not given honor and thanks, we have set ourselves up to be filled with foolish speculation. If the good things in life don’t come from God, where do they come from? Who deserves the credit?
Giving Credit to the Wrong “gods”
It is at this point that idolatry takes hold of our lives. It is easy for us to chuckle at the idea of someone making a little statue out of wood or stone and bowing down to it, and giving it credit for blessings they enjoy. But of course our culture is filled with people that do the same thing!
Our society has worshiped many things, one of the most obvious being the state. Where does a good economy come from? From God, or from a good government? Where does safety come from? From God, or from a strong military? Where does good health come from? From God, or from a wisely written healthcare program? And if blessings come from the state, who deserves to be honored? Our society continually preaches their answer: “The state!”
The so-called patriotic hymns are most often songs of praise to a personification of the country, and are not written to glorify God. Unfortunately, too many churches continue to sing of “My country tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing”, and “America, America, God shed his grace on thee”, where the “thee” is not God, but country. I have had to stand in silence too many times as churches sing of the “land that I love” instead of the church that we love. If these are songs of worship, they are songs of false worship. God is mentioned, but as supportive figure as we sing of the greatness of the nation, which is the real object of our praise.
Instead of “I will praise Him!” it is “Of thee I sing.” Instead of “We praise Thee, O God our Redeemer,” it is “We salute you, land of liberty.” Instead of “Blessed Jesus! Blessed Jesus!” it is “America! America!” Instead of “I am Thine O Lord,” it is “I pledge thee my allegiance, America, the bold.” Instead of “Jesus is coming again!” it is “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
We should label this what it is: idolatry. Nation-centered songs, rituals, and symbols implicitly deny that the church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ the Lord. They deny that God is the source of our blessings, and the one deserving of our honor. They give the credit to the wrong “gods”.
Twisted thinking, darkened hearts, and praise and honor given to non-gods: this is the disease of corruption. This is the cause of death.
How God Feels About Corruption
This takes us back to where Paul began this discussion.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. – Romans 1.18
Ungodliness refers to what happens when humans don’t worship, honor, and give thanks to God as God. Unrighteousness refers to what follows, when mankind is living out of harmony with the purposes for which they were created. These two words sum up what it means for mankind to become corrupt.
The result is the wrath of God. God created the world as good, and He cares passionately for it. God loves His creation, and every single person that fills it. When people, whom He created in His image, are oppressed, destroyed, and mistreated, God responds in wrath. God hates corruption. (If He were not, it would be difficult to call Him a “good God”). God is not a God who is in the habit of saying that a little bit of evil isn’t all that bad.
Our society teaches us to believe a different “truth.” They want us to think that a little bit of evil is okay. It is okay to follow your passions, no matter whether or not they in accordance with God’s will. It is okay choose to not worship God, if religion isn’t your thing. It is okay to disrespect others, especially if they are not worthy or respect. A little bit of killing and violence is acceptable, as long as the ends justify the means. A little bit of oppression is inevitable, as long as it is for the good of society. A little bit of war is good, just as long as it keeps evil from spreading.
Paul held a much more realistic assessment of the corruption of mankind. Do not be deceived. God is God, and we are not. What is wrong is always wrong. Sin is a serious disease, and it leads to corruption and death. It is a disease that must not go unchecked. It must be cured.