8 April 2016

Romans 3:21-30

“But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” (vv. 21-24)

Psalm: Psalm 68:1-20


Terry Pratchett told a story about a tourist with a camera. The camera was an old fashioned one on a wooden tripod as I remember. Every time the man took a photo he uncovered the lens. Inside a little man starts painting frantically. When the lens is closed the picture is there for the tourist! Fantastical. We know cameras don't work like that, that's what's amusing. But to take a picture we don't need to know, it's the picture that matters. Sometimes in our theologising and Bible study I think we miss the picture completely. We get lost in working out the 'how'.

Paul was trying describe faith for people who had never seen Jesus. He only had words to work with and to take a word from a popular Christian song, God is 'indescribable'. Paul tries to convince people of what he believes, using the language of his day. He tries to tell them how God's love works, how God can be able to love to the uttermost those least deserving of love. He talks of cross and sacrifice. He uses language and argument to persuade that there is a way in which God can love in this way. Today we talk of atonement recognising that the metaphors, the stories we use to describe how God loves, are rooted way back in our Hebrew history. And all the time we are describing the little man at his easel. We miss the picture.

Eventually Paul gets to the point. He has been focussing on the supposed mechanism of God's action, this God who is nothing if not indescribable. But something gets lost in translation, and we focus on the language and metaphor instead of grasping the meaning it is seeking to mirror, that of incomprehensible, universal, undeserved love. At the focus of the letter to the Romans (chapter 8) we read that nothing in all creation can separate us from God's love (Romans 8:38-39). The different ideas about atonement sometimes obscure that. Paul is really saying, 'Just trust it, whoever you are, whatever you have done, God loves you … utterly'! Get the picture?

To Ponder

  • What evidence do you have that God loves you?
  • What makes it difficult or easy to believe this and trust in God's love for you?

Bible notes author

The Revd Andrew Pratt

Andrew Pratt is a supernumerary presbyter. His "Words, Images and Imagination" - a collection of original poems, watercolours and photographs is available at

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