Grace, Lent, Lent 2B, Romans 4:13-25

The Law is Wrath

I’ll tell you a secret. I took a whole semester on the Epistles. But when I look back and try to remember what New Testament classes I had at Andover Newton, I almost always forget that one. I went in with a bad attitude about Paul, and I came out with a slightly less bad attitude, although I quickly resumed it and have only in the past two years started to be friends with him, gingerly.

He just makes everything so complicated. He says so many things that are subject to misinterpretation, and I mean by me as well as the rest of the crowd of people who care about reading the letters he dictated so long ago.

For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace… (Romans 4:13-16a) (I cut this off mid-verse because I don’t want to go on to more stuff about Abraham right this minute.)

So it’s faith that brings about our salvation, but in the dictated-by-Paul’s-letters-and-also-those-other-letters-he-didn’t-actually-write world of my girlhood religion, there were a whole other set of laws to obey, and if you weren’t obeying them you clearly didn’t have the “right” faith.

The rules for girls were not necessarily the same as the rules for boys.

And as I have surely said before, I grew up to believe living a faithful life is a response to grace, not a prerequisite for it.

I mean, I’ve preached it. I must believe it.

My new friend Paul was pretty sure of this: “If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.”

Really, he does not look happy, does he?

(P.S. The Law is WRATH, which makes it sound rather like Khan, which I think will be my new favorite thing. The Law is Khan. And being too attached to it won’t work out well, as anyone who saw Star Trek 2 can assure you.)

Paul always makes things harder to understand than they really need to be.

All of us come from ways of life and family systems and rules of engagement. Adhering to those ways, systems and rules may keep us organized and safe and even civilized. But none of that makes us right with God. God takes care of that all by God’s own Self, through an incredible extension of grace based not on our accomplishments, or our purity, or our self-denial or (rats, because I really thought maybe I was the exception) our addiction to perfection.

The Law is Wrath. The Law is Khan. Khan is not grace-full or love-giving. Khan is tribal and limited and cruel.

We are seeing Khan all around us, in the un-grace-ious political dialogue that suggests if only everyone would abide by one set of religious rules then we would all go back to the happy times of old when girls grew up to be mommies and men were men and gay people were in hiding and (really, we’re not far off from this one, too) races didn’t mix.

Grace calls bull$#*! on all that.

And that’s a good thing.

Now, I have no problem saying all that in the global sense, or about you and your life. My trouble is getting my arms around it where I am concerned. And while that’s not the specific task of my Lenten discipline, getting my arms around grace would certainly support it.

Or maybe I need to let grace’s arms go around me. Because I don’t want faith to be null or the promise to be void.

4 thoughts on “The Law is Wrath”

  1. I love this. That movie goes way back with me. And as I read your post, I took this analogy one step further. Yes, the law is Khan. And guilt is like that nasty little creature that Khan put in Chekov's ear; it renders people paralyzed and susceptible to wrath's control. So opposite of grace.

  2. During the last campaign for marriage equality, I was gathering signatures at an outdoor art festival on Congress St. A woman swept up to me and pointed her finger in my face. "You will burn in Hell for your evil," she hissed. In that moment I learned everything I need to know about the "law" of religion.

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