I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
As an intern Psychiatric social worker (yes, I am cool you see), I was assigned a Halfway Home called Chaitanya for the mentally ill. Every morning I had to start a session where basic skills like combing hair, brushing teeth, how to shave, buttoning up shirt, saying good morning was instilled. Due to the mental illness, their basic skills broke down and Halfway home is a place that tries to integrate people with mental illness into the society where they can live their lives in the best possible way. So one day after the routine after saying bye, when I was about to leave, Mr Vivek, one of the inmates, met me at the door. He said “Sir, I appreciate your inputs on a daily basis. It is very helpful. But you are a man of double standards.” I looked at him with disbelief and my mouth wide open could have swallowed an elephant. He continued “You tell us to be hygienic by shaving, but look at your ugly beard and you tell that we should always be pleasant and greet each other. But when we come for lunch you never greet us and you always look sad and unpleasant. You should smile and moreover practice what you preach.”
The above incident punctured my ego beyond recognition and also reminds us what Paul so wonderfully says. We have set of ideals that we preach, believe and want to live by, but keep failing. I have lived with my inner struggles all my life. Some struggles keep nagging me.
I have asked myself about my personal life and the civil wars going on in me seems to be raging every day. I have come up with the following observations about it. I do want to be more spiritual. Honest, I am a priest. I am supposed to be a spiritual leader. I do want to pray and have a closer walk with God. I want to have a deeper interior life with God. When I wake up in the morning, I want to be able to sit down and pray, read the Bible. When I go about my meditations, I want to concentrate on my prayers and not have so many random thoughts that come wiggling in between my sentences of prayers. What do I do? I want to lead my worship with utmost sincerity without bothering about my voice and presentation. But my thoughts are distracted and my focus is on myself than on God. I do put a lot of effort into my sermon, but it is more to please people than to deliver the powerful word of God. I want to do what is right. I actually demand my youths and parish members to pray and read the bible daily. But do I do it? That which I want to do, I confess to you, I don’t do.
Throughout my life, I have wanted to live a simpler life style, as a means of identifying with the poor and the oppressed of the world. To have compassion on people who are poor and deprived. But when I see them that compassion evaporates and I have devised new justifications to hold on to my “hard earned money”. And I find myself accumulating more books and goodies around the house. And my practice of giving is far from being consistent. It fluctuates according to my whims. I want to do what I perceive to be right, to do what I perceive is God’s will for our lives, but do I do it? No. What is wrong with me?
I want to live a life not ruled by gadgets and social media. But the opposite is true. I always need a phone to fidget with. Either the laptop or my mobile is always a necessity. I need to message someone on Whatsapp or keep updating inane nonsense on Facebook. And also I lecture on how these things are ruining our lives and therefore one should regulate the use. But is that what I do? No, not at all. Even though I know it is wrong I keep indulging.
Jimmie Carter, when he was President of the United States and also the most famous Bible teacher in the Baptist church, made the front page of TIME magazine by confessing he still had feelings of lust, even though happily married. He didn’t want to have such feelings. Neither do I, as I believe one should not objectify women. But I nonetheless do have feelings of lust. What do I do?
So I come to the conclusion that I am not a worthy person. I must not be a very good Christian. Worse still I am a horrible priest. I must be a weak Christian. I must be a compromising Christian. I must be a sinful, imperfect Christian. What is wrong with me? Why are there so many contradictions living inside me. What kind of a man is this that lives inside of me? These are the ramblings of my mind.
We all know that the man who wrote Romans 7 was the Apostle Paul. Here he was at the very high point of his life. Fifty-five to sixty-five years old; a mature Christian; he had been a Christian for some twenty to twenty-five years. Here was the Apostle Paul who prayed fervently, who worked mighty miracles, who wrote numerous letters to the churches. Here was Paul who spoke courageously before governments, kings, and rulers. Here was Paul who was tossed into prison, beaten and stoned. Here was Paul, the most mature person of the Christ-centered life, at the high point of his Christian journey. In contemporary scenario it would be like Lionel Messi, the winner of 5th Ballon d’Or saying “I do not know how to play football. I am learning to play it. Similarly Paul says, “I don’t get it. I do the things that I hate. And the very things that I want to do, I don’t do. That which I don’t want to do, I do. What is wrong with me? What a wretched person?”
And then it begins to dawn on us that one of the marks of a mature Christian is the awareness of this struggle with evil in our lives. To be honest about this civil war within us shows our confidence in our living relation with our Lord. It is to struggle with evil until our day of dying. We all struggle. We all say to ourselves, “O wretched person that I am.”
So is Paul giving us an excuse to live a wayward life? We see that the very depressing chapter 7 ends with “Thanks be to God- through Jesus Christ our Lord..” (vs 25a). What does that mean? The Chapter 7 makes us ready for the glorious promises of Chapter 8. Let us see what it is
For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again;rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.[a] And by him we cry, “Abba,[b] Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (Romans 8:15-17)
Paul reminds us of our identity as Children of God. It is the Holy Spirit that has brought us to adoption and calls us into a relation with our God where we call him, “Abba Father”. We are like the prodigal son who keeps leaving the Home of the father and the communion. But Spirit helps us to confess and come to our senses and return to our Lord who reaches out with outstretched arms to receive us. Paul reminds us our thirst for Grace.
I remember a time when I was struggling to make a decision to go for ministry. Many people knew I had dedicated my life for ordained ministry and here suddenly I was backtracking. I must admit I had lost my focus; I questioned my capability and my commitment and was very confused. The struggle was very harrowing and my reservations for ordained ministry had become very vocal. Some of it was a defense mechanism to wriggle out of the situation. This created a lot of tension in my life. But I must highlight the role of my parents who were very disappointed at my wavering decisions. But in spite of that I can’t forget the confrontation with my parents which I thought would be very ugly. But my dad always surprised me and still surprises me. He precisely said these words when I was feeling the worst about myself, “Mon, we are proud that you are our son. We see that you are struggling. We are with you in whatever decision you make. We wish you take the right decision. We love you and as parents we will support you the best that we can.” Tears still well up when I remember those words. In the scorching heat of loneliness the word “Mon (malayalam for son)” was like the waters of the streams that gushed into my soul. I am sure God is daily calling us “Mon/Mol” when He sees our endless struggle. He promises us that His grace will fill the vacuum of our hearts. Like the Samaritan woman who wanted to know which mountain to scale in her effort to please God. Jesus reminded her, “Lady, forget about the mountain and concentrate on the fountain that is available inside you through the Spirit.”
Baptism affirms our identity as Daughters and Sons of God and at Holy Communion, Christ calls us to His table as a loving mother calls her children to have food at the dinner table. In Mar Thoma Liturgy the procession for Holy Communion starts with liturgical song “Daiva Suthar Naam Aai Iduvan, Jeevikal aayi nadanapol…”. The song is a call for all the confused and burdened people who were condemned to beastly (jeevikal) living because of our struggle with sin. But Christ has called us as his children (Daiva Suthar), where he offers His body and blood to nourish our parched souls.
Rev Merin Mathew
Bethel Mar Thoma Church,
Kolar Road, Bhopal