When God "gives them over"2
It wasn’t an easy article to read, but I pressed through to the end. It was short, but repulsive. In this week’s edition of The Week (March 28, 2014) there was a report on the behavior of Lady Gaga at the recent South by Southwest festival in Austin. Continue reading . . .
It wasn’t an easy article to read, but I pressed through to the end. It was short, but repulsive. In this week’s edition of The Week (March 28, 2014) there was a report on the behavior of Lady Gaga at the recent South by Southwest festival in Austin. The pop star (can you believe it? she’s a “star”!) “has taken her penchant for shocking audiences to a new, repulsive level, allowing a woman to vomit all over her while she performed.” The set “opened with a woman eating barbecue sausages in a provocative manner while a fishnet-clad Gaga sang her song ‘Swine.’ Gaga was then joined by performance artist Millie Brown, who chugged a bottle of green liquid, stuck her fingers down her throat, and vomited green goo all over the pop star.” According to the report, “Gaga defended the performance as ‘art.’”
After reading this I couldn’t help but think of Paul’s words in Romans 1 where he says that “God gave them up,” first, “in the lusts of their hearts to impurity” (Rom. 1:24a), then second “to dishonorable passions” (Rom. 1:26a), and finally “to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (Rom. 1:28b). It’s a horrifying refrain, and there are at last two fundamental elements involved.
The first is permissive in force. God withdraws divine restraint on men's and women’s hearts and permits them to have their way (cf. Acts 14:16). That is to say, God relinquishes his hold over them and ceases to curb their willful determination to sin. However, God's action in response to human sin is more than simply permissive.
In other words, God doesn't simply let them go. He also positively consigns them to suffer the consequences of their sin. It is not merely divine relinquishment but also divine retribution. As Doug Moo points out, "God does not simply let the boat go – He gives it a push downstream. Like a judge who hands over a prisoner to the punishment his crime has earned, God hands over the sinner to the terrible cycle of ever-increasing sin" (106).
Paul does not say that God is himself the cause of their impurity or idolatry. Rather, God gives them over to degrading passions. The act of divine relinquishment presupposes the existence of these sins. God gives them over to what they have already chosen for themselves. "In the midst of the retributive action of God there is no coercion of man. God does not entice or compel to evil" (S. Lewis Johnson).
Furthermore, that to which God gives them over is not simply their sin but a deeper and more intense cultivation of their sin. In the absence of divine restraint (common grace), sin intensifies and aggravates itself. When God abandons someone to his/her sin, that sin accelerates. Sadly, what this means is that Yes, it can and will get worse, as difficult as it may for us to imagine someone like Lady Gaga falling deeper than she already has into repulsive and degrading behavior (all the while calling it “art”).
One final point should be made. Careful study of Romans 1:23-25 indicates that it is idolatry which leads to immorality. Men and women first abandon God and then God abandons them into the depths of every conceivable vice. Sexual perversion, says Paul, is the result of religious rebellion. This is also seen in the words Paul employs. Those who “exchanged” (v. 23) God’s glory and “exchanged” (v. 25) his truth “exchanged” (v. 26) natural sexual relations for what is unnatural. Simply put, sexual immorality (together with other forms of degrading behavior) is the consequence of human idolatry. Once one abandons God, virtually anything is possible, because everything is permissible.