Week 2 of Romans: Paul and The Torah: Freed from what, for what, by what?

Notes to Introduce Week 2

We confessed starting out this time that we read Romans reactively, provoked by its use and abuse by our co-religionists.  Chapters 5-8 are the sources of a lot of words turned into proper nouns by our translators, to draw our attention to their uncommon usage here:  Wrath, Sin, Death, Law, Torah, Son.  

Metaphysics and supernatural entities are not part of our regular worldview.  However, it’s hard to read bibles without imagining ‘stuff that’s bigger than me, and smaller than God’.  Charles Taylor’s ‘social imaginaries’ talk helps: the public and private spheres are not actual bubbles we can pop!   These are popularized ways of talking about transpersonal reality, outside a academy or bureaucracy.

Sometimes we talk about umbrellas as images for what ‘saves’ us from risks.  The rain falls on the just and the unjust, phenomena are given, not chosen, with consequences for all, but we can be ‘in’ or ‘under’ Torah, Law, or Christ.   Sin-and-death might be the phenomena or their consequences, but we might be offered, or claim, relief from God- umbrellas of faithfulness or righteousness.

This summer, we are approaching some critical moments of human migration, and of global trade order.  You may blame an erratic leader or two for disrupting our ‘natural’ entitlements to a providential order of wealth distribution.  Certainly the ‘neo’ conservative and ‘neo’ liberal have helped us assume a ‘market’ of social Darwinism favouring the able and strong who choose to cooperate with inevitable progressive evolution to more and better.

Our liberal individualism in late capitalist consumer culture assures us that we are each rights-bearing individuals with inalienable human rights, entitled to freely exercise them as informed, uncoerced agents.  I may be the only guy you know personally who rejects that creed.  ‘Election’ or ‘pre-destination’, the view that more is given than is chosen in our lives, remains important to me.

Paul does not share our worldviews.  He’s a literate Jewish man, living in a Greek culture and economy, under Roman imperial rule.  He is a Roman citizen, but not of the dominant privileged groups, and certainly moved within circles of mixed ethnicity and class status.  ‘Romans’ assumes that we know the Hebrew scriptures and creation myth of h’adam, the human, Adam – or that we will ask.

We’ve begun with ‘problem and response’, now are reminded of traditions that address human meaning and purpose, finitude and mortality.  In what way does ‘Adam’ sum up the challenges of the human condition?  In what way does ‘Christ crucified’ (not Jesus’ teaching or healing) address those challenges?

Our crowd recognizes phrases from chapter 8 since we attend a lot more funerals and memorials than we once did.  We know the cadences of its reassurances about death as evangelicals know ‘the 4 spiritual laws’.  But the assurance of heaven with Jesus has a shadow side: who is absent there?  Alternatively, if ‘we’ are saved, what ‘they’ are not ‘put right with God’?