Monday, May 23, 2005

 

Wayfaring Strangers, Part 15



(Wayfaring Strangers is a continuing series about our experiences as my wife and I study to convert to Catholicism.)

Romans: WOW!

Yesterday I wrote about my reaction to the book of Acts, and complained that Paul seemed to be a whiner and too self-righteous for my taste. Today, I read Philippians and Ephesians, both of which were written by Paul while he was in prison. He wrote them as letters to the Christian churches in Ephesus and Philippi, brand new Christian churches that he wanted to encourage and advise.

Both of those books present a Paul quite different from my impression of him in Acts. They're both very uplifting, positive, loving, "Christian" books, and I enjoyed them quite a bit.

Then, I decided to tackle Romans. Paul wrote Romans, too, as a letter to gentile Christians in Rome. I read it today, in it's entirety, and it blew me away.

If you'd asked me yesterday what I knew about the book of Romans, I'd have said that it's the book that many Christians use to justify their hatred of homosexuals. That's really all I knew about it. The last protestant church that Wendy and I attended exposed us to Romans in that context. All I really knew about it was those passages involving the apparent condemnation of homosexuals.

It always bugged Wendy and me when the members of that church would get on a homosexual-bashing kick. We always thought it was kind of pointless. After all, regardless of whether or not it's a sin, none of us there were homosexuals (at least, not out of the closet ones), so we always saw it as kind of a waste of time. After all, if I'm not a homosexual, how can it do me any good, one way or the other, to sit around and talk about how awful homosexuality is? Why shouldn't we have been focusing on the sins that we committed ourselves, both individually and as a church?

Of course, any time we asked about what we were observing, we were told by other members of the church that they didn't hate homosexuals, that they "loved the sinner but hated the sin." They'd say that, and then they'd go back to furiously highlighting and underlining in the book of Romans so they could memorize any verse that made them feel that God hated homosexuals as much as they did.

Today, I read Romans in its entirety, in context, and you could have knocked me over with a feather. There is nothing in that book, NOTHING, that justifies a Christians hatred of anyone. It even makes it very specifically clear that NONE of us are fit to judge anyone else, since judgment is the province of God alone. Romans is a book about obedience, humility, and service to your fellow man. It doesn't justify or condone any sins in particular, but it makes it clear that we are not to use the word of God to justify our personal hatreds. Doing that is to seriously, harmfully take the Lord's name in vain.

After having read those books today... especially Romans... I have a new understanding of Paul. The guy was an outstanding theologian. He was absolutely amazing! And he was as honest about himself and his faults as anyone. Romans even contains some passages wherein he uses himself as an example of a sinful, constantly failing, wretched man.

Romans really changed my attitude about Paul. He was everything I thought he was, but he was a lot more, too.

I'm gong to have to do a real in-depth study of the book and try to write about it again later, once my head has stopped spinning. I'm pretty sure that I'll be doing a lot of writing about Romans, in fact. There's so much in that book, and I want to try to study it and learn from it, and I hope to come up with ideas worth sharing.

It seems so ironic to me that the Catholic church has a reputation for not encouraging it's members to read the Bible. When Wendy and I first met with Father Ken, I asked him if there was anything in specific I should read with regard to studying Catholicism. His exact words to me were "Do you have the Bible?" I can't help but think about that when I consider how I've heard so many protestant preachers cherry-pick verses from Romans to justify their hatred. I'm not indicting all protestant preachers with that remark by any means, but it is a valid personal observation from my own life.

So, in closing for today, let me re-emphasize that I know that I still have a LOT to learn about Paul... and let me recommend the book of Romans to any Christian (Catholic or otherwise) who hasn't read it. It's an amazing, profound, humbling read, and reading it today did me a lot of good.

Comments:
Your Father Ken sounds to me like one of the exceptions. I have met a lot of Catholics who were, let's not say "discouraged" from reading the Bible by their church, but at the very least "encouraged" to focus on the Catechism instead. It's heartening to hear of a Priest who is holding the reading of God's Word as a principle to faith.

Now I'm inspired to up my Bible reading time!
 
Jerry,
Yeah, Ken is a great guy. He's been very supportive and understanding and helpful to Wendy and me in exactly the way we'd hoped a clergyman would be. I've heard, too, from Catholic friends, that they've often felt guilty that they don't read the Bible enough. I've been told by Catholic friends that one of the ways they benefit from protestant converts is that we bring our Bible-intensive style of Christianity to the church, and that they benefit from that. When I wrote what I wrote yesterday about those specific protestant preachers who "cherry pick" from the scripture in order to back up a view of their own, I was angry. I feel bad about that, and I hope I haven't come off like a protestant-basher. I don't want to be someone who converts to Catholicism out of bitterness, which would totally be for the wrong reason, and I hope I haven't presented myself that way. Thanks for your insight, as always!
 
That was a great post, my friend. I linked to it yesterday to share it with my regular readers. Blog ON, Sir.
 
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