I find it fascinating that at the same time I am preaching a series (and writing a commentary) on Paul’s Letter to the Romans, which lit the match that ignited the Protestant Reformation, Pope Francis has stunned the world with a new openness in Roman Catholic thought.
In the Chicago Tribune this past Wednesday, there was an editorial written by a self-proclaimed “indifferent agnostic” who was moved by the Pope’s statement that “the issue for those who do not believe in God is in obeying their own conscience.” The writer also cited the Pope’s words said in a Mass last May, “The Lord has redeemed all of us, with the blood of Christ; all of us, not just Catholics. Everyone. ‘Father, the atheists?’ Even the atheists. Everyone!”
It is evident that while such openness impressed the writer, it did not move him beyond his indifferent agnosticism. “I don’t know if God exists and I don’t care. Whether we were made by an all-powerful, all-loving creator or are the random result of a cosmic science experiment, it doesn’t change one bit our fundamental obligations to one another and to the world we live in… I believe that the creator (if such a creator exists) is exclusively concerned with how we treat his creation and supremely unconcerned about which God or gods we thank and praise for the opportunity.”
I am resisting the urge to argue the oxymoronic nature of these statements. Instead I want to propose that such statements are a clear example of Paul’s main principle set forth in Romans 1:20, 21: “For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived ever since the creation of the world, 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 foolish hearts were darkened”
It does make a great deal of difference to acknowledge that God exists. “And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and He rewards those who seek Him” (Heb 11:6). It also makes a great deal of difference “which God or gods we thanks and praise…” Thus in spite of the Pope’s new openness, the reaction was a new closed-ness; the result of a darkened mind and heart. I do not blame Pope Francis for that.
Speaking of the Pope, just what did he mean by the blood of Christ being for everyone, including atheists? Will people who do not believe in Jesus get into heaven simply by obeying their conscience or by their sincerity? Before we try and understand all of this we need to delve a little (not too deeply) into Romans Catholic history and theology. OK- I just heard you yawn, so I’ll wait till next week. We will take it slow and in bite-sized chunks, but I think it will help you process what the Pope is saying and the fact that he is not breaking new theological ground in spite of what it sounds like. Have a blessed weekend!
If you want to join us in our preaching series on Romans check us out at http://www.commfell.org