For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
In the very first Sunday School play that I acted in, I was one of four angels and my role was to recite this verse. Since then, I had acted in plenty of roles, reciting plenty of verses, and I forgot all but this. There’s always something magical about the first. It was really only when I was a lot older that I truly considered what this verse meant, and while I use it exclusively to worship the Lord when I am awed by nature, there’s actually a lot more depth to this verse. The book of Romans is a Pauline epistle meant to encourage and correct the Roman Church in a time when there is widespread cultural awkwardness and division in the city, and in Romans 1 Paul giving an introduction of what is to come in the rest of his letter. This verse is not only an exaltation to God but also a warning to men.
For – as with many verses that begin with ‘for’ or ‘therefore’, this word introduces this verse as a reason. Since the creation of the world – from the very beginning. This gives us a timeframe – right from the start, until today, and even for eternity. God‘s qualities are timeless. He is not bounded by time. His qualities didn’t just appear two years ago.
God’s invisible qualities – invisible is a very apt description – for to us God is physically invisible, and so are his qualities. We cannot directly see his perfection or his greatness. But Paul tells us that these invisible qualities have been clearly seen. If these qualities are invisible, how can we see them? Isn’t this a paradox?
Let’s do this step-by-step. What do these qualities refer to? Paul tells us directly – his eternal power and his divine nature. Eternal power? Perhaps Paul is referring to the omnipotence of God. Perhaps he is referring to the fact that God‘s power is timeless, it will exist for all eternity. What about divine nature? I wondered about this for some time – KJV translated the word as Godhead, some other translations had divinity, and yet others had deity. It seems as if these four terms can be used interchangeably, and each of these terms were used very sparingly in the New Testament Bible. Some examples are – for in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form [Col 2:9] and 2 Peter 1:4 – through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. I believe that it is justifiable to think of divine nature as the essence of God.
It was also puzzling to me that Paul chose to mention only God‘s eternal power and divine nature. He could have simply said God‘s invisible qualities and leave the Roman Church to decipher for themselves what that meant. Or surely he could have listed many more of God‘s qualities, couldn’t he? In choosing just these two qualities of God in this context, it probably means that just God‘s eternal power and divine nature alone is enough to render all men without excuse. Surely God has plenty of other qualities. But in refuting the excuses of men, in proving the superiority and authority of God, we only need to look to his eternal power and his divine nature.
These qualities are invisible. They are not tangible. We can’t possibly say that God‘s eternal power is hexagonal and his divine nature is triangular. But the same applies to all other qualities that exist, whether for God or for men. How do you see that a man is kind at heart? How do you see that a boy is filial? Kindness isn’t circular – we can’t see it, but we can see it through the actions that it has manifested itself in. Likewise for God‘s invisible qualities. We can’t see them physically, but metaphorically, we can see them manifested in God‘s works and miracles – in his creations since the beginning of time.
Men are without excuse – Many times we try to look for evidences of God‘s power. We question God by wondering if He exists. We claim that we cannot see him, so why should we believe – but this is an excuse, no, not even an excuse, because God‘s power and divine nature is so clearly shown and can so clearly be seen from all creation. Have you ever heard of how the human body works and marvel in awe at how amazing it is? Track back to the creator of the human body, and you will find God. Men have taken hundreds and thousands of years to understand the human body, and even till today complex organs like our brains are still very mysterious to us.
In God‘s response to Job from Job 38 – 40, there are a list of mysteries that we do not understand as mortals. I personally love this: Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle? [Job 38:22-23] We don’t know a lot of things, and we don’t see a lot of things. But one thing we can clearly see and understand – Paul even asserts that we have no excuse not to admit this: God’s power and nature is clearly manifested in us and the things around us.
It is often said that if you need to see God‘s works, just go out and take a walk; if you need to see God’s miracles, simply take a look in the mirror. Often we do not have time to look and see, and enjoy God’s creations. They are beautiful, they are amazing, they are miraculous. Everytime we see nature, is it not yet another reminder to us of God’s eternal power and divine nature? And we decline to worship God? And we hesitate to turn to God? Face it, like what Paul says, for we are without excuse.