Listening to the rhetoric this election season, one might assume that a new batch of politicians in Washington will solve the problems facing this country, not to mention the planet. Elect candidate X, and he or she will tackle global warming, solve the health-care crisis, eliminate poverty, right the economy, and unite a divided country.
For two problems, however, no politician dares offer a solution: death and evil. Endemic to the human condition, these two will haunt us all our days. Yet these are the very problems the gospel promises to solve—not through politics or science, but through a reclamation project begun at Golgotha.
Biblical scholars point to Romans 3 as the most compact expression of that Good News. Before revealing the cure to those two problems, Paul must detail the helplessness of humanity to find a solution apart from outside help. Like a physician, he has to impress on the patient the dire nature of the illness before presenting a cure.
I am struck by Paul's three categories of sinners in Romans 1 and 2. He begins by listing flagrant violators: depraved perverts, murderers, God-haters (though, curiously, he also mentions such "everyday" sins as greed, envy, gossip, and disobeying parents).
Just as his good-citizen readers nod knowingly, smug in their moral superiority to such miscreants, Paul turns the tables in chapter 2: "You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things."
I may never have robbed a bank, but have I ever fudged on my income taxes? Or had rehab work done on my house without applying for a building permit? Or ignored a pressing need because ...1