To glimpse but not to grasp… (Romans 5-7)
November 8, 2010
Many phrases come to mind as I read chapters 5-7 of Paul’s letter to the Romans, but one keeps recurring; “what are you on about mate??” Granted, he’s trying to explain some pretty ground breaking theological ideas, but surely there’s a simpler way of writing about them! The long sentences; the repetition of words (sin, law, righteous, death) until they’re piled up in my head; the constant questions and refutations “what are we to say then? x? y? z? no!” (6:1, 6:15, 7:7). Maybe it’s just my bed time, but I feel like my head is going to explode!
Perhaps I am being unfair. The things that Paul’s trying to pin down here are slippery, they are still the things that we grapple with today. That to be free from the law does mean we can do what we like (6:1-2). That even what in fundamentally good (the law) can be corrupted into temptation by sin (7:7-13). The death can bring life! (5:10, 6:3-4). The Christian religion contains many paradoxes, which makes trying to explain things pretty tricky…
For me the biggest tension here is Paul’s attempt to assert justification through faith while at the same time not throwing out the law. He wants to tell us it’s through Jesus we are saved…but that doesn’t mean we can be naughty! And I quite agree. But it’s a difficult one to sell;
“you need to have faith in Jesus, because through him we access grace” (5:1-2)
“oh right, so as long as I love Jesus it doesn’t matter how I act?”
“er, no that’s not quite it…”
“well, what’s the difference if I still have to keep the law?”
“no, no, you are free from the law”
“bonus! so I can steal and cheat on my wife and all that?”
“no, you can’t. You’re free from the law but…”
“great, casinos and brothels here I come!”
“oh just forget it!”
While I think I understand the concepts a little better than my imaginary character, I’m still not clear at all. But then these are paradoxes; mysteries. They are things not necessarily there to be neatly intellectualized, not necessarily to be understood. Sometimes there is an undercurrant of truth in words, though the words themselves might not get right to the heart of it. Does that make sense?
Paul successfully communicates two things to me; first that Jesus offers a radical new way to live, really live. Though when I try to put this invitation, this freedom, into words I never quite manage it. Second, that there are no neat explanations to this mystery. Though others may disagree with me I don’t think Paul brilliantly nails this conundrum, though he gives it a blooming good shot! But I’m glad this writing allows me only to glimpse, never to fully grasp, the nature of redemption that is offered through Jesus. If I glimpse,then I can hope, if I grasp then I may smother.
I think this glimpse of redemption and our struggles towards it are most clearly and beautifully communicated thought the opening paragraph of chapter 5 , with which I’ll leave you…
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God […] and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.