Do law, or Torah, reveal what is bad, or create bad stuff?
As Ivan Illich argued, The twisting and perversion of a good is a common evil. His ‘De-schooling Society’ didn’t oppose education. He did reject the perverse outcomes of a type of ‘schooling’ which don’t make people smarter or more knowledgeable or able to learn.
The current vernacular is ‘systemic’: recognizing patterns revealed in specific events. Direct overt bigotry is reduced, publicly, while indirect and adverse effect discrimination is thriving
How do you ‘read Paul’ when he says in v14:
‘Torah is spiritual, but Paul is of the flesh’
‘Dualism’ in our tradition, and in post-modern critiques of it (early feminism extended that to disrespect for women) makes this as crucial as Anselm’s twist on ‘atonement’.
Perhaps it helps to open the conversation to read the Greek terms that Paul uses:
‘Sarx’ is flesh
‘Sōma’ is body
‘Pneuma’ is spirit or soul (or ‘psychē’)
Paul is not talking in a binary 2-part dualism, but a 3 part anthropology.
Reasonable and faithful people spend a lifetime, sorting how to translate 3 part Greek into 2 part English – or more importantly, to speak clearly and construe truly. There’s a fair bit at stake, individually and collectively!
7:18-20 is a popular pastoral text among us. We hear a very modern struggle of an introspective conscience, a person who despite good intentions, keeps doing bad things –
caught up in collective and prevailing tendencies, denying intentional evil, admitting at most negligence despite predictable preventable bad action and outcome.
That ‘psychologizing’ of the bible is pretty popular among us, privatizing the faith, and making therapy out of the religion. I don’t think it matches the original, or completely renders Paul’s meaning
I keep seeing the old comedian ‘Flip Wilson’, With a devil on one shoulder, an angel on the other, Saying ‘the devil made me do it!’
Paul in 7:21 quotes Genesis 4:7, offering a rabbinic midrash:
Cain and Abel make offerings to God –
Cain, from his farmed crops,
Abel, from the best part of his hunted game
God likes Abel’s gift better.
Cain is angry and God warns him about doing right and trusting in responses and outcomes –
since Sin ‘crouches at the door’ and Cain must rule over it. Read a few translations,
to see the underlying issues in Hebrew – you’ll see the same words used when God exiles the woman from the garden about her desire for a man, who will try to rule over her
(I am connecting our discussions of Genesis, ‘Original Sin’ or ‘Curse’ – or ‘Original Blessing’ or ‘Choice’ with our discussion of Paul’s Romans – sometimes Christians seem to celebrate misogyny, as ‘the will of God’, or divine plan rather than regrettable human tendency to resist)
We’re still operating in the language of myth, not the moralism of rules and rule-breaking. What’s your myth structure?
13 I can already hear your next question: "Does that mean I can't even trust what is good [that is, the law]? Is good just as dangerous as evil?"
No again! Sin simply did what sin is so famous for doing: using the good as a cover
to tempt me to do what would finally destroy me.
By hiding within God's good commandment, sin did far more mischief
than it could ever have accomplished on its own.
14 I can anticipate the response that is coming:
"I know that all God's commands are spiritual, but I'm not. Isn't this also your experience?" Yes. I'm full of myself – after all, I've spent a long time in sin's prison.
15 What I don't understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act nother,
doing things I absolutely despise.
16 So if I can't be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God's command is necessary.
17 But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can't keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help!
18 I realize that I don't have what it takes. can will it, but I can't do it.
19 I decide to do good, but I don't really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway.
20 My decisions, such as they are, don't result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.
21 It happens so regularly that it's predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up.
22 I truly delight in God's commands,
23 but it's pretty obvious that not all of me
joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.
24 I've tried everything and nothing helps. I'm at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn't that the real question?
25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin
to do something totally different.
13 Did then that which is good become death for me?
Of course not! Rather, Sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin, [was] working death for me through that which is good, in order that Sin might through the commandment become an exceedingly great sinner.
14 For we know that the Torah is spiritual. But I am of flesh, sold under Sin.
15 For I do not understand the works that I do, since it is not what I will that I do, but rather what I hate, that is what I do.
16 If then I do that which I do not will, I agree with the Torah that it is good.
17 Now in that case, it is not I who do the works but Sin which dwells in me.
18 For I know that good does not dwell in me, that is, in my flesh. For to will [the good] lies near at hand, but not to accomplish the good.
19 For it is not the good that I will that I do, but the evil which I do not will, that is what I do.
20 But if I do that which I do not will, then it is not I who do the work but Sin which dwells in me.
21 So then I find the Torah (Gen 4:7) that evil lies near at hand to me who wills to do the good.
22 For in my inner self I rejoice in the Torah of God,
23 but I see [that] other law in my members which wages war with the Torah my mind acknowledges and takes me prisoner by the law of Sin which dwells in my members.
24 Wretched human being that I am! Who will rescue me from the corporate Death?
23 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then I myself serve with the mind God’s Torah, but with the flesh Sin’s law.
For the Torah of the Spirit, of life, liberates in Christ Jesus from the law of Sin and Death.
There is then no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus…