Romans 3:5-8

Romans 3:5-8 (ESV)

But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.

To remember the context in Romans 3:1-4, Paul has just talked about Jews and Gentiles.  Why was it good to be a Jew (as he and Jesus were) and what could the Jews say to everyone else (most of us)?  Essentially the Jews were chosen to bless the world.  The Abrahamic covenant was not just to the semitic tribe, but to the tribe of humanity.  So, what’s happening here in this passage?

If Jews are a subset of the tribe of humanity, even a special and chosen subset, then they will fail.  In the language of scripture it is sin.  In the language of evolutionary biology it is the individual’s survival as predominant over the species’.  The great historian calls it the personal impulse opposed to the corporate. Different translations of the same sentence:  We fail.  But if our failure points to God’s goodness, what right does he have to blame us?

But he does.  Here the heart breaking paradox is introduced.  We are destined and responsible.  Do we have free will or is God completely sovereign?  Yes.  That is usually a family room discussion for mature Christians, not a topic to offer in the living room with friends of all stripe.  But, if I can’t share my authentic confusion then why share at all?  Great(er) minds have wrestled with this concept in Romans – – including the man who penned it.

God does bring good from evil and we are responsible for our evil.  We are then condemned and justly so.  If it ended there, I would not follow Christ.  Thankfully, it does not.

Pascal

–1:16

18 comments

  1. Pascal, I’m not sure how I want to respond on this blog yet; gentleness and respect form a jagged border along harsh and self-righteous lands.

    I have never decided what I think about free will without a deity. And with typical Christian theology, well, the confusion you speak of is just another reason I don’t believe. Your post happens to show up alongside another on the same topic in my reader. I’m interested on your thoughts on that post.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “I’m not sure how I want to respond on this blog yet; gentleness and respect form a jagged border along harsh and self-righteous lands.”

      Madalyn – – you can write! I hope you knew that. Respond like you did. This is new to me too.

      So I did read the post, and I enjoyed it and I followed the author. The basic syllogism for me has always been (whether with free will or sovereignty): God created everything, evil is part of everything, God created evil. I think that is right. So, how is it a paradox and not a logical contradiction? Thinking. Slowly.

      A new friend and atheist reader from India, Rajeev, recommended the book by Julian Jaynes named “The Origin of Consciousness in the breakdown of the Bicameral mind”. It is sitting next to me on the dining room table. It looks fairly thick and brainy, but it will serve as a respite from Sean Carroll’s, “From Eternity to Here” (very good, very dense, very almost done).

      So if you have not decided what you think about free will without a deity, I will confess that the same subject with a deity perplexes me. See – – we have something in common. Then I asked, “What about breakfast at Tiffany’s…”

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks Pascal, you’re very kind. 🙂

        The ideas of ‘Origin of Consciousness’ reminds me of Daniel Dennett. Have you read any of him? Regardless, you seem to have an impressive reading list to get through.

        I’d venture a guess that there’s more than ‘one thing we’ve got’ in common. Which is a good thing for everyone.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I’ve heard of Dennett, but have not read him yet. As you suggest, I have some difficult triage decisions to make. Is there one book that would help me to understand your viewpoint the best?

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          1. Goodness no. I don’t have a cohesive enough viewpoint to be settled in one book, at least no book I’ve read, probably because it would contradict itself. 😛

            Dennett’s books ‘Freedom Evolves’ and ‘Elbow Room’ offer interesting views on the subject though.

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    2. Madalyn,

      gentleness and respect form a jagged border along harsh and self-righteous lands.

      I really like what you wrote here – you have an incredible skill of expressing thoughts with great eloquence.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. A) By all means, toss this out to the “all-stripe” crowd. I’ll join in. I once considered myself a “mature Christian”; I now consider myself a “mature seeker of truth” (on some days more than others). Let’s have this conversation as often as possible and with as many people as possible. I find the idea that such discussions can only be undertaken among “mature Christians” to be slightly disturbing.

    B) The thing that most disturbs me about the idea of God and evil is the fact that, in the eyes of many of his followers, God can do no evil. The system is stacked in his favor. If I survive a car accident, God out of his goodness saved my life; if I die in a car accident, God in his wisdom “took me home.” Whether he acts or does not act, he is Good. Meanwhile, no matter what I do, I am Not. If I sin, I’m condemned; if I don’t sin, then I’m condemned anyway, because of my “innate sinfulness” (my many, many thanks to ol’ Augustine). That’s a double standard I cannot intellectually live with, and it amazes me how many people seem to be able to. Which brings me back to the need to introduce mature, respectful non-Christian voice into this conversation.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. “Which brings me back to the need to introduce mature, respectful non-Christian voice into this conversation.

      Yes! That is what we invite and that is what we need. Mature is mature. Respectful is respectful. Ol’ Augustine also thought that all truth was God’s truth. So yes – – welcome to the family room, or better yet the dining room table. I was wrong to think that my struggles should be segregated. Can we not engage the intellects of our friends – – of ourselves?

      See my comments to Madalyn above for how I wrestle with the goodness of God. That deserves expansion to a post.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Pascal,

    Is it possible to explain, to those who don’t believe, what mature Christians in the family room have solved regarding the seeming contradiction between human freewill and God’s complete sovereignty (and omniscience)?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Remember when you introduced me to David Eagleman and Possibilian thought? He said that the three most powerful words of science were, “I don’t know.” It doesn’t stifle the conversation or the desire to know, but it brings some needed humility to the sureness of the poles. Those three words are said in my family room often, and like Toad said – – all mature thinkers are welcome.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Hey Pascal,

        There probably aren’t any responses that get more respect from me than “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure”. It may sound counter-intuitive, but I just like the honesty and humility behind it. There are so many things which I am clueless about especially in the subject matter of our blogs.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Pascal,

    I’m doing my best to get caught up by reading through some of these posts that I couldn’t get to before. I really want to unpack these topics, but I know that doing so right now would result in a > 5000 word comment that probably nobody would read. And then it’d be even longer before I read your newer posts. I’ll save us both the head-strain today. But let’s come back to it later. 🙂

    Gentleness and respect,
    –Russell

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    1. As a teaser, I can’t talk about logical implications regarding either free-will or determinism without also talking about quantum mechanics. So, there’s that to look forward to. 🙂

      Gentleness and respect,
      –Russell

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