Friday, May 22, 2009

few born angels...

The Apostle Paul has elicited a comment or two and it is right that he should do so. He is, to quote Whitman, "Large...and contains multitudes." JFC talks of his conflicted soul in this excerpt:

"ONE of the most striking features in the character of Paul is the intense conflict in his soul between his ardent desire for righteousness, holiness, perfect goodness, on one side, and on the other his passionate nature, which he found it so hard to guide and control. There are saints who have risen above temptation. There are those born with such a love for what is good, such an abhorrence of whatever is wrong, that they do not know what it is to be overcome of evil. They have no such conflict; they are too high up. There is another class who are too low down. They simply follow their lower nature and its impulses ; they have no sense of responsibility calling on them to do better or be better. Therefore there is no conflict in their souls. But Paul represents the third class, whose life is a perpetual battle with themselves ; who find in their souls two natures, one inclining to right, the other to wrong. They are impetuous, susceptible to every influence, easily moved from without or within; with souls aflame, and imaginations which cover all things with an illusive glow. What they wish they wish ardently; what they dislike they dislike vehemently. Their life is a series of crises and catastrophes, at one time longing for goodness as the angels in heaven long for it and love it; at other times giving up in despair all hope of improvement, and letting themselves go wherever caprice or the will of the moment directs. They make a thousand resolutions and break them all. They struggle sincerely to conquer bad habits and form good ones; they surround themselves with incentives and helps of all kinds. Their whole heaven is bright, and all the sky serene. Then comes in a moment an unexpected storm, and all the scaffolding of their virtue goes down; so they are left desperate, reckless, hopeless.

This is the class of persons to which Paul belonged, and no one has narrated this experience in more thrilling words than he. Listen to what he says in the seventh chapter of Romans. How he describes the awful struggle with evil which he himself had been through: —

" I was alive without the law once." I was once innocent, following my childish nature freely, before I saw any great law of duty. I was a creature of impulse, and had no sense of sin or evil.

" But when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died." That is, as soon as my conscience was roused to see my duty, and I felt a desire to do something good and to become good, I found how little power I had, how often I went wrong, and had no vital force to accomplish my purpose. The law was holy, just and good. The law said, " Love God and love man," and I knew that was right; but how could I obey it ? The law is spiritual, but I am tied to my body, the slave of habit, the creature of passionate desire and caprice. I know what is right, and I do what is wrong. I mean to do right, I long to be better, but somehow I always drift back into evil . " For that which I do, I allow not; for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that I do." " For the good that I would, I do not; but the evil that I would not, that I do."

This is the picture of the terrible battle which many of us have to fight. For there are few born angels, and few who have gone wholly above this struggle."


Blessings

2 comments:

Obie said...

I have quoted your post in my own blog, and I have added you to my blogroll. Guilty of the charge of shameless self-promotion, here is what I said:

Paul will be a frequent guest/contributor/subject in this blog. Next to Yeshua of Nazareth, Paul is undoubtedly the most important person in the history of Christianity. And, apart from his importance, the apparent complexities and conflicts in his personality, as suggested by his writings, are fascinating subjects for speculation. I will indulge my own speculations in my forthcoming novel, The Jewish Gentile, which features Paul as the main character.

Today, I quote from a post from Boston Unitarian, which is an extended quotation from James Freeman Clarke, a mid nineteenth century theologian, abolitionist, social justice advocate, Unitarian, and compatriot of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Clarke was born in Hanover, NH, where I spent four joyeous but often tumultous years as an undergrad at Dartmouth.

ONE of the most striking features in the character of Paul is the intense conflict in his soul between his ardent desire for righteousness, holiness, perfect goodness, on one side, and on the other his passionate nature, which he found it so hard to guide and control.

Paul represents the third class, whose life is a perpetual battle with themselves; who find in their souls two natures, one inclining to right, the other to wrong . . . They struggle sincerely to conquer bad habits and form good ones; they surround themselves with incentives and helps of all kinds. Their whole heaven is bright, and all the sky serene. Then comes in a moment an unexpected storm, and all the scaffolding of their virtue goes down; so they are left desperate, reckless, hopeless.

This is the picture of the terrible battle which many of us have to fight. For there are few born angels, and few who have gone wholly above this struggle.

My novel will explore this aspect of Paul's character and relate it to his Damascus experience and his later theology, his own encounter with God writ large on a cosmic canvas.

http://theliberalspirit.com

boston unitarian said...

Thank you so much for your comment. It is good to hear from another midwestern Lutheran! I wish you all the best with your book and will very much look forward to reading it. Blessings, BU