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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Which Kind of Person Are You?

According to Murphy's Law, there are two types of people:
Those who divide people into two types and those who don't.

Someone else figured that there are two types in your church: Those who agree with you and the bigots.

Obviously, it is simplistic to divide people into tight little categories but making distinctions is necessary for clear thinking. I had one seminary professor who always used to say that studying theology is all about making definitions and distinctions. Pastoral ministry is utterly dependent on it.

So I think there are two kinds of people: those who are troubled by their sins and those who aren't. In stating that, I might just as well have written that the two types are Christians and non-Christians. It is not possible for a person to be in Christ and have no anguish over his sins.

That having been said, let me add that all the people I've ever met are complicated and contradictory. A Christian might live every day burdened by guilt over sins he has repeatedly confessed and been absolved for. He might also go through life essentially untroubled by his impure thoughts or how he mistreats his wife or his greed, etc. I have even met people who are in torment with guilt over things that are not really even sins.

So there are two types of people - those who are troubled by their sins and those who aren't - and I am both at the same time. I am a true dual personality. Or as Lutheran dogmaticians like to say, I am simultaneously sinner & saint. In this lifetime, no one is ever fully sanctified. That happens only in the next life, though that work of purification has begun here and now.

It's a paradox. It's St. Paul's struggle in Romans 7.

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20Now 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.

21So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22For in my inner being I delight in God's law; 23but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.

Our theology must be able to work in this paradox. The dichotomy that defines the Christian in this world. Saint and sinner. Law and gospel. To the "me" who is complacent with his sin, preach the judgment of God. And to the "me" who is troubled in conscience, preach reconciliation with God through the atonement.

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Anonymous said...

We Christians, of all people, should be able to relate to those
who suffer from schizophenia (sp?)!

RC said...

Good thoughts, thank you for sharing this...

I really like the way you wrote out the tension between "two types of people."

--RC of

Carl Vehse said...

"According to Murphy's Law, there are two types of people: Those who divide people into two types and those who don't."

That's Barth's Distinction. Another variation is: There are 10 types of people - those who understand binary and those who don't.

Murphy's Law is: If anything can go wrong, it will.

O'Toole's Commentary on Murphy's Laws: Murphy was an optimist.

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