The word of the day is “blame.” Today’s reading from Romans 2:28-3:18 involves us in Paul’s complex discussion about the rejection of many Jews to the Gospel. The question is who is to blame for the unfaithfulness of the Jews? God had given them his “oracles,” that is, His words (Strong’s 3051, 152). In these messages, the Almighty had shown them special favor. St. John Chrysostom says that “the honor that God treated them was so great that even when He saw what would come thereof, He withheld not His goodwill toward them” (NfPf1:11, 373). Thus, God’s forbearance demonstrated His faithfulness.
Unbelief Does not Nullify the Faithfulness of God
Yet, according to Chrysostom, the Jews “made the honors bestowed on them a means of insulting Him [God] that honored them” (NfPf1:11, 373). The preacher charged that the Jews did not believe the words of God. And he asked, “Does this unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect?” (OSB 3:3). Chrysostom answers that “our unrighteousness” confirms God’s righteousness. His treatment of those who do not believe shows His divine benevolence in giving His Law and His wrath in punishing those who disobey it (OSB 3:5). Therefore, the preacher says that should God be put on trial in court, He would be victorious and vindicated.
Some cynics would allege that God arranged that He would come out to be the winner no matter what. They would say that the whole thing is a setup. The Lord gave His teachings, knowing that the people would not believe them. He gave the law knowing that the people would disobey it. And then when they both disbelieved and disobeyed, He punished them, calling it justice.
Chrysostom puts the question, “Why then (a man may say) am I to be punished, who have been the cause of His [God’s”] victory by the despite [the contempt) I did to Him?” (NfPf1:11, 372). In other words, some would say that if by our unrighteousness, God is shown to be righteous, then we “ought not only to be exempt from punishment but even to have good done unto us (NfPf1:11, 373).
Why the God and His Law Are Not to Blame
Yet, as Chrysostom notes, this reasoning that blames God for the human disobedience of His Word is absurd. Let’s illustrate. Suppose Sam is arrested for breaking the law, a jury convicts him, and a judge sentences him to prison. The judge and jury are not at fault for Sam’s crime or imprisonment. Sam is. In the same way, the unrighteousness of human beings shows God to be righteous in that He has every right to judge it.
On the other hand, God is not a trickster. He does not intend that humans should persist in unrighteousness in order to demonstrate His justice. Again, suppose the legislature makes a law. By setting the penalty for breaking it, the legislators expect that the law will be broken. However, the lawmakers are not at fault for violations of the law though they knew that it would be broken. St. Paul teaches, “Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” (OSB Romans 7:12). God is not guilty of disobedience to the Law as Paul says, “Is the law sin? Certainly not” (OSB Romans 7:7).
The law exposes sin. It does not cause it. By the law we know what sin is (OSB 7:7). The law, therefore, enlivens our conscience. It reveals that we are captive to sin (Romans 7:11-14) and subject to the “wages of sin,” that is, death (Romans 6:23).
The Gentiles Are Neither Better Nor Worse Off
We have found that God is not to blame for His righteous judgment. And God’s Law is not to blame for sin. But one more thing—the unrighteousness of the Jews does not mean that the Gentiles are better or worse off than the Jews. The unrighteousness of the Jews has nothing to do with the righteous or unrighteousness of the Gentiles. If Sam commits a crime, that does not mean that his friend Walter is also is guilty of lawbreaking.
With these arguments, Paul clears away the false human reasoning that would deflect the blame for sin or would excuse some while condemning others. The Jews are a special case because God had revealed His will to them. Yet now Paul returns to his major theme,” Gentiles, as well as the Jews, do not meet the standards of God’s righteousness. He declared, “For as many have sinned without [God’s written Law] law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the Law” (OSB 2:12).
At this point, the apostle quotes the Psalmist, who says,” There is none righteous. No, not one” (Romans 3:11; Ps. 14:1-3; Ps. 53:1-3). By His complex argument, Paul has cleared the way for the proclamation of the Gospel. The Gospel of salvation is his emphasis, not the degree of the decadence of human beings. The apostle reasons that if none is righteous, then humans cannot achieve it. It must be a gift of God’s grace!
When sin is exposed, it excuses itself and blames others. When God confronted Adam with his sin in the Garden, the first human dared to blame God. When that did not work, he blamed his wife. He said, “The woman you gave me, gave me of the tree, and I ate” (OSB Genesis 3:12). So, it has gone throughout history. Humans have looked for the most available person or circumstance to blame. And ultimately, if they cannot attribute their fault to anything else, they will accuse God. Thus, the Book of Proverbs says, “When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the Lord (RSV Proverbs 19:3).
Unbelief, disobedience, and indifference to the Gospel are not the fault of God. If they were, then God would be unjust in holding humans responsible for them. He would have no right to judge anyone for rejecting His Word of forgiveness and mercy. In this sense, blaming God for the state of one’s soul is an affront to the majesty and mercy of God.