Dear Inspiration Seekers,
Paul addresses the issue of the Covenant between Abraham and God as this relates to subsequent generations. Malcom Forbes, I believe, said that the best source of wealth is inheritance. Few of us are solely successful by our own ingenuity and perseverance. Our families, friends, neighbors, and community groups most likely have passed on to us material wealth, education, social expectations, etc., which have given us the opportunity to gain our current positions. Paul recognizes that the efforts of prior generations allows the current generation to be where it is. However, he argues that each generation, or individual, must come to it’s own understanding to experience righteousness. Or, maybe he is suggesting that prior generations have messed things up so much that you better not rely on their directions.
In the religious tradition in which I grew up, sinful and right behaviors, confession, and forgiveness were conceptualized as individual issues. I erred. I came to realize my offense. I prayed for forgiveness. I sought to avoid that mistake. I erred, etc. Alter-calls, while public events, were more or less individual acts in response to the minister’s encouragement. Not until I moved out from home and took the opportunity to begin attending other churches with different rituals, did I begin to consider the collective aspects of the church. The responsive reading of the Psalms, the sharing of the bread and wine in the Eucharist, the sharing of the Peace, the recitation of creeds, provided connection and reminders of moral behavior for the congregation to carry on until the next Sunday. As much as I may enjoy these tradtions, carrying out the rituals are not the same as believing.
Of course, Paul could not address directly Christian traditions of worship and instruction which would develop centuries later within the church. However, he does address the religious community from which he comes. He outlines the origins of Judaism with Abraham. But, he counters that the law did not bring Abraham to righteousness, for the law brings judgment against those who violate it, and does not hold someone accountable if an unrighteous behavior is not addressed by the law. Paul recites the Hebrew scriptures (Genesis 15:6) claiming that Abraham’s belief was sufficient to bring him to righteousness.
A risk with organizational rules is that these may be misunderstood, misinterpreted, misrepresentation, and misattributed. The intent of creating regulations, policies an procedures, standards of practice, etc. may be to direct correct behavior and provide guidance for the group members (such as a work or education setting, community organization, etc). However, often these become burdensome steps that absorb time for members to comply with, when they could be doing something productive. Thus, a good action could be negated by the social expectation of following the rules regardless of whether they result in a good outcome. Furthermore, if no regulation explicitly prohibits some behavior, the person may believe that he or she is correct, even when doing wrong. As I see it, policies and procedures are basically ways of letting people not use sound judgment and common sense on their own.
Thus, social norms and codes of conduct may be intended to promote right behavior, but may actually result in constraining the individual from doing right, or may give him or her rationalization that a behavior is right because nothing instructed them otherwise. I wonder how many people recognize what guides their moral decisions, especially regarding subtle social influences. Paul views this phenomenon as a trap. Rather he redirects our attention to the concept of faith and belief, to which we explore further.
Until next time, Inspiration Seekers