Thursday, July 06, 2017

Sin and Saint Paul: Content Without Connection


I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! Romans 7:15-25a


I read this passage in preparation for our weekly Bible Study, and the same refrain rose in my reflections as it does every time I come to the 7th chapter of Paul's letter to the Romans, "AH, one of my FAVORITE passages! What prose! What phrasing! What.....the heck!?!" 

It's true. You cannot read the above quickly and expect to absorb much of the content. There is a repetition of words that creates a natural rhythm. There is a flow that draws the eye along. It also, though, distract and leaves us more with a feeling of the frustration that I believe Paul is attempting to convey, rather than any conveyance of an idea. At least, that I think was Paul's intent. 

The problem with ascribing intent is that we are making conclusions about someone else's motivations, what drives them forward. What does Paul intend to convey to us? He is talking about sin, and the struggles he acknowledges arise when one is aware that one's will does not automatically resonate to the will of God as it is expressed in Torah, or in the teachings of the Christ. We see it, hear it, learn it and do our best to absorb it; but when we resolve to live our lives in concert with the will of our God, we stumble and fall.

There is a breakdown between our resolve, and our ability to follow through with that resolve, consistently and constantly. Why? Because we are neither consistent, nor constant. That, I can connect with.

But Paul's content does something else as well. Even as he seeks to offer up the challenge of the struggle to live in accord with God's will when our own wills fail with follow through, he is also getting us to-I believe-FEEL the struggle. As we struggle to follow and connect to his patter of logic, and our minds wander and stumble, we get a taste of the passions he is struggling with as he struggles to describe. 

Sin is a thing we wrestle with, but it is also a state of being in which we find ourselves. Sin is our willfulness, and it is also the fruits of the same. Sin is turning away from the will of God, and its fruits are the bitter harvest of that brokenness.

OK. I can accept that....but Paul wants us to go deeper. Sin is also an avoidance of a deeper honesty about who we are, how we make choices and what we choose to align ourselves with as we live each day of our finite tenure in this life. Paul is trying to convey not only the idea, but also the feeling of what sin is to us. 

What patterns of life put you in that place that Paul is describing? What choices accumulate around you in order to create the momentum, the propelling force that keeps the cycles of sin rolling on and on in and around you? It's there, as we all know...in us, around us and rolling from us.

That is the content of Paul's efforts. 

But in our attempt a more faithful walk with Christ and each other, how do we find connection in the midst of the content? 

First, slow it down. Read the passage above again...very slowly. Let each phrase be the only one in your field of vision and attention at any one time. Wait on the import of the sentence to open up, much the same as you would hold a morsel of good food or a mouthful of good wine on your palate. Let it do its thing. Be patient. Rest in the content, and you will find that connection to it will follow. 

You will find resonances with what Paul is conveying as you connect his content to your life.

Interesting, yes? As it turns out, when I let the pace slow and allowed my own stuff to settle down a bit I found Paul's content not only more accessible, but a deeper connection with his heart began to resolve itself. It makes more palatable that first step toward santification we all must take...to admit our sinfulness (instead of our sin) and embrace the upward path of reconciliation with a God who knows who and what we are and loves us anyway.

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