Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Romans - pondering

I wonder if it is time for me to be drawn back into Romans. Phil Long has a series on Romans in process in which he explores the background for Paul's thought in his contemporaries or immediate precedents. I would like to look at Romans from the point of view of how he uses the Old Testament. And before you ask, Yeah, it's been done before. (And it will be done again.)

Romans is Paul's Gospel and it is a gospel of deliverance. People realize their need for such 'salvation' in many ways and in Romans they find sound bites that are really good pointers. Because we like to summarize, we then create a formula like the Roman road to salvation: all have sinned, righteousness apart from the law is available, Christ Jesus is the answer. But there is a danger in formulas for salvation. They can be a starting point but they are not the end. Escape may be real but the cost of using it is not cheap.

Let's reduce it to one word. Obedience is the key. No it isn't you say, it's faith. One word? One rune? It is the 'obedience' of faith that frames this letter. It is not the trumpeting of a formula or even the lamenting of sin, but a faith that proves itself in action - acts of mercy the way Yahweh acts - see Psalms 111-112 and 146 for example summaries. It is justice rather than Luther's imputed righteousness that is critical. And it is mercy. For mercy linked to justice is what is 'likest God' (to quote Shakespeare).

Another critical word is Propitiation, a direct link to the ancient sanctuary which was itself built so that God could live with his people. It is feared in the modern day by those who hate sacrifice as a concept, citing divine child abuse as their sound bite. But propitiation translates the word for the cover of the ark in the sanctuary, the mercy seat. Here is where the one who is faithful as was Moses is to meet with God. Perhaps it won't surprise you that I am convinced that the same grace shown from the NT is equally present for those who are of the first testament. And there's another fight - grace versus law. This is a false fight. No one can live without instruction (law, commandment, statute, teaching, promise, and so on, i.e. Torah) from Yahweh, the God of Israel, the one of whom it is said, Jesus is son.

So how could this problem be approached? How would I approach this text? By word? By dialogue with its reception history? By comments on a blog with someone who is without background?

The background I see is what I came from, a fearful response to perceived need. Like many who are sinners, I too have been through the mill. I know every sort of excuse and justification. God forbid I should be justified without my also executing justice. Where will such power come from? Where it has always come from and its origins are not in Paul alone, though he focuses this problem with an accuracy that has affected the history of the world, so one ought to pay close and dedicated ongoing attention (without arriving at incomplete conclusions to be shoved down one another's throats.)

In my work on the Old Testament, so called, I have not forgotten the New. But I notice every time Jesus is invoked without substantiation in his own context. A hymn that exalts Jesus but has no grounding in the vocabulary of the Old Testament has little appeal for me because it trivializes the reality and the cost of his life. Triumphalism and devotion are no substitute for action that alleviates the suffering of others in which I am complicit. Yet this is not simply social justice by itself. This too will fail of its own weight without that persistent faithfulness that comes from deeper than the religious or non-religious intellect. That is the power I would like to see in an exposition of Romans.

In this day it should be recognized that this has political implications. Worship of money and deception will not do. Obstruction as a means to no end will not do either. Eventually and immediately this problem is political but it is a politics that is not subject to dogma.

Perhaps I cannot begin easily, continue or even finish. But I have been thinking about this for over 20 years, over 40 in fact, perhaps even longer but I can't count very accurately.

What I have italicized are the key elements I think might form an approach. Perhaps a sequential reading as Phil is doing will work, but perhaps not.

No comments:

Post a Comment