Friday, August 3, 2007

Thoughts on Romans

The other day I came across a passage in Romans that made me pause. Paul was describing a theological arguement that (it seems) was starting to gain force. With the early growth of the church, Christ's message of grace was turning people's worlds upside down. The ancient Jews lived by the Mosaic law, and the whole idea of salvation by faith was quite disturbing to many of them. In fact, it was so uncomfortable for them that even some of the new believers couldn't shake their need to prove themselves through strict adherence to the law. But the concept of grace is not easily grasped, especially when you have spent much of your life trying to earn God's favor. If grace covers everyone, even the worst law-breakers, then what good is it to try and live an upright life? Isn't grace a slap in the face to all the do-gooder-over-achieving types? Well yes, and it's supposed to be. Our depravity shows God's goodness more clearly. It's in the darkness that the light penetrates the deepest. But with this grace comes a dangerous line of thought, one that Paul addresses here:

"But if our unrighteousness brings out God's righteousness more clearly, what shall we say? That God is unjust in bringing his wrath on us? (I am using a human argument.) Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world? Someone might argue, 'If my falsehood enhances God's truthfulness and so increases his glory, why am I still condemned as a sinner?' Why not say—as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say—'Let us do evil that good may result"? Their condemnation is deserved." Romans 3:5-6

This passage stuck out because it seems like it's the reverse problem of evil argument. I didn't think that I'd seen anyone approach God's grace this way, but then I thought harder. This is an integral part of the faith vs. work debate. If our faith alone saves us, then what's the point of even trying to live a righteous life? But at the same time, if our works must save us, then how good is good enough for God? James tells us that faith and good works are not separate at all, the one without the other makes it dead. But anyways, the point is that I never thought the grace part was a problem. Today the big focus is whether or not a good and gracious God would even allow evil, but back then another question was whether a gracious God would be angry with evil at all (if it makes Him look better). Well, I'm at a loss. I just thought I'd pass that quandary along, because I've never seen it from that angle before. I mean, no one would have said that Hitler should get off easy because his depravity makes Mother Theresa look better (different times, I'm aware, but you get the idea). Who knew? The philosophical/theological problem du jour may seem kind of null tomorrow...

(Romans has proved a more interesting book than I thought, so maybe I'll have more later)

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