Romans 5: Paul is moving on from the fundamental truths of what happens in and to the Believer to the question of what happens next, how we grow and mature. The question is whether this whole way of living simply by faith will work. There are two ways of being hit in the head, with not much difference in the result. We either see it coming and wince, or we are sucker-punched.
We immediately have peace with God, access to God and the hope of glory. These fit us for heaven but it is our duty and calling to live the Christian way on earth.
The use of hardship as a tool to the Christian is much like war to a soldier. From reading a stack of books over a long period of time I know that professional soldiers are not war-junkies. Their eyes are fully open to the horrors of war and what it can do to themselves and their brothers and yet they are alive with excitement when they’re called upon to deploy.
Every soldier engages with discipline to prepare himself and the only way he can know if he is what he thinks he is, is to test himself in combat. Will he pass the test? Will he thrive as a soldier in battle? It’s the same for the Believer.
I realise the implications of what I’m saying: People have been hammered by circumstances, some are going through a spiritual battle even now. I do not relish the idea of hardship, which I suppose makes me a below-par Christian. I was thinking a lot about the thesis in the Marvel Cinematic Universe about the baddie, Thanos, and his Malthusian notion that the universe is overpopulated and needs culling. To achieve the balance, he sets out to acquire the infinity gauntlet with the applicable stones and snap half the universe out of existence. Our heavenly Father has created and refuses to uncreate. Nobody is phased out of existence and His goal is not balance (which is sufficient as a comic-book level motivation but that’s about all) but salvation and thereafter maturity.
For all men to be saved.
For all saved men to be mature.
And it’s in the service of both of these outcomes that God uses suffering. I wish there were another way, but it’s His wisdom, His prerogative and the best that I can do is let my wounds make me a better soldier, a sharper instrument.
“Cling to Him
Even if He allowed you to be wounded
Even if He wounded you”
Do me a favour, and go to the live US debt clock which constantly updates a running number as to the debt accumulated by the Federal government:
That’s some scary stuff right there. As at Monday, 22 July 2019 the debt stands over $22 trillion. The guys in Congress seem disinclined to deal with the problem and the clock just keeps on ticking like a quaint gimmick that can tickle the funny bone of a person who has the curiosity to look it up.
According to a gander of Forbes.com, the world’s ultra wealthy are only collectively worth $8.7 which is far below the level of US Federal debt.
Taking the difficult path to settling this debt, or rolling it back ever so incrementally, is not politically on the table, an unsolvable problem created by congressional intransigence combined with the thrill of spending other people’s money.
The math problem isn’t only inherent in scenarios with pure numbers, but with potential numbers as well. Like a debt clock ticking ever further away from a solution, peace in the Middle East hurtles towards greater levels of unsolvability. Numbers rack up: days since the last violent incident, the number of victims on either side, the compounding of incorrigibility in succeeding generations.
Plot social trends on a graph and you will see that Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. have moved so far away from each other that there is barely common ground. Trends in South Africa also present a problem when it comes to statistics for joblessness, social security, and upward mobility.
These are all problems that people with far greater knowledge than me grapple with today, and have for years, decades, sometimes centuries. Simply put, the math doesn’t add up. These are only the problems I know about…there’s a whole six-pack of cans full of worms worth of problems and unresolved questions:
All these problems and questions are actually beyond us. We cannot solve them, which should be a blow to our hubris. I glimpsed an equation in words to a song this Sunday in church, words I had heard often and suddenly saw the algebra of Grace at work: one one side my moral debt, on the other side God’s righteousness and in-between the not-equal sign.
The words: ‘of the grace that is greater than all my sin’.
The symbol for greater-than.
Grace > my sin. This is an equation that takes place daily and the debt clock is reset to zero. Grace is scandalous (why should He pay it?), breath-taking, load-lifting and frankly, not truly comprehensible.
My sin may not be as bad as some, but it may as well have been $22 trillion. I couldn’t pay it.
Thank heaven for the algebra of Grace.
It would be a trip to picture such a thing: a 99 year old geezer and his wife younger by a decade preparing for their first baby.
Not even in the history of movie-making – and taking into account the wacky comedies of Adam Sandler – would any producer have pitched an idea so strange as a 100-year old first time Dad. Maybe its something they should look into.
Paul references this account from Genesis in his 4th chapter of Romans, to illustrate how simple faith is.
Genesis 15: the word of God comes to Abram in a vision with a promise that God would be Abram’s shield and that his reward would be great, to which Abram replies that he doesn’t know what the use of a reward would be as he doesn’t have anyone to leave it to. Being as he had no children and a servant in his household would inherit everything.
God promised him a son and showed him a starry night on display, promising descendants too numerous to count, as dazzling as a vista of the Milky Way on full brag. Would you have believed it? Wrinkly, gap-toothed, with sore knees and knowing you’re close to a century?
‘Abram believed the Lord and he credited it to him as righteousness.’ (15:6, NIV)
Can you put yourself in Abram’s position? Or Sarai’s? They probably hadn’t been intimate in 30 years and they had to set up a date…dust off some of the old moves, re-acquaint themselves with the birds and the bees and the peacocks and peahens.
I even have the soundtrack in my mind: Marvin Gaye’s ‘Let’s get it on’.
And, wham! Just like that Abram was made right with God. Simply by believing. And believing something so unlikely. This is what Paul circles around when he’s talking about righteousness.
When reading about righteousness in a Biblical context, the word just pops off the page now because of what Paul has been writing and what I’ve been reading of it. Paul points to the promise of God to Abram and Abram’s faith as resulting in righteousness, and specifically points out that Abram’s action of being circumcised (to comply with the Law) did not make him righteous at all but that it was faith.
In his epistle to the Philippians, Paul describes himself in the following terms when considering the flesh:
- Circumcised on the eighth day
- Of the people of Israel
- Of the tribe of Benjamin
- A Hebrew of Hebrews
- In regard to the law, a Pharisee
- As for zeal, persecuting the church
- As for righteousness based on the law, faultless…
The Jews in Paul’s day (and even now) saw the act of circumcision as doing something to be made righteousness, abiding by the Law. Paul is saying in Philippians that he has the pedigree; he’s been there, done that, got the T-shirt and the circumcision but that it actually doesn’t mean what he thought it used to mean.
You can almost imagine the subtext of Paul, the older Christian, talking to Saul, the younger Jew in the text: Yes, I was faultless as far as the law was concerned, but I still wasn’t in right-standing with God…it was all dung.
If I may make use of poetic license, it wasn’t a lone doggy doo in the corner of the backyard; it was a collected mound of offense straight from a farm. All those years of working to earn righteousness from God was about as useful as a load of dung. And Paul is breathing easier now that he is free of it.
A message that was doubtless infuriating to the Rabbis in Paul’s day – simply by believing God about Christ, everything is already done and the Believer gets to walk in a new reality where sin has lost its power. Paul writes that Abraham was the forerunner of the process that every Christian should follow, not to try to live with a sin management philosophy and limit the damage where possible, but walk in the nature of the Christian, as a new creation, in faith.
I realise it sounds simple.
But maybe it’s not meant to be complicated. After all, it won’t do to get into a street-fight with sin every other evening; sin has more experience at brawling than you or I ever will.
If you or I are a child of God, we entered this reality by simple belief and our way of entering this life is the way of living this life…the just will live by faith.
Walking in faith (after Abraham’s example) makes us a son or daughter of Abraham.
Like one of those countless stars on that ancient night that Abraham saw.