Sin doesn’t just impact us personally on a moral level, but also responsible for the problems at a wider level in society. How should followers of Jesus respond to the overwhelming injustices and suffering in the world?
A study on Romans 1:24-32 for young adults from the Society of Salt and Light, in Christchurch.
A quick introduction to the week’s bible passages and theme, which aims to engage people in the big picture of God’s story, and the challenge of living faith in light of that.
Back in the 90’s you couldn’t just download your favourite album from itunes. Instead the world listened to music off this now virtually extinct device called the ‘cassette tape’. Cassettes weren’t the most reliable medium – they would warp in the sun, and could accidentally be wiped. But worst of all was the way tape players would chew up cassettes in a dramatic fashion. Suddenly your favourite album would go slow-mo and make this horrible crunching sound. You’d frantically eject the tape, in a last ditch attempt to save what you could before it was too late. But often the tape would come out twisted, torn, tangled, and try as you might you couldn’t undo the mess and save the music. From that moment on bits of an album would play funny, or you’d
even have to amputate whole sections with scissors.
Many of us automatically think of sin as our personal moral failings – lying, lusting, loathing – but that doesn’t really do justice to the size of what Christians see as the underlying problem with The Bad in everything. A much better and bigger way of thinking about sin is in the way that humanities four fundamental relationships are broken. Our relationship with God, ourselves, other people, and the created order is all out of whack with how God originally intended it.
And the knock on effects of those broken relationships (aka sin) on our whole society are like a chewed up cassette tape. It starts off easy enough to untangle – but as the problem goes on over the years it becomes obvious that the impact of sins on top of sins are so intertwined that we can’t untangle them ourselves.
Our passage in Romans offers a pretty assaulting overview of the wicked ways of the world and a terrifying list of the nasty things us humans are capable of. But the point of Paul’s list isn’t so much to make us feel horribly guilty, but points us towards the reality that the world is held hostage by the domino effects of sin.
So how do followers of Jesus make sense of a world that seems to be so beautiful and yet so broken both at the same time? Should we try to fix every social ill we see around us? Or do we just name stuff as being “wicked” and “evil” and get back to work dealing with our own personal sin issues? Is there really any hope?
For the Scholars
Discussion questions focusing on exploring the bible passage.
1. How does being a part of a group of people shape the way we act? How does it shape the way we think of what is right and wrong?
READ Romans 1:24-27
2. What are the two ‘exchanges’ that Paul talks about here?
3. In general, what does this seem to indicate about what happens when we (as the human race) exchange the truth of God/worship of God for a lie/worship of not-God things? (Hint: does it stay just at the level of ‘religion’? Special note: this doesn’t necessarily work on an individual level – i.e. a person who experiences same-sex attraction is not necessarily any more guilty of turning away from God than a person who doesn’t experience such desires)
READ Romans 1:28-32
4. Verse 28 might sound a bit harsh. But can you see a certain appropriateness, or fairness, to what Paul says God does here?
5. Verses 29-31 have a great big list of bad stuff. Is there anything that holds it together? Who would all this bad action be impacting on?
6. Why do you think Paul finds it particularly dark that people ‘approve’ of those who practise things which ‘lead to death’? What is the likely social consequence of such ‘approval’?
7. Given that groups we are in affect us deeply, what do you think this picture Paul has drawn says about how sin infects society as a whole?
8. Is there any hope in the midst of this? If you need a dose, have a quick look at where Paul is headed in Romans 8:1-4.
9. With the illumination of this part of Scripture and the help of the Spirit, are there any particular areas that you can see that the social dynamic of our society has left you bound or under the power of sin?
FOR THE DREAMERS
Discussion questions focusing on mulling over the theme.
1. Sin doesn’t just impact our personal moral lives and relationship with God – but also impacts the failings we find in wider society. Have you ever thought of these wider social issues as being ‘sinful’ before? Do you agree that sin and the problems of the world are due to the rupturing of relationships between God, ourselves, other people and the environment? Does this explain The Bad you see in the world?
2. When we talk about sin it’s easy to get the idea that the world is this horrible torturous place, but there’s plenty of evidence of God’s good creation alive and well. How should a follower of Jesus live in this tension of celebrating the evidence of God’s goodness in the world, while also pushing against the sin and bad stuff we encounter? What do you think happens if we end up leaning too far one way or the other?
3. How does being a part of a group of people shape the way we act and the way we think of what is right and wrong? Have you ever found yourself doing things you wouldn’t have done because of crowd pressure? Have you experienced people who actively encourage others to embrace “sinful” practices?
4. Our passage in Romans makes for a confronting read in many ways. The end offers a huge list of what humans can become when they live separated from God – an ever widening spiral of social evils. Do you think Paul is exaggerating here to make a point of how far humans can drift from God’s ultimate standard – or do we in the West tend to downplay just how nasty us human beings can become when left unchecked? If Paul’s correct – shouldn’t our Atheist friends all be axe murderers?
5. Throughout the passage Paul also implies that even in the midst of sin’s negative impact on society, underneath it all humans still have a sense that things are supposed to be better than they are. Do you think most people have that sense that things “ought” to be different when it comes to the injustice, pain and bad stuff we experience? Where do you think that deep sense comes from? How do people explain away that sense?
6. The message that Jesus preached in The Gospels was all about The Kingdom of God – a Kingdom where God’s heavenly values become a reality here on earth. And this message of hope became a reality in the death and resurrection of Jesus. How do you think all of this Kingdom & Jesus stuff relates to sin? What difference should it make to how we deal with sin in the now?
7. Are there any particular areas in your own life that you can see the sinful social dynamic of our society has left you bound or under the negative influence of sin? How does God want you to deal with it – Resist it? Confess it? Accept it? Something else?
FOR THE REALISTS
Possibilities for on topic testimonials, sharing and story telling.
Un-Breaking Relationships: Ask someone outside your group from your church to talk for 5 minutes on how they respond or have responded to the four different aspects of broken relationships in the world in their own lives – with God, themselves, other people, and the environment.
Remember to give them at least a few days warning so they can prepare well.
FOR THE ACTIVISTS
Activities and adventures beyond the couch.
Resistance Movement: To be a follower of Jesus means to be someone who both lives according to God’s Kingdom values, while also doing our best to push back against sin in all its forms on earth. That’s why Christians have such a long and strong history of social justice – it’s a way of pushing back against sin, even when the odds are against us. And as Archbishop Desmond Tutu famously said “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”. Get your group to brainstorm on ways you could spend a night “resisting sin” by helping those in need or challenging injustice. Don’t know where to start? You’ll find information on local social justice issues and action points at blogs.anglicanlife.org.nz/socialjustice.