Connections 06.26.2016: We Know


Romans 1:18-23, 28-32

At one point in his 1971 song “Ain’t No Sunshine,” singer/songwriter Bill Withers says the phrase “I know” twenty-six times in a row. He says he intended to write other lyrics, but the veteran musicians playing on his debut album talked him into leaving it as it was. The song became a hit, and the twenty-six consecutive “I know”s became its most recognizable feature.

What does the singer know? The words that follow the “I know”s reveal that he knows he should leave his beloved alone, but “ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone.”

In speaking about people, Paul doesn’t say “They know” twenty-six times in a row, but he might as well have.

People know God, Paul says. They know God because God has revealed God’s self to them in God’s creation and in their consciences. They know what God has done and what God expects of them. They know God, Paul says, but they don’t acknowledge God, and because they don’t acknowledge God, they live in a futile quest for meaning that leaves them without a spiritual and moral center.

They know, they know, they know, they know, they know, they know, they know, they know, they know, they know, they know, they know, they know, they know, they know, they know, they know, they know, they know, they know, they know, they know, they know, they know, they know, they know they shouldn’t leave God alone—but they do.

And so, Paul says, God leaves them alone and lets them do what they want to do. Paul means that to sound shocking and even horrifying. It strikes me as sad.

Some folks would quibble with Paul, or even flat-out disagree with him, about the source of creation and of our consciences. They’d say that both are the product of natural and evolutionary processes. I appreciate what scientific inquiry teaches us about the universe and about ourselves. Besides, even if one leaves God out of the equation, creation tells us we should be good to it and conscience tells us we should be good to each other.

As for me and for many others, though, we have to take God’s self-revelation into account. We especially have to take God’s revelation in Jesus Christ into account. In Christ we know God’s grace, love, mercy, peace, and hope. We want other people to know Jesus and to experience his gracious influence in their lives, too.

We know. A million times over, we know.

We want them to know, too….


1. Why do you think people don’t acknowledge God? Why don’t they see God through the ways in which God has revealed God’s self?
2. How does human “wisdom” sometimes get in the way of knowing God? Does it have to? How can human wisdom and divine wisdom work together? Should we think of them as separate realities?
3. Look at Paul’s list of things to which God gives people over when they don’t acknowledge God (vv. 28-31). What strikes you about them? At first glance, does it seem like some of them are worse than others? Why do you think Paul lists the things he does?
4. What do people miss when they don’t acknowledge God? What do they gain when they do?

Reference Shelf

The Wrath of God

Before entering into Paul’s analysis of idolatry, we should pause for a moment over his use of the term “wrath of God,” for it is precisely the sort of expression that would have been instantaneously grasped by Paul’s first hearers but seems puzzling and off-putting to present-day readers. The “wrath of God” (orge tou theou) is not a psychological category but a symbol (widely used in Torah) for the retribution that comes to humans as a result of their willful turning away from God; indeed, it is a concept that derives precisely from the prophetic warnings against idolatry (see Isa 51:7; Jer 6:11; 25:25; Hos 13:11; Zeph 1:15). Although it plays a thematic role in Romans (2:5, 8; 3:5; 4:15; 5:9; 9:22; 12:19), it is used elsewhere by Paul as well for the eschatological (“final”) threat that looms over those who oppose God. God’s wrath is therefore the symbol for the destruction that humans bring on themselves by rebelling against the truth. For those alienated from the ground of their own being, even God’s mercy appears as “anger.” It is a retribution that results, not at the whim of an angry despot but as the necessary consequence of a self-distorted existence.

Luke Timothy Johnson, Reading Romans: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2001), 33.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra and father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin). A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. You can visit and communicate with him at He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.


For further resources, subscribe to the Connections Teaching Guide and Commentary.

Additionally, the Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary series is a scholarly but accessible means for enhancing your study of each lesson.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email