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.
- Romans 7:13-25
I remember hearing this passage in church when I was a kid. My best friend Trav and I sat in the front row and giggled throughout, much to the annoyance of my parents. At home, we got out a Bible and read it again. We challenged each other to read it five times fast. We couldn’t make head nor tails of it, but we knew it sounded hilarious. We wanted to shout, “Wretched man that I am! Who will save me from this convoluted sentence structure?”
The passage continued to elicit giggles from me well into high school. One night at summer camp, each of the campers was asked to share a passage of scripture that was meaningful to us. I thought I’d lighten the mood a bit, so I read this passage and received, to my delight, many more chuckles from my fellow campers. But Father Phil, the head of the camp, smiled knowingly: “You may think it’s funny now, but once you understand it, you won’t find it funny at all.”
When we’ve lived long enough, we do understand it. No matter how hard we try, we can’t “be good.” We continue to do things wrong. We continue to mess up—not only by accident, but even willfully—all the time. We justify our actions one way or another, and then we feel awful when we suffer the consequences. Are we sorrier for the action, or for the consequences?
Yet the most important line in the passage is this one: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” We have nothing to fear, because Jesus knows our hearts and understands our struggles. Each time we fall down, we can get back up again, not with groveling, but with dignity … because we are God’s beloved children.
Is there any greater reason to forgive others than the realization that we ourselves have been forgiven?
Here’s Susan Werner with the best song I know on the topic … “Forgiveness.”