I’ve been helping with a three month Bible study course at our Youth with a Mission campus here in Temuco, and this week students studied the book of Romans. It’s an eloquently written letter to the first century church of Rome, but it’s full of some tough love. The purpose of that tough love, at least in part, was to unify the divided church. I imagine some of the original readers got angry as they read it. Maybe they threw it down in a fit of rage before even getting very far. Maybe some tried to justify themselves instead of humbly accepting the truth they read, and maybe others bowed their heads in shame as they realized the error of their ways. I don’t really know, I’m just…pondering.
There are several passages in Romans that are difficult to interpret, mostly because our modern day context is different from that of the original readers of the letter. The passages that would have angered them are not necessarily the same as those that raise questions for today’s readers. In fact, they didn’t like it because they pretty much knew exactly what Paul, the author, was talking about as he confronted them. We question it because we can’t really wrap our minds around what Paul was saying [unless we understand the original context, and even then we have a hard time with it].
I’m not really an expert though. I’m as much a student as those I’m walking along side these three months. I totally understood their dazed faces this week because I felt the same! We were all wrestling with what we believe to be true about the God we claim to know and love. And don’t read that like it’s a bad thing! We’re taking ownership of our relationship with God, we’re being forced to get real about the questions we’ve probably had for more than just this week, and the only place we have to go is back to God and the bible sitting open in front of us.
I’m studying to teach the books of 1&2 Kings in a little over a week and there are some tough questions that come up in those books too [they were originally just one, by the way], but you know what has actually been the most gripping thing about them?! God’s MERCY! Wow! Funny how people think the God of the old testament is somehow different than that of the new testament. “No, I don’t like the old testament! It’s violent…and God’s wrath…and what’s with all the blood and sacrifices?!” It makes me so sad, but I get it.
Without going into a long history lesson, the old testament is about God forming the nation of Israel, calling them to be a blessing to the nations and then demonstrating his mercy and covenant faithfulness as he lovingly pursues the people who constantly and intentionally turn their backs on him, giving them chance after chance after chance to change.
God’s MERCY! I can’t wrap my mind around that either! And somehow I think it’s a good thing because, look…
Sometimes we get stuck trying to make sense of things like God’s sovereignty and omniscience [the all-knowing nature of God] and we get mad because in our finite humanity we find it to be unfair. But we forget that if we truly tried to wrap our minds around his mercy and love, we would find them to be unfair as well because we don’t deserve them! And I love that about God! I love that I can’t fit him nicely into a little box, but I can know him, and knowing him makes me want to know him more! I can have a relationship with him. I can ask him my questions and he’s not threatened by them. And I can trust and worship him because he is not like me and, again, he is not so small that he fits nicely into a box.
O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout the universe displayed
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee
How great Thou art, How great Thou art
Then sings my soul, My Savior God, to Thee
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!
And when I think, that God, His Son not sparing;
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing
He bled and died to take away my sin
When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration
And then proclaim: “My God, how great Thou art!”