Barclay (1975) in his commentary on Romans 1:18-23 talks about seeing the creator through what he has created. If we look at the beauty of creation can we talk of a creator in any other way than as a creator who loves his creation? God created beauty for the enjoyment of all and he put in natural and moral codes that would help it retain the beauty. Barclay says “Break the laws of agriculture – your harvest fails. Break the laws of architecture – your building collapses. Break the laws of health – your body suffers” (p 27). This world has a moral order that needs to be upheld. To break it brings suffering. Barclay puts it “There is a moral order in this world, and the man who transgresses it soon or later is bound to suffer” (p 26).
The health part of this seems harsh when we see people suffer and die from diseases like cancer. However, I saw a news item that linked cancer with alcohol. I can't recall the exact linkage but it seems that our food or intake choices (smoking) impact on such illnesses. It could be said that these were developed for the pleasure of man and as a consequence lead to suffering.
This leads to Barclay's final thoughts. He talks of men looking into himself, thinking himself wise, and seeking to make himself “master of things” (p 28). This is self-centred instead of God centred approach to life. The result is the fall of man.
I contend that nature fights back when we ignore the laws of balance that apply to its operation. Global warning endangering man's created order or disorder is partly natures reaction to the imbalance caused by men. We also see how nature retakes land abandoned in chaos by en (Greenham Common). If we work in harmony with nature, we see it and ourselves flourish. Fail to do so and nature seems like a destructive force to our plans.
I see the financial system in a similar light. It is a man created system designed for self-centred goals. The goal is to generate personal wealth and to trade on the value of items that shouldn't be traded in. It is a system full of increasing costs but not an increasing flow of credit. The result is increasing debt that finally fails causing recessions and suffering. Seeking equality and the good of others isn't part of the system. Each person is increasingly seen as an island seeking their own good. Governments act to ensure that they also take their cut and that all pursue a life of personal greed. If you don't you must have something wrong or you are defrauding the system.
In such an environment, it isn't simply the greedy who suffer. All men suffer including those who seek the welfare of others. Life doesn't seem fair. Why? Because as Barclay states man has endeavoured to put himself at the centre and not God.
As I observe society and the behaviour of people, my heart wants to call them to repentance and at the same time, I see the freedom that they claim to have. Deeper analysis would say that they have a false freedom and are in fact struggling for release from the constraints of life. Moral decay is in essence a reaction to the struggle of life.
A church in main street of Swansea had banners up calling people to come join them in worship. The gates to the church were closed so were the doors. I never tried to go in but it occurred to me that they were calling for people to enter yet shutting people out.
I see other aspects of this contradiction as the church calls people to come but doesn't meet with people in their struggle. Coming to worship is seen as salvation when God is really calling to relationship and to living in Him.
Barclay, commenting on Romans 1:16-17, talks about the meaning of the Greek words translated “justification.” He says that in the English meaning of justify, we mean proving right or proving that a person has acted in the right way. He sees the Greek form used by Paul as meaning “to treat, or account, or reckon a person as something” (P 22). God doesn't find reason to justify a sinner, rather God “treats the sinner as if he had not been a sinner at all” (p 22). God treats all as children to be loved and nurtured.
I think of a young women who meet her friend in a Subway restaurant. What caught my attention was the frown and concern. Here was a person who needed to be freed of the stresses of life. At one point, she gave a little smile and I thought of how her appearance changed. We can be burdened by a sense of not being worthy of God's salvation / justification or we can accept that he treats us as justified and live in the freedom that this brings.
Barclay in his closing paragraph focuses on the phrase “The just shall live by faith” (p 23). If we understand this in the sense of God treating us as being justified then we will know “what life is like in time and in eternity” (p 23). We will obtain and enter into a new and precious relationship with God. We will live in love and not fear. We will live as God's friend and not as his enemies.
Barclay, W. (1975). The letter to the Romans (revised ed.). Edinburgh: The Saint Andrew Press.