Sunday, April 18, 2010

Romans: Stranger than Fiction

So I've been reading chapter 5 of Romans this month, and on into chapter 6 to verse 14. The more you read these mighty words of Paul's, the more humbling their impact. It is an amazing passage, and seems only to deepen in resonance with each re-reading.

Frequent re-reading is useful that way. I highly recommend it. The biggest roadblock to really receiving Scriptural truths and working them out in our lives is the presumption that we already understand them well enough. We move on too quickly. In a hurry to "read the Bible in a year" or find a passage more immediately stirring, we turn the page too readily. The truths of Scripture are both simple and yet deeply resisted within us. We disbelieve them more than we are willing to admit. Frequent re-reading can, rather than making us over-familiar, break though our jadedness and open our eyes to the wonder of it all.

The truth of God is stranger than fiction.

Anyway, Paul's descriptions in Romans of the nature of the Christian life can really set you to wondering. Take the passage in Romans 8:
For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.
Not a spirit of fear, you read, and you begin to wonder about fear, about your own fear, the things you fear, the fear you felt yesterday or just a moment ago. Silly, indefensible fear. And it occurs to you once again that your own life, admit it, does not exactly coincide with what Paul is describing here. But why not?

Let's go back to chapter 5, where I've been nesting all month. There Paul describes certain conditions as given for Christians, based on the justifying work of Christ. Peace with God, for example. And then, unashamed certainty concerning the glory of God that is our destiny. Which of course allows us to endure what we have to endure in this life while still "rejoicing" despite it all. That's all in the first paragraph of chapter 5.

Stop me when it all seems routine and, you know, obvious. If rejoicing even as you "endure" and "suffer" is normal for you, way to go. I guess I'm not there yet.

Toward the end of the chapter Paul says that since we have been reconciled to God through the blood of Jesus and have received the free gift of righteousness, we will reign in life through Christ Jesus. Life won't defeat us. We'll reign. We have this righteousness gift, so "sin death and the devil" will not master us. Instead of being reigned over by life and its burdens, by suffering, by the stubborn sin that seems to live in us, we will "reign in life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

Think about the word "reign" and tell me this doesn't just make your jaw drop?

It should seem at once unbelievable--unreasonable!--and yet, somehow, deeply resonatingly true and very believable.

Last week I was on the elevator at work with a co-worker (a Catholic Christian) who was clearly feeling depressed. We got to talking, and she said, "Bob, how do you keep this place from getting you down?" I said what popped into my head: "Greater is he who is in you than he who is in the world."

That's from 1 John 4:4. And it takes me back to chapter 5 of Romans, where Paul says we're able to rejoice even in the midst of suffering because "the love of God has been poured into our hearts." Love pour into our hearts! And, One in us greater than whatever the world can throw at us! Can you believe it?

Well, her eyes went wide with surprise and yet also, it seemed, recognition. It was as if I had reminded her of something she had forgotten. And the cool thing is, it turned her day around!

So we have, taking these 3 passages mentioned above, the spirit of adoption in us, the love of God poured into our hearts, and One in us who is greater than the one in the world. The New Testament is positively blooming with these kinds of strange and mysterious truths.

If I really understood them, well, I should be crazy with love and passion for God and all that.

It should all feel, I think, both amazing and surprising on the one hand, and on the other so real and so true that it can even provoke rejoicing in the midst of suffering. But, as I've been at pains to say, how seldom it seems to correspond with the way we live from day to day. How often it seems that the one who is in the world has the upper hand! And yet, when we let ourselves dwell on these Scriptural truths, perhaps we may begin to understand it just a little. We might just begin even to feel it. Even if we're enduring something--and of course we are! Suffering, after all, is another Biblical given, but as given as suffering is for the believer, so is (for the believer) peace. And so is hope. And rejoicing. And so is, in ways that none of us fully comprehend yet, reigning.

It's all so strange. And it's all so true!


Erin Hope said...

wow. this is good reading for a morning. I was thinking about so much of this last night- thanks for the encouragement.

Anonymous said...

and it is also good reading for an evening.

i think what you say here...

"...rather than making us over-familiar, break though our jadedness and open our eyes to the wonder of it all."

is true. and i love the way that you put it.

letting ourself dwell on the scriptural truths. yes.
and lately for me,
letting go of trying to control things, and instead "resting and trusting" in God. something in the actual act of letting go and resting.