For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.
We don’t know if there are liabilities of being too wise or too aware, since the wisest and most aware of us have, without exception, used their talents for good. But we’ve all seen and suffered the abuses of being too smart, whether in our personal lives—sometimes at our own hands—or in larger arenas like politics, religion, and mass media. Knowledge alone can be dangerous, as Adam and Eve learned all too well. Knowing a little drives desire to know more, a good thing as long as we check pride and prejudices that creep into gained knowledge. Unfortunately, it's often the case we defend unjust attitudes and beliefs by presuming we’re better informed than those who take issue with us. Ecclesiastes 7.12 says, “The advantage of knowledge is this: that wisdom preserves the life of its possessor.” Knowledge not tempered by wisdom yields no profit. If anything, it produces disastrous results. We see this in Romans 1, as Paul unleashes a scathing attack on an apostate segment of ancient society that fell victim to being too smart.
Exchanging Truth for Lies
Homophobic modern Christians open Romans 1 and find a tantalizing treasure of knowledge to defend their opinions that GLBT believers are unacceptable to God and His church. But the irony of this is generally overlooked, as the arrogance and discrimination of their blindered reading is no different than the behaviors Paul rails against. They’re too smart to see passing over some plainly indicated facts to pounce on others ultimately reveals how little they know.
Paul lays the table with a general assumption that God’s existence is obvious. Since creation, he says, “God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (v20). But some chose to ignore the obvious, thinking themselves too smart to accept such a basic concept. They neither glorified nor thanked God, Paul writes, adding: “Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools” (v22) and created idolatrous belief systems that “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” (v25). One exchange led to another, with indulgence in pagan rites and customs encouraging heterosexuals to exchange “natural relations for unnatural ones” (v26).
Overriding sexual orientations God instilled in their beings before birth was what Paul found so horrifying, not the sexual activities it triggered, as antigay Christians suspect and, therefore, expect everyone to believe. If anything, Romans 1 presents the Bible’s strongest argument that remaining true to our native sexuality is a prerequisite for worshiping and serving our Creator. Exchanging the truth of who we are—who we were created to be—to embrace religiously imposed lies about our identity constitutes idolatry. It places more importance on what we presume to know about God—or what we prefer to know about us—than what God makes obvious to all. And, as we read further, Paul makes clear this road leads to “every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity” (v29), which he then itemizes in shocking detail. He closes with a stunning observation: “Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (v32). Condoning wicked ideas and actions, either our own or others’, is the litmus test that proves there’s nothing dumber than being too smart.
Not a moment should pass or thought enter our minds that questions God’s supreme, obvious authority. He created each of us—regardless of gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation—to glorify Him in a manner specific to our making. Rather than deviate from His plan, we honor it with lives of integrity and honesty. Refashioning how we’re made in conformity to a religiously approved image is no different than carving stone idols; it shifts the focus of worship from the Creator to the creature. However others look at us, we know we’re created in God’s image and likeness. (If people don't like what they see, we should urge them to take their complaints to the One we were made to reflect.) When we get too smart to accept such a basic notion, we fail to glorify God and become ingrates, opening ourselves to all sorts of futile thoughts that darken our hearts. During this Thanksgiving season, let’s not forget to be grateful for the obvious. Our list of things we’re thankful for should also include us. Using myself as an example, I must remember to thank God that I’m gay, white, and male—not because it makes me better than anyone else He created, but because that’s how He chose to express Himself in me.
Too smart to see how little they know. (Note the misused Romans 1.24 quote in the big guy's right hand...)
(Tomorrow: Generating Thanks)
Playlist: Thanksgiving Gospel
Most of you know about my passion for black gospel music. Here’s a playlist of favorites that get a lot of play this time of year. They run full gamut, from mainstream-friendly “pop” tastes to what iTunes would classify as “deep cuts.” (Don't be misled by the similar titles.) If you’re looking for some fresh Thanksgiving rhythms and rhymes, this may help you get started. And, as with every playlist, if you’ve got favorites to add the list (of every genre), let us know!
1. Take a Little Time – Andrae Crouch & The Disciples
2. It’s Good to Give to Give Thanks – West Angeles Mass Choir
3. Grateful – Hezekiah Walker & The Love Fellowship Choir
4. Thank You Lord (He Did It All) – John P. Kee and New Life Community Choir
5. Thank You Lord – Daryl Coley, featuring The New Generation Singers
6. You’ve Been So Good – Martha Munizzi
7. Thank You – Richard Smallwood
8. Thank You Lord – Rev. Clay Evans & AARC Mass Choir
9. Think of His Goodness to You – The Thomas Whitfield Chorale
10. Thank You – Rev. Milton Brunson & The Thompson Community Choir
11. Medley: Lord, I Thank You & I’m So Glad the Lord Saved Me – West Angeles Mass Choir
12. Be Grateful – Walter Hawkins & Love Center Choir
13. Thank You – Walt Whitman & The Soul Children of Chicago
14. Thank You – Yolanda Adams
15. Thank You – Walter Hawkins & Love Center Choir