Sorry. There is no other suitable title for this unsuitable subject. Ask a military veteran for translation, or perhaps not. Yes, Paul knew this encoded message of astonished confusion very well even though he used slightly (but not much) differing language. So we have died and now have been resurrected with Christ, tethered to this Easter pattern of dying and rising to new life with Christ in/with/through us. So it’s all good now, right?
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Well….Paul himself narrates a slight catch to this otherwise redeemed arrangement, causing quite a stir in the early church. Let’s pick him up in Romans chapter 7, and I am paraphrasing: I do not understand my own actions! For I end up not doing what I intend, but instead the very thing I hate the most!…I can will what is right, but I cannot accomplish it! I end up not doing the good I intend, but the evil I mean not to do I end up doing! So if I do what I don’t ever want to do again, it’s no longer just me doing it but the sin which has also taken up residence inside of me. I find it axiomatic that the more I want to do good, evil lurks right there! I delight in God’s guidance in my deepest self, but I see in my body parts another guide book at war with my mind’s guidance. The result? Certain other parts of my body are governed by sin’s malicious grasp. I am a wretch! Who the %*() will rescue me from this death grip sin has over this body?! Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!!
In other words…whisky tango foxtrot!! Really?! Even for one of the greatest apostles, who literally saw Jesus risen on the road, the man who is credited with translating Christianity to the Gentile world and who evangelized much of Rome’s eastern empire?! Paul’s after party, as we say in dance parlance, is all downstairs even while he’s writing to Christians he’s never met in the most powerful city on earth at the time?! If he can yardsale/faceplant/backslide this badly, what hope is there for any of us?!
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord. What a relief! If Paul can be so interiorly conflicted that he feels his own body is the locus of a civil war from opposing sides, then he knows precisely what it’s like to be me! And maybe you too. No one exactly knows what specific behavior Paul is obliquely referencing here, as most translators and academic commentators respect Paul too much to provide color commentary. Frankly I don’t want or need a detailed explanation, as I can fill in my own details. Can’t you?! Even for Resurrection Christians, sin does not completely exit the scene. Not for Paul, and not for us.
- Paul had the courage to narrate his own intensive experience not only to the Roman church but also the Corinthian church he himself founded. Do we have that same courage to name the sin which lurks inside and around us, most especially to ourselves?!
- You may notice our church for one does not pray the shared Confession prayer during festival seasons like Christmas and Eastertide. No time to confess, just time to praise! However, it is always at our personal convenience in our beloved Book of Common Prayer on pages 79, 116, 127, 360, amongst other places. Any one will do!
- I have found Paul’s confessional format to be of great comfort and inner spiritual health. Rather than “no no no go away go away go away” which has never truly worked for me, “wretched and conflicted man that I am” works so much more integrally for me. Thanks be to God!