Men With Whom God Can Do Nothing
1:24-25 So then God abandoned them to uncleanness in their hearts' passionate desires for pleasure, desires which made them dishonour their bodies among themselves, for they are men who have exchanged the truth of God for falsehood, and who worship and serve the creation more than they do the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
The word translated desires (epithumia, Greek #1939 ) is the key to this passage. Aristotle defined epithumia ( Greek #1939 ) as a reaching out after pleasure. The Stoics defined it as a reaching after pleasure which defies all reason. Clement of Alexandria called it an unreasonable reaching for that which will gratify itself. Epithumia ( Greek #1939 ) is the passionate desire for forbidden pleasure. It is the desire which makes men do nameless and shameless things. It is the way of life of a man who has become so completely immersed in the world that he has ceased to be aware of God at all.
It is a terrible thing to talk of God abandoning anyone. And yet there are two reasons for that.
(i) God gave man free-will, and he respects that free-will. In the last analysis not even he can interfere with it. In Ephesians 4:19 Paul speaks of men who have abandoned themselves to lasciviousness; they have surrendered their whole will to it. Hosea ( Hosea 4:17 ) has the terrible sentence: "Ephraim is joined to idols; let him alone." Before man there stands an open choice; and it has to be so. Without choice there can be no goodness and without choice there can be no love. A coerced goodness is not real goodness; and a coerced love is not love at all. If men deliberately choose to turn their backs on God after he has sent his Son Jesus Christ into the world, not even he can do anything about it.
When Paul speaks of God abandoning men to uncleanness, the word abandon has no angry irritation in it. Indeed, its main note is not even condemnation and judgment, but wistful, sorrowful regret, as of a lover who has done all that he can and can do no more. It describes exactly the feeling of the father when he saw his son turn his back on his home and go out to the far country.
(ii) And yet in this word abandon there is more than that--there is judgment. It is one of the grim facts of life that the more a man sins the easier it is to sin. He may begin with a kind of shuddering awareness of what he is doing, and end by sinning without a second thought. It is not that God is punishing him; he is bringing punishment upon himself and steadily making himself the slave of sin. The Jews knew this, and they had certain great sayings upon this idea. "Every fulfilment of duty is rewarded by another; and every transgression is punished by another." "Whosoever strives to keep himself pure receives the power to do so; and whosoever is impure, to him is the door of vice thrown open." "He who erects a fence around himself is fenced, and he who gives himself over is given over."
The most terrible thing about sin is just this power to beget sin. It is the awful responsibility of free-will that it can be used in such a way that in the end it is obliterated and a man becomes the slave of sin, self-abandoned to the wrong way. And sin is always a lie, because the sinner thinks that it will make him happy, whereas in the end it ruins life, both for himself and for others, in this world and in the world to come.
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