9 What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin,10 as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
Sin. It is a difficult subject. Was ignorance bliss? In the Genesis account of humanity’s fall, the fruit of original sin came from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. So perhaps ignorance was innocence after all. All. It is an easy subject. Does all include the follower of Christ or another god? It is not a trick question.
Pick a law or moral code. Make it the code of Hammurabi or law of YHWH. Read from the Declaration of the Rights of Man or from my genome. I will break it. Me. And apparently everyone else too. The quotations from the center of the passage are from the Hebrew wisdom scriptures – – mainly Psalms. Again, Romans, and the Christian faith cannot be understood without proper pronouns. Paul directs criticism at the chosen of God and at himself. He sees himself in this boat. Remember Romans 1? Remember how foolish it is to reduce it to a diatribe against gay people? I could not, would not do that because it wasn’t faithful to what I knew was coming. It simply wasn’t an honest interpretation of the text as it stood either.
Jew, Gentile, my: humanity, nation, tribe, family, self – – all. This is, of course, building to Romans 3:23-24 – – a cornerstone of Christian theology. Everyone breaks any law by the standard that Christ set, where lust is adultery and anger murder. Here lies a great tension. Why would God given instructions knowing that I can’t or won’t follow them? Why offer normative content without redemptive promise? Here also lies the premonition of a great tragedy. If following these laws is not the answer, then perhaps I should ignore them. If no one follows these laws well, then perhaps I can assert my superiority by comparing myself to you.
Let me pause here. How many who read and write here have been put down and discounted? Was it a result of an attitude that we all need help, or perhaps of comparative superiority? When I took pride in comparison, did I suffer the dissonance that the approach deserves? I’m ashamed to say – – only recently. I needed forgiveness and I needed to turn.