Gruesome and Glorious
Did what is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, working death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.
For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, with my mind I am a slave to the law of God, but with my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin.
I have been a part of conversations, often held in hospital rooms, where doctors do their best to convince people that they will live longer and better without their legs, arms, or other body parts that have become so infected that they are poisoning everything near them. We often see death as an end in itself, but the scriptures testify that death is not an end – it is a sickness of the spirit that eats away at our flesh because of sin. Death takes hold like gangrene in our lives and destroys us piece by piece. Shame tells us that we need to hide it away from the light of day. Wisdom however, tells us that we need to cut ourselves free of it. ]
That important shift in perspective can make all the difference. When I claim that sickness as our own, I feel like I am losing a significant part of me in the separation. But if I can come to an understanding that this tumor (though it be in me) is not of me. While it may share space and experiences with me, it is not who I am. I am right handed… but if I were to lose my right hand, I would not cease to be Tony. There would be plenty that would change, but I am not valued for what I do or for specific parts of me. I am valued because God made me.
Augustine struggled with this idea that we are creatures of earthly desires that pull us downward, but are given a gift from God that draws us heavenward. He writes:
“My weight is my love; by it am I borne whithersoever I am borne. By Thy Gift we are inflamed, and are borne upwards; we wax hot inwardly, and go forwards. We ascend Thy ways that be in our heart,5 and sing a song of degrees; we glow inwardly with Thy fire, with Thy good fire, and we go, because we go upwards to the peace of Jerusalem; for glad was I when they said unto me, “Let us go into the house of the Lord.” There hath Thy good pleasure placed us, that we may desire no other thing than to dwell there for ever.”1
King David wrote that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Gruesome and Gloriously caught in the tension between Heaven and Earth, Life and Death, Sickness and Redemption. Christ lifts us up and we can soar if only we are willing to let go of the weight that holds us down.
Where are you today? Flying or Falling?
What do you need to let go of in order to fly closer to God?
- Augustine of Hippo. (1886). The Confessions of St. Augustin. In P. Schaff (Ed.), J. G. Pilkington (Trans.), The Confessions and Letters of St. Augustin with a Sketch of His Life and Work (Vol. 1, p. 193). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company. ↩