Compulsion and compassion

Sunday’s lectionary reading from Romans starts with the Apostle Paul making this statement:

“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”

Romans 7.15

It starts a passage laying out a theological argument on the nature of sin, but this sentence is given as a clear statement of individual experience. It comes from someone who had a direct, personal encounter with the risen Jesus, someone filled with the holy spirit and the greatest missionary the church has ever known. Paul is converted, saved, redeemed, reborn, whatever language we want to use, and yet he still finds himself doing things he hates; in short, he still finds himself sinning.

A few years ago I heard the Franciscan friar and priest Richard Rohr speak at the Greenbelt Festival. During his address, he mentioned that Franciscan friars often experience a crisis, and sometimes a spiritual collapse, in their middle years as they realise after decades of dedicated discipleship that they remain as sinful as ever. Some leave the order, but those who remain and come through the crisis seem to enter a new state of acceptance and surrender – sometimes referred to as ‘weeping over their sins’. In this new phase of life they find another way of being, letting go of trying to please God and, instead, simply loving him and allowing themselves to be loved in turn. Loved by him just as they are, not how they think they ought to be.

This divine love cannot be earned, and it is there for everyone. We cannot make God love us more by sinning less, but when we focus on loving him we may find our most troublesome sins begin to lose their power over us.


Rev. Peter Wright