“I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”
The language that St. Paul uses here in Romans 7 describes the gap between what someone once called “The is and the ought”. Paul writes from that gap. It is where we all find ourselves. But how do we deal with it?
Some ignore the gap and resolve themselves into their desires and impulses, letting what is simply be what is. In the 1960’s they put it this way, ‘If it feels good, do it’.
Others are driven by the gap to take a higher road and recognize that some form of ethical and moral effort are necessary. The struggle to be fully human must progress beyond the level of animal impulse.
Humor is another response. Laughing at the gap is sometimes the best that we can do.
Then there are those who are consumed by the gap. Those for whom the tensions between what is and what ought to be are too much. They fall into despair, cynicism, even madness.
Whatever approach we take to the gap, ignoring it, battling it, laughing at it or allowing it to overwhelm, the outcome remains the same. The gap is never closed. We remain caught in the tension between “the is and the ought”.
It is surprising, then, to know that even as he laments life in the gap, Paul does so as one for whom the gap has been closed! The yawning chasm between his humanity and its fulfillment was crossed at the cross. Only the forgiveness of God in Christ is strong enough, enduring enough to close the gap between what we are and what we ought to be.
We are not yet what we will be and we share this burden with the apostle. But we do not sing in a minor key. Even our laments ring with joyous hope as we look forward to that Day when the gap between “the is and the ought” will, in every way, be closed, and God’s great work of reconciliation in Jesus Christ will be complete.
“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”