Romans (1, 3)

Read – Romans 1.16-18; 3.21-26

Ryan Dueck makes an interesting observation in this week’s blog Rumblings. He heard someone say “that you don’t need a god to have a religion, but you certainly need a devil. This statement points to the apparently (unquestionable) human need for an enemy to define ourselves against. Human beings seem to need a narrative of moral struggle with clear heroes and villains within which to locate ourselves and anchor our thinking and acting in the world.”

Another author commented on Dueck’s blog. “Christianity has become so watered-down that it’s really irrelevant in post-modern times, so it’s no wonder that people are flocking to and responding to the loud call to political tribalism which satisfies a need to belong to the “right” side. …there’s no antagonist in Christianity anymore.”

So what is this sin or evil or a personal devil which we seem to need and yet overlook these days? Fredrick Buechner reminds us “Sin is whatever you do, or fail to do, that pushes (others) away, that widens the gap between you and them and also the gaps within yourself.

“For example, the sin of the Pharisee is not just (a) his holier-than-thou attitude, which pushes other people away, but (b) his secret suspicion that his own holiness is deficient too, which pushes part of himself away, and (c) his possibly not so subconscious feeling that anybody who expects him to be all that holy must be a cosmic SOB, which pushes Guess Who away.” In other words, sin is a centrifugal force which isolates us.

Questions for reflection:

1   Perhaps you learned Rms 3:24 as a child. What do you hear today? “For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God;”

2   How does Paul understand that people are transformed?

3    In verse 25 Paul talks about “sacrifice of atonement”. The Greek word hilasterion, can be translated both as ‘sacrifice of atonement’ and ‘place of atonement’. Here he uses the word to describe Jesus Christ. This begs the question, is this act of God ’propitiation’ – that is an appeasement of God who is angry or wrathful? Or is it “expiation” which focuses on the sin that is staining the people of Israel and needs to be purified?

How do these understandings of ‘sacrifice of atonement’ connect to the today’s commonly used word “reconciliation”?