The Judgment of Continuity

Like my last post, this entry requires a bit of time investment. Watch this video, and then I have some theological reflections to share.

I think we often think of God's judgment in a very wrong-headed way. No. Actually I think we always think of God's judgment in a very wrong-headed way.

We think that judgment is usually a cataclysmic event involving radical discontinuity with our current experience. We love sin, chase after sin, run down the road after sin, expecting that at any moment the lightning will strike, thunder will roll, and God will show up in our path and let us have it. Kind of like Job was minding his own business being exceedingly prosperous and then, in the matter of a minute or two, was sitting in an ash heap scraping boils off of his skin.

That's our image of judgment. That our current lives will be abruptly altered.

But when we keep on running, keep on sinning, and make it all the way to the doors of the den of iniquity, and in, and past the scary-looking bouncers, and all the way to the bar, and to the back room brothel, and then out again unscathed, we think we're getting away with it. We've avoided judgment. Ha! So there! That wasn't so harmful now, was it?

Romans 1 has to be one of the most sobering passages in all of Scripture. Okay, maybe Ezekiel 16 takes that prize, but Romans 1 is right up there. Three times Paul tells us that God's response to human wickedness is to "give them over" to their lusts.

Give. Them. Over.

As in, give them what they want. Total continuity with their current lives. He doesn't throw obstacles in the the path of the lustful quest, he smooths out the road ahead of them. Just when we think we're "getting away with it," we are walking into judgment.

This video is a real-world, physical example of this phenomenon. It is the story of how sinful lust becomes, literally, a self-reinforcing, self-powering thing. Watching Internet pornography literally rewires the human brain. In other words, every time you indulge this particular lust in the super secret privacy of your den, you are literally being "given over" to your lust. Further enslaved to it. In its grip. Tighter and tighter. A judgment in total, absolute continuity with your choices.

This video is complete confirmation of what Paul says three times:

"Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies..."
"Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts."
"He gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done."

Quite amazing. Idolatry to sexual impurity to lust to a depraved mind. I think that's pretty much what the guy at the TED talk just said, without the theological jargon.

It's a terrifying concept that applies individually, obviously, but culturally as well. Paul is referring to sinful humanity in their social interactions in Romans 1. Oftentimes we Christians see our culture hurling headlong into debauchery and wonder: God, why don't you judge us? (In fact, we talked about this in a recent podcast.)

He is judging us.

Why are we expecting a cataclysmic intervention? He tells us very clearly that the absence of his fire and brimstone is itself a terrifying judgment, for by thinking we are escaping his judgment we are self-reinforcing and self-empowering our lusts. We are rewiring ourselves to be something other than his image-bearers. "Filling up the cup," the Bible puts it in other places.

We shouldn't be seeking his intervention with fire and brimstone - he's already handled that by "giving us over." We should seek his intervention in mercy, repentance, and revival, for that is our only hope.

That is true both for the college student about to fire up his Internet browser, and for the nation that celebrates its sexual freedom.

Brian Mattson