“To the rest I say – I and not the Lord—” – 1Cor. 7:12
The number of tension headaches Paul could have saved us all from had he only said this more often.
There is a sad irony in reflecting on scripture warning us about the dangers of idolatry written by a man that has become an idol to so many Christian practitioners. For many Christians it is Creator, Son, Holy Spirit, and Paul. His word is an authority on par with Jesus. It would be a laughable irony were it not for all the ways in which his letters and writing have perpetuated harm throughout the church and society.
The eight verses in Romans 1:18-25 seemingly present us with an insight into God’s divine nature. Paul appears to be telling us so much about the Creator‘s power, knowledge, and creativity. I’m not seeking to argue against what’s being revealed here about God but rather to say that what we’re learning more about in these eight verses is actually the nature of Paul.
Paul is intimately familiar to me. He is the controlling and authoritative part of myself that I work daily to heal and let go. He is the voices in our Global Church that steep themselves in fundamentalism for fear of losing themselves without it. He is the legalist that might move from belief system to belief system but does not shift praxis because it is so integral to how he understands himself, the world, and, in this case, the One who made the world.
Before and after his conversion experience, Paul is a man whose life is so deeply motivated by power, control, and fear that it moved him to commit countless acts of murder against early Christians. Even in describing how he first received the Gospel from Jesus, he makes a point of letting us know that his acts of persecution were a direct result of his zealous need to follow the traditions of his fathers— A compulsion to adhere to the letter of the law even to the point of death (Galatians 1:13-14).
Paul has merely exchanged one ‘father’ for another. In his limited and wounded way, he does not know how to see the Creator functioning outside of a retributive and graceless relationship. His words come across as harsh, fear-mongering, and legalistic— and perhaps they are— but, perhaps they also reflect a man’s need to be sure he can’t be cast aside and to show others how to do the same. That’s a fear I understand. If I control enough things, make myself perfect and indispensable… then loved ones, the Church, the World, and My God will always want me. I could almost see how Paul thought he was offering his words as a gift to those on the receiving end of his letter.
“Do as I do, and God will be with us always.” If nothing else, that desire to be known and be in communion with others certainly sounds like a reflection of the Divine Nature of the Creator.