I used to want to be a psychologist, or at least a cognitive scientist. I’m interested in the bizarre diversity present within human beings, especially the more bizarre aspects of who we are. There was a time when I wanted to study dreams and how vivid various people’s were, and when I was in college I wanted to invent a machine that would record dreams and play them back. I suppose this is why God, in his sense of humor, made me a priest, so I could minister to not only the mind but the body and soul as well. Now, I mostly just care about people and want to help them, but part of this is the wonder at who we are and the wonderful characteristics God has given each of us and what we each do with them.
I myself marvel at the 8 year old boy who for several years wanted to be the world’s record holder in the mile, and the 18 year old young man who wanted to write the Great American Novel, and the 22 year old student teacher who let 2 kids sneak out of his science lab, and the 51 year old man who is now something altogether different and more glorious and yet is still the same.
Don’t you find it kind of strange that one of the most fundamental principles of human nature is that we are both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Isn’t it so exceedingly strange so that Ripley’s Believe it or Not should investigate it, that each of us is so divided between being the person we want to be and the person we actually are, in terms of our behavior?
If it weren’t so common and so much a part of our earthly existence, I would be awed (as well as embarrassed, shocked, and humiliated) that so many times I do things I don’t want to do. Even the way I just said it expresses the very problem I’m talking about. What kind of crazy talk is it that I say, “I do the things I don’t want to do.”
Clearly, I’ve got a problem. I take some comfort in knowing that it’s not just my problem, for what’s wrong with me is wrong with you and was even wrong with St. Paul.
I’m not going to enter into the debate about whether Paul is talking about himself before he was sanctified, after he was sanctified, or someone else. If you want to see those arguments, go look at Cranfield or Moo or Cranmer or Augustine. Deftly avoiding such theological morasses is one of the fringe benefits of writing a devotional commentary on the Bible. Hoo Ha!
First, a few clear truths.
1. Evil is present in me: I still sin (verse 21).
2. I delight in the law of God in the inward man (verse 22).
3. Jesus Christ will deliver me from this (verse 25).
There is something else that amazes me and makes me have to sit down in uffish thought for a while: God dwells in me as I am united to the Son and indwelt by the Holy Spirit – even though I’m sinful.
Here are a few other clear truths:
1. I am sinful.
2. I am the Temple of the Holy Spirit.
But this creates a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma: how can God who is holy and cannot dwell with sin dwell with a sinner like me? The stench must be unbearable to Him, you would think.
I can think of only a few possible options:
1. God is a liar, and He can tolerate sin after all.
2. God can stand to live with me because I and His beloved, sinless Son are so closely united that I am now worthy of living with Him.
I’m voting for Option #2. I believe that we are so truly and closely united to Jesus Christ that we are made righteous in the Father’s sight. How else could this be? Somehow, by faith in Christ and accepting His grace, I am made holy. He calls me holy. Me, a sinner! How can this be? It seems behind logic and beyond all belief. Yet what God has said comes to pass and is true.
“What God has cleansed you must not call common” (Acts 10:15). I feel like Mary, when she heard the Annunciation from the angel Gabriel, for God has said to me, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among men. The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will dwell with you through the one who is called the Son of God.”
Therefore, my soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior.
For He has regarded the lowly state of His servant;
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed.
For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name.
And His mercy is on those who fear Him, from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with His arm; He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.
He has helped His Bride the Church, in remembrance of His mercy,
As He spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed forever.
What glory and love God is shown to have and to be, when I consider that He has made it possible for Him to dwell with sinful men like me!
And so I am left with my two natures, my two wills. Out of the same mouth proceeds both cursing and blessing, both bitter water and sweet. I have a will that wills to do what it wills, regardless of others, and especially the Other. But that will will die without leaving a will and has already died but doesn’t yet know it.
I have another will that is deeper still. I do not always obey it, but if you set my two wills down together, this deeper will will always win. Yes, I get distracted, and yes, I get tempted. I’m not always good at making visual decisions: which car do I prefer, which color do I like better on that wall, etc. But if you put the decisions before me, I’m good at seeing and choosing. And so my deeper will truly desires the Lord and His will.
In the meantime, I am troubled by my own continued sinfulness, and lament that within me which does not want what I truly most want: Him. But at the end of the day, when I have confessed my sins and received His merciful forgiveness once again, there can be no doubt which side will win: His side within me.
No longer am I afraid of the words, “In the day that you shall eat of the fruit of self and independence from Me you shall surely die.” Instead, I know hear and believe the voice that tells me that in the day that I accept Christ, death shall surely die.
Who will deliver me from this body of death? Jesus Christ the Lord, who lives in my by His Spirit! Thanks be to Him and to the Father and to the Holy Spirit! Amen!
Prayer: Almighty and most merciful Father; We have erred, and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou those, O God, who confess their faults. Restore thou those that are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake; That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.
Points for Meditation:
1. Sing a version of The Magnificat today (or listen to one).
2. Meditate on the fact that God has called you holy and has come to live with you.
Resolution: I resolve to spend time today rejoicing that God my Savior has come to live with me and to give thanks that He has killed the body of death in me.
© 2012 Fr. Charles Erlandson
Category: Give Us This Day