Wednesday, July 19, 2006

"Theology" is not a dirty word

I was caught unawares. "Joe decided to study theology of all things, and I didn't want anything to do with him after that" -- or something like that. What I maybe should have said was, "Why is it so bad to want to study about how much God loves us?" Because -- and it's going to sound trite, but here goes -- the depth of God's love really is astonishing. It's one of those things that surprises me whenever I think about it. And I don't think about it enough. Here's one passage that illustrates what I'm talking about:
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5.6-8
Now the first time I read that, I had no idea what he was talking about. What's the difference between "righteous" and "good" anyway?

Well, although it's been a quarter century or so since I studied this passage, the key distinction stuck with me. The word translated "righteous" just means "something is what it's supposed to be." In other words, it meets its spec. It meets the implied warranty of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose. A measuring cup that holds the amount indicated is fit for its purpose. It's a righteous cup.

In this context, somebody who doesn't rob banks or run stop signs is a righteous person.

The word translated "good" didn't stick with me, probably because nothing in its definition surprised me. But Mother Teresa was a good person. Someone like Norman Borlaug, who saved more human lives than anyone in history, might be a good person.

So, would you die to save Mother Teresa's life? Maybe, maybe not.

Would you die to save Bob, whose claim to fame is that he never robbed a bank and never ran a stop sign? Almost certainly not.

Would you die to save Dahmer, the cannibal serial killer?

What kind of love, how great a love, would it take to die for someone like that?

It's unimaginable. That's what Paul is talking about.

posted 7/20

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