Author: Peter Herbeck

What the Spirit is Saying to the Church Today

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This letter originally appeared in Renewal Ministries’ August 2019 newsletter.

Dear Friends,

We’re living through challenging times. Even in the midst of this season of “severe mercy” that has come upon the Church, we have much to celebrate. It is the Lord who is purifying and expressing His covenant love and faithfulness to us: “Those whom I love, I reprove and chasten” (Rv 3:19). Jesus is purifying His Church, exposing sin, and applying a redemptive discipline, not simply to punish or to reveal our shame, but to produce a response of zealous repentance. He wants change, radical change of heart, especially, but not exclusively, in her leaders.

I recently was praying through the seven letters to the churches in the book of Revelation. There is much to learn in them about the Lord, how deeply concerned He is about the health of His Church, the direct way He identifies the spiritual sicknesses in her, and the specific nature of His diagnosis and remedies. And He is clear about what kind of response He expects from His Church, and the consequences that will follow if they resist His leadership and refuse to repent.

I really believe we’re living through a similar kind of serious pastoral intervention by the Lord. As a result, the letters can provide helpful insight as we seek to understand our own situation before the Lord. One thing is clear, the Church today is crippled by some of the same maladies that Jesus addresses in the letters.

To the Church in Sardis, He says: “I know your works; you have the name of being alive, and you are dead” (Rv 3:1). Wow! What a direct diagnosis! What a wonderful physician! The body is dying. It looks good on the outside, riding high on its reputation, but inside it is dead and dying. His remedy is: “Awake, and strengthen what remains and is on the point of death, for I have not found your works perfect in the sight of God” (Rv 3:2). Nothing escapes the penetrating gaze of Jesus the Lord. How many churches look good on the outside and have a good reputation, but are not producing mature fruit? Is it a community that is living out the Great Commandment, growing in radical love of God and neighbor? Are they passionately engaged in the Great Commission to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19)? Jesus’ instruction to them is clear: “Remember then what you have received and heard; keep that, and repent” (Rv 3:3). The consequence of not responding are clear. “If you will not awake, I will come like a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you” (Rv 3:3).

To the Church in Thyatira he says: “I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance” (Rv 2:19). This was a church that was alive in many ways, yet Jesus identifies a serious problem among them. Their leaders are tolerating the false prophetess Jezebel, who is “teaching and beguiling my servants to practice immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols” (Rv 2:20). The leaders, and to some degree the church as a whole, was tolerant of false teaching and immoral, idolatrous behavior in the community. The community was being defiled by serious sin that was profoundly offensive to God, and if not repented of, would lead to eternal death. How many parishes in our countries could be given the exact same diagnosis? How many bishops of dioceses, pastors of parishes, and rectors of seminaries have tolerated false teaching by those who beguile the sheep? How many leaders, even lay leaders, never say a word out of the fear of men?

It is instructive to note that Jesus said that He “gave her (Jezebel) time to repent, but she refused to repent of her immorality” (Rv 2:21). When she refused, He made the consequences clear: “Behold, I will throw her on a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her doings, and I will strike her children dead” (Rv 2:22). Again, wow! That is Jesus shepherding His Church. Listen closely to His diagnosis, His remedies, and His warnings. This is the voice of Love. It is not harsh, mean, judgmental, intolerant, or hateful; it is truth, coming from a heart of perfect Love.

There are extremely important lessons here that Jesus is teaching us. We all have areas of service and responsibility that Jesus has given to us—our marriages and families, our businesses, parishes, dioceses, institutions of learning, etc. They all belong to Him. We belong to Him. He has entrusted them to us and expects us to follow His leadership in exercising our responsibility over them.

How many priests and bishops, and how many of us, have been given “time to repent” but haven’t? How many of us have decided to “go along to get along” or have failed to act because of inordinate self-love, a fear of not being liked, or to avoid conflict? Jesus came to the false prophetess in mercy, but when she ignored Him, He applied an appropriate remedy: a severe mercy. The purpose of His loving judgment is to remove all that hinders love.

To follow in Jesus’ footsteps takes courage, especially today. But we should all take heart. Jesus is zealous to not only root out sin, but to forgive us and provide us with the strength we need to love as He loves in every situation.

Jesus’ ultimate concern is to do what it takes to bring each one of us home to the Father, and to share with us the riches of His own glory. To those who conquer, He promises great rewards!

It is a great blessing for us to be living in these difficult days. It provides us opportunities to bear witness to the One we love, to receive His grace to join the army of loyal friends and faithful witnesses who “conquered him (Satan) by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, because they loved not their lives even unto death.” (Rv 12:11) May these words someday be said of each one of us. Come, Holy Spirit!

‘Keeping Our Heads in All Situations’

 

The following letter from Peter Herbeck originally appeared in Renewal Ministries’ February 2019 newsletter, which you can view here.

Dear Friends,

I’ve been thinking and praying for all of you—all of us—who are living through these unprecedented times for the Church. These are chaotic and destabilizing times, filled with sorrow, anger, confusion, and fear for many people. It is without a doubt a time of great testing for all of us.

One of the constant questions I get from people is, “How do I respond to this? What should I do?” A great deal of helpful practical advice has been given on how to help the leaders of the Church, bishops, and priests to cooperate with this time of purification. But more needs to be said about how we can, as St. Paul puts it, “keep our heads in all situations” (2 Tm 4:5), especially in times of hardship and great testing. The teaching of Jesus and the apostles is a great help in times like these.

Keeping the big picture in mind is key to helping us live above the circumstances and to see in the trials great opportunity to grow in maturity as a disciple. St. Peter exhorts us to “not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you” (2 Pt 4:12). All of us are being proved, tested by the crisis in the Church. This “fiery ordeal” is a self-inflicted wound, the result of serious failures and scandalous behavior of leadership.

The scandalous behavior is a shock to the system, but it shouldn’t ultimately be a surprise or too strange for us to understand. Jesus told us that we would have great tribulations in this world and that we would see and experience scandal, the kind witnessed even among the twelve apostles. Among Jesus’ closest friends, those He knew best, the ones He trusted the most: one betrayed Him and another denied even knowing Him, at the moment Jesus needed them most. Sin, failure, and betrayal among leaders is scandalous, but it shouldn’t ultimately take us by surprise.

As disciples, we know, or should know, human weakness. We also know that we’re living in an “evil age,” in a fallen world that is “in the power of the evil one” (1 Jn 5:19). The world is a battle field; the Church is at war, every single day, against powerful principalities and powers deployed against us. What we are seeing writ large is the same struggle we all face, the daily temptations and seductions of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Jesus is showing mercy in this severe discipline and judgment that has come upon the Church. He is at work, shining light into the darkness, removing the chains and breaking the strongholds that are binding the Church. He’s revealing the consequences of sin, the depth to which even clergymen, religious leaders, can fall. We’re seeing the face of sin, and this, friends, is a great and severe mercy.

This is a moment for all of us to take stock, to examine our lives in the light of Jesus. He is disciplining His Church, and in that He is testing each one of us. Where are we in relationship to His call in our lives? Are we giving Him everything? Are we putting Him first? Are we fulfilling the assignment He has given to each one of us? Are we passionately, completely dedicated to bringing the kingdom and the will of the Father into every area He has given us responsibility for? Are we living in the wisdom of the eternal perspective, knowing with confidence and certainty that we, each one us, will soon be standing before the judgment seat of Christ, giving an account for what we have done with what He has given to us?

St. Paul gives us a beautiful perspective to live by, especially in these days:

“So we are always of good courage . . . whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body” (2 Cor 5:6, 9-10).

Despite the many trials, persecutions, punishments, disappointments, and failures in the Church, St. Paul has his eye on the climax of his life, the ultimate moment that he knows with certainty lies before him: his appearing before the judgment seat of Christ. This certainty fills Paul with what he himself describes as “the fear of the Lord,” which gives him clarity and wisdom on how to live in the moment, not matter what circumstances he is facing. The only thing that matters is to live in a way that pleases the Lord. It simplifies his life in the midst of constant complexity. It gives him wisdom, the ability to know how to live well, to live an authentically fulfilling life, to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, to do the will of the Father. Nothing else matters. Period.

This is where Jesus is leading the Church. He wants to awaken the fear of the Lord in all of us so that we can have wisdom. He has brought us to a point of decision: are we going to live in the fear of men, which necessarily leads to foolishness and slavery, or are we going to fear God and live in the freedom of the sons and daughters of God?

Let’s not let this trial pass without harvesting everything Jesus has for us personally and corporately. I believe in my bones that the Renewal Ministries’ family was made for this moment! He is here, ready to strengthen us, to empower us to give a wholehearted and radical “yes” to Him and to do all we can to lead those He brings to us out of bondage, foolishness, and fear, into the wisdom of God.

Lord, we love You! Help us to make the most of the time and to use the resources You have given us to serve Your purpose in this hour!

Friends, we will all be dead soon. Life is short, it’s a passing shadow, let’s help each other make the most of the time for the glory of the Lord and for the salvation of souls.

In Christ,

Peter

A Time of Decision: Ireland’s Vote and the Prophecies of Pope John Paul II

The Following article originally appeared in the Renewal Ministries’ August 2018 newsletter.


“If you would like to visit a place where the symptoms of the sickness of our time are found near their furthest limits, come to Ireland. Here you will see a civilization in freefall, seeking with every breath to deny the existence of a higher authority, a people that has now sentenced itself not to look upon the cross of Christ, lest it be haunted by his rage and sorrow.” 1

These words, from Irish commentator John Waters, are in response to the people of Ireland’s choice to deny the unborn the right to life. Ireland is the first nation in history to enshrine the law through a majority vote of its people; it wasn’t imposed upon them by cultural elites or the courts.

The vote, as Waters indicates, is a manifestation of a deeper reality. This is Ireland’s desire “to deny the existence of a higher authority.” It is the “sickness of our time.” In the words of Pope Benedict XVI, “God is disappearing from the human horizon.”2

For now, Ireland has made its decision to say no to Christ. Like many, I was shocked and sickened as I watched the crowds dance with glee, asserting their new-found freedom. What they were celebrating, whether they grasped it fully or not, was the euphoria of fallen human nature and its constant desire to “suppress the truth” about God. St. Paul tells us that it is through the “ungodliness and wickedness of men” that human beings refuse to honor God as God and to give Him thanks (Rom 1:18, 20).

A friend recently reminded me of how, during St. John Paul II’s historic visit to Ireland in 1979, he framed in stark prophetic terms the spiritual battle that country was facing. St. John Paul II made it clear that Ireland was at a point of decision about whether or not to follow Christ. He knew he was sent by Christ to warn Ireland and to help them see and understand that they were facing a great temptation, and that, if they fell to this temptation, it would have grave consequences for the whole Church.

“Lay people today are called to a strong Christian commitment: to permeate society with the leaven of the Gospel, for Ireland is at a point of decision in her history . . . Ireland must choose. You the present generation of Irish people must decide; your choice must be clear and your decision firm. Let the voice of your forefathers, who suffered so much to maintain their faith in Christ and thus preserve Ireland’s soul, resound today in your ears through the voice of the pope when he repeats the words of Christ:

‘What will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his life?’ (Mt 16:26)

What would it profit Ireland to go the easy way of the world and suffer the loss of her own soul?

Your country seems in a sense to be living again the temptations of Christ: Ireland is being asked to prefer the ‘kingdoms of this world and their splendor’ to the Kingdom of God (Mt 4:8). Satan, the Tempter, the Adversary of Christ, will use all his might and all his deceptions to win Ireland for the way of the world. What a victory he would gain, what a blow he would inflict on the Body of Christ in the world, if he could seduce Irish men and women away from Christ. Now is the time of testing for Ireland. This generation is once more a generation of decision.
Dear sons and daughters of Ireland, pray, pray not to be led into temptation . . . pray that Ireland may not fail in the test. Pray as Jesus taught us to pray: ‘Lead us not into temptation’ . . . May Ireland never weaken in her witness, before Europe and before the whole world, to the dignity and sacredness of all human life, from conception until death.”3

Ireland has failed the test. We pray that she may repent and turn back, but for now she has fallen to the temptation of the Adversary of Christ. The majority have decided to turn a deaf ear to the warning Christ brought to them through the prophet St. John Paul II.

Of course, we know that Ireland is not alone in its acquiescence to the spirit of the age. The whole world is being drawn into this same temptation, to prefer the “kingdoms of this world and their splendor” to Christ.

The important thing for us in the Church is to heed the warnings of the prophets the Lord has sent to us. If we don’t, we too will join the throngs of the baptized who have been seduced into embracing a false freedom that calls darkness light.

What are we to do in the face of the unrelenting forces of evil that seem to have gained the upper hand in so many of the countries that once marched under the banner of Christ? Again, St. John Paul II:

“What is going to happen to the Church? . . . We must prepare ourselves to suffer great trials before long, such as will demand of us a disposition to give up even life, and a total dedication to Christ and for Christ . . . With your and my prayer it is possible to mitigate this tribulation, but it is no longer possible to avert it, because only thus can the Church be effectively renewed. How many times has the renewal of the Church sprung from blood! This time too, it will not be otherwise. We must be strong and prepared, and trust in Christ and His Mother, and be very, very assiduous in praying the Rosary.”4

There is much work for us to do, but first and foremost we must pray. What is unfolding in the world is above our paygrade. As St. John Paul II said on numerous occasions, this trial lies within the plans of divine providence. It is a profound spiritual battle. Our plans, strategies, and organizational techniques are necessary but insufficient. We don’t just need better organization, we need courage to “give up even life, and a total dedication to Christ and for Christ.”

Prayer is what will prepare us to face the trials that have already begun and that will not only continue but will intensify. Jesus will give us all we need to be faithful and fruitful in this time of trial. He will turn the devil’s strategies against us to our good and to His glory, if we stay united to Him.

While Ireland was casting its vote, my wife Debbie and I were in Krakow, Poland. We took a half a day to visit the St. John Paul II Center and the Divine Mercy Shrine. At one point during the tour, we came upon the white cassock that St. John Paul II wore the day he was shot in Vatican Square. The cassock, encased in glass, is stained in his blood. As I knelt down to pray, I was overwhelmed by the power of his life, his beautiful and profound witness to Christ. As I wept and prayed, my heart was filled with the words he spoke to all of us from the first day of his pontificate:

“Be not afraid!”


Notes:
1 John Waters, “Ireland: An Obituary,” First Things, May 28, 201, https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2018/05/ireland-an-obituary.

2 Benedict XVI, Letter of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to the Bishops of the Catholic Church Concerning the Remissino of the Excommunication of the Four Bishops Consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre, encyclical letter, Vatican website, March 10, 2009, http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/letters/2009/documents/hf_ben-xvi_let_20090310_remissione-scomunica.html.

3 Pope John Paul II, “Absolute Inviolability of Human Life”, homily, Vatican website, October 1, 1979, https://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/homilies/1979/documents/hf_jp-ii_hom_19791001_irlanda-limerick.html.

4 Pope John Paul II, interview with Catholics at Fulda, Germany, in November 1980, published in the German Magazine Stimmes des Glaubens in October 1981, cited in The Pope and the President, by Paul Kengor (Willimgton, DE: Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2017), 209.


A Severe Mercy: Our Time of Visitation

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I’m writing to share with you a few thoughts as a follow up to Ralph Martin’s excellent and courageous letter Dear Troubled Catholics, regarding the current crisis in the Church.

Ralph wrote that this current crisis, precipitated by the revelation of Cardinal McCarrick’s moral failures and the failure of leadership in the Church to prevent his rise to prominence, could be a “tipping point” for the Church. He sees in it a possibility for genuine repentance and change for the Church.

I perceive in this crisis—both here in the United States and around the world—an opportunity, given us by our Lord. I believe we are experiencing the discipline of the Lord; it is a severe mercy, a judgment upon the Church that is meant to lead to deep, thorough repentance, healing, and reformation. It’s an opportunity that demands a response from all of us, beginning with the leadership of the Church. If we cooperate with Jesus, with obedient and repentant hearts and total honesty and transparency in the fear of the Lord, Jesus will lead us out of this terrible crisis. If we fail to respond to this time of purification, I believe the Church in America will be severely weakened, the decline we’re witnessing in the Church will escalate, and the flock will scatter.

While on mission in Uganda in 2016, the Lord spoke to me about what we are now living through. Our team from Renewal Ministries was leading a week-long retreat for about 350 priests and bishops from five east-African countries. One morning during daily Mass, right after Communion, I sensed the Lord telling me to get out my journal and to write down the following: “The days ahead will be marked by growing chaos and confusion. I am coming to purify my Church. I am about to bring down the idols that hold my people in bondage; I will expose the hypocrisy of the mighty and the strong, both in the Church and in the world.”

Watching the mighty fall in the past few years—Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly, Matt Lauer, Al Franken, and now former Cardinal McCarrick (now Archbishop McCarrick) and other cardinals and bishops—has been sobering. These revelations are meant to lead all of us to repentance and to instill in us a healthy fear of the Lord. The Captain of the Armies of Heaven, Jesus, the Lord, is purifying His Church and exposing the emptiness and hypocrisy of the world. Scripture tells us that the Lord disciplines those whom He loves.

It’s important for us to understand Jesus’ intent. He doesn’t come to humiliate or destroy; He comes to save. St. Peter tells us that judgment begins with the house of God. Jesus is purifying His Church for the sake of the salvation of the world. The Church is the hope of the world, the sacrament of salvation, the light of the world. When the Church is trapped in sin, her light goes dim and her salt goes flat.

Today, the Church is infected with deep strongholds of sin that are crippling her life and witness. In the period leading up to the Dallas Charter in 2002, Jesus began to expose the horrific corruption of homosexual sins of pedophilia and ephebophilia (sexual attraction to pubescent boys) among the clergy, and the cover up by some of the hierarchy of these crimes. Eighty-one percent of the victims were adolescent males.

Steps were taken at the time to respond to the crisis with the Dallas Charter and the “zero tolerance” policy instituted throughout the Church in the United States. The Charter was a start, but lacked complete honesty and transparency. The efforts by the bishops left the dishonest impression that the primary problem the Church was facing in this crisis was pedophilia and not ephebophilia. This allowed them to deflect attention from the fact that active homosexuality among the clergy was the primary source of the problem.

What’s clear from the revelations about Archbishop McCarrick is that the repentance in 2002 did not go deep enough. There was a cover up, a strategic decision to hide the bigger problem of active homosexuality among the clergy, including some of the hierarchy.

What we are seeing is the means to which Jesus will go to purify His Church. The wound of sin in this area is deeper than most of our brothers in the hierarchy are willing to acknowledge or to confront. But the Lord will not relent.

In the letter to the Church in Ephesus in the Book of Revelation, Jesus tells the leaders of the Church the following:

“I have this against you, that you abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (Rv 2:4-5).

Jesus warned the leaders of the Church that even though they had done many things right, they had lost their first love. He then gave them a three-step process to make things right: remember, repent, and act. They were to remember the place from which they had fallen, to repent, and then do the works they had done at first. In this crisis, this is a good guide for all of us, especially our leaders.

Jesus is calling our leaders to remember the purity and holiness to which they have been called, and to make a thorough examination of their lives before Him. They must then act decisively, with zeal and determination, to bring to light all that is hidden in darkness. They must remember that this severe mercy is an act of love that calls for total obedience to the Lord, knowing, “those whom I love I reprove and chasten; so be zealous and repent” (Rv 3:19).

Just as in Ephesus, so it will be with the Church in America, if we don’t respond wholeheartedly, with complete honesty. If the Church refuses to expose the truth, and in the fear of the Lord to cooperate with Him in this hour of purification, He will “come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.”

That is what I believe is at stake at this time for the Church in America. To “remove your lampstand” means, in the words of Victorinus of Petovium, to “disperse the congregation.”[i] The Church in many parts of the United States is already in decline. If we as a Church do not cooperate fully with the Lord at this time of visitation, the decline will escalate dramatically.

Cooperation means that policies, good public relations, the advice of lawyers, and the like are not enough. Just looking to the future is not enough. Positive platitudes are not enough. What is needed is action to root out systemic habit patterns of sin, to expose strongholds of sin to the full light of day.

This kind of stronghold of sin will not go away. It will keep producing like a deadly virus in the body or like a festering wound that has only been tended to on the surface. The infection will keep spreading. To date, the words of Jeremiah are a fitting description of the response of the bishops to this serious problem: “They have treated the wound of my people carelessly” (Jer 6:14).

The bishops can no longer continue to treat this wound carelessly; it has to be cut out, to the root. That means having to confront the fear that holds them back. To address this problem head on and to take appropriate action will likely cause serious disruption in the Church for a time, and serious pushback from forces in and outside the Church. There is no easy way forward; it will require great courage.

There is a way out of this: follow Jesus, obey Him. He will give all of us what we need. It’s time to awaken the graces of our confirmation, fortitude that is “prepared to suffer injury and, if need be, death for the truth and for the realization of justice.”[ii] And a healthy fear of the Lord to overcome the fear of men that so often leads to inaction and weak, foolish responses in the face of serious sin. “The man who fears the Lord will not be fainthearted” (Sir 34:14).

We have nothing to fear if we put all our hope in Him. It’s not our job to secure all the potential consequences that may transpire from a radical response to Jesus at this time. Our job is to obey and to entrust everything to His mercy and love, and to the protection and intercession of Our Lady.

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world, he who follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (Jn 8:12). Even in the greatest darkness, we can walk in the Light.

[i] Peter Williamson, Revelation: Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015), 62.

[ii] Josef Pieper, A Brief Reader on the Virtues of the Human Heart, (San Fransisco: Ignatius Press, 1991), 11.

Thinking Straight

Have you ever felt like your mind was under siege? It happened to me this morning. I woke up, as I typically do, about 5:45 a.m. Morning light began to break through the window with the promise of a beautiful summer day. As I lay there, the thought of large tuition payments for my high school and college kids went through my mind, accompanied by a general feeling of anxiety about finances, the economy, and the health of my 401k. Then, without any intention on my part, I began to think about a project I had worked on that didn’t go as well as I had hoped. Within seconds my mind was gripped with thoughts of discouragement, a touch of self-loathing and feelings of failure. All of that happened within minutes after waking and before I even put one foot on the floor! I felt so crummy I didn’t even want to get out of bed.

Life is a battle, spiritual combat. That is a biblical truth that all of us can understand because we’ve experienced it. At one time or another we’ve all had moments where we have felt under siege. The front line of the spiritual battle is the mind. Winning that battle is the key to winning the war we all wage against the world, the flesh, and the devil…

St. Paul understood the fundamental realities at work in this spiritual combat. His teaching flowed from a mind touched by the Holy Spirit. By the power of the Spirit he was able to see the battle lines. He knew, by personal experience what it meant to live with a “renewed mind.” The Lord enlightened his mind; he was awakened from darkness and brought into the light. He knew that by the presence of the Spirit he had acquired a fresh, new spiritual way of thinking. That new way of thinking led him into an entirely new way of living.

From that position St. Paul confidently and with extraordinary insight helps us to see the fundamental battle that is unfolding within each one of us. He challenges each of us,

“Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” (Rom 12:2)

…In the first chapter of his letter to the Romans, St. Paul gives a dramatic description of the battle in our minds. The source of our struggle is our willingness to “suppress the truth.”

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of men who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse; for although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened.” (Romans 1:18–21)

The willingness to suppress the truth is a way of describing the fallen condition of our minds. There is within each one of us, a tendency to resist the truth. And according to St. Paul, it is the truth about God. We resist God because we are “enslaved to sin.” (Romans 6:6) Sin is a power at work within the human heart set against God and his purposes in our lives.

To “acknowledge God” here means to not only acknowledge in some way that God exists, but to acknowledge him as my Creator, my God, to whom I owe complete loyalty, trust and obedience. The “truth about God” is that he is God and that I am a creature, radically dependent upon him. My entire reason for being, my identity, purpose and destiny come from him. He is the source of my existence and my origin; I belong to him. He is the center of reality itself.

The human heart, enslaved to sin wants to suppress God’s claim over us, his total sovereignty, and our radical dependence upon him. We want to replace God with something else more to our liking. The indictment St. Paul lays at our feet is that our refusal to acknowledge God is the result of a deliberate decision. Because God has revealed himself in the “things that have been made,” man is “without excuse.” We are not innocent; we choose to ignore what God has revealed. That decision on our part is the ultimate expression of slavery, of “futile” and “darkened” thinking. What could be a greater expression of futility than to deny the existence of the One from whom I am given existence?

Again, St. Paul helps us understand the root of our problem: “they exchanged truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.” (Rom 1:25) We prefer to “worship and serve the creature.” We would rather live a lie than give to God what belongs to him. Our fallen nature, our weakened will, what Scripture refers to as “the flesh,” is programmed for idolatry.

Idolatry keeps me in control by denying God’s unique claim on me as his creature. Each one of us, created in God’s image and likeness, is made to worship and serve God. In order to escape that duty to God we pretend we don’t know God, or claim that he cannot be known or that he does not exist. Creation, which speaks so eloquently of God’s “invisible nature” and “his eternal power and deity,” is rendered mute by our choice.

We choose to construct a reality void of God. We reason that if God is out of the picture, we can live in whatever way we choose. We are responsible to no one and are at liberty to define the meaning of our lives in whatever way we desire. We believe that in order to be free, God has to go!

This is man’s wisdom. How desperate is our condition? “Claiming to be wise, they became fools!” (Rom 1:22) Our wisdom is utter foolishness. The drive for radical autonomy, our attempt to have life on our own terms, has cut us off from the only source of life and truth. So desperate is our condition that we deny the infinite and expect to find life, meaning, happiness and fulfillment in what is finite: they “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.” (Rom 1:23)

Only a fool would worship and serve that which is less than himself.

 


This article is an excerpt from Peter Herbeck’s booklet Thinking Straight. In this booklet Peter uses the teaching of St. Paul to provide insight into the fundamental battle that is unfolding within each one of us. In Romans 12:2, St. Paul challenges each of us: “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.” This powerful and practical booklet can help us undergo a deep and lasting transformation of our minds, and be led victoriously into an entirely new way of living.

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