The “Roman Road” – there is more than one.

There are any number of mnemonic devices for remembering Bible verses, and for remembering and communicating the central points of Christianity. The “Apostles’ Creed” is about the earliest, and I think still about the best. “The Four Spiritual Laws” is one I remember from my teens and early twenties.

Many of us, perhaps most of us who seriously entered an Evangelical understanding of Christianity 40 or 50 years ago will remember  “The Roman Road” as it lays out the work of God in Jesus through six verses in the Epistle to the Romans.

Romans 3:10  “As it is written: ‘There is no one righteous, not even one…’ “

Romans 3:23  “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”

Romans 5:8  “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Romans 6:23  “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 10:9  “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Romans 10:13,  “for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ “

I think, though, that there is another “Roman Road” spelled out. I have often seen the journey described as the road humanity takes/has taken when we refuse to look to God. But I have discovered that here, as in most warnings, they are not only for “those OTHER people” … Christians, too, are vulnerable. This “Roman Road” leads to deception, self-deception. I know very closely at least two, who think themselves devout Christians yet have fallen into this road.  I am one of them.

  Romans 1:18 and following:  “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, …”

 Ms Julia Duin wrote a book a few years back called Days of Fire and Glory” concerning events good and bad around Houston’s Church of the Redeemer (Episc). I have written a few posts about this remarkable church, and my involvement since these times. I want to say that I cherish the years I spent there. Ms Duin’s book caused quite a bit of controversy, and not a small amount of pain among members of that community. This is not a time for me to review the book (I praised it highly in an Amazon.com review), nor to explore all of the issues raised, but for me, there was one presenting issue. Ms Duin may not even see it as central, certainly few other reviewers marked it very significantly. Perhaps it resonated with me because the sin uncovered was one I have also dipped in, and that is the one on mentioned in Romans 1:18, the suppression of the truth. The take-away point for me was how initial transparency protected a vibrant and remarkable ministry. But as that ministry grew in a miraculous way, issues arose which would be perceived as putting the ministry at risk. The work must be, it was, protected by suppressing those issues. The existence of an habitual suppression of truth created an atmosphere in which sin and unrighteousness multiplied, hearts were darkened, and destruction seemingly triumphed.

In my posts concerning my marital failures through divorce, re-marriage and re-divorce, I have outlined my own travels on this second ‘roman road.” Struggles with truth, and how to share truth were a major part of our failures. In our second marriage, I supposedly found a solution to our difficulties by holding in my pocket truth about my emotional state in our marriage, taking them to God only, as my then-wife was not able to respond constructively. This worked, and allowed me to depressurize and better attend to her needs – BUT – it also created, and seemingly legitimized, a “hidden closet” for things not to talk about with my wife. Once that closet was built, and “blessed,” it was only a short step from using it for legitimate ends, to  ends of convenience, to storing away information on my needs and failures (for me, these were financial, but that is hardly important). Where I deeply needed a partner and a help, I created a victim. In my suppression of the truth, I thought I had a wise solution, and became a fool.

The other person I spoke of is an old and dear friend; our relationship in Christ goes back to college days. Although the tides of time have swirled a good bit of distance between us, we are not as close as we once were, it is a friendship very important to me. This brother in Christ is very important to me.

I have spent a larger amount of time than usual with my old friend-of-the-heart over the last few months, trying to be of some assistance in his distresses and disappointments, which have been many. Unfortunately, due to the aforementioned financial missteps on my part, the only assistance I could really give was a listening ear, but that is something we have both valued over the decades.

As we have talked, it became clear that, in the central pain in this person’s life – a raw, running infection of a pain – there is, I believe a core of refusal to see the truth, Not an inability, for the matter is not complicated, and my friend is very smart; but a refusal. To accept the truth would be almost as painful, perhaps more painful than the wound itself. But that is (or at least was, in the days before anesthesia!) often the case with medical procedures; one has a choice between enormous and growing crushing pain for the rest of one’s life, or the alternative of terrifyingly unimaginable pain right now. The surgeon is at the door waiting for your approval.  I can understand why the patient may deny the truth even though it destroys the rest of his life. In the old days, I expect many made exactly that choice.

In my own case, the problem was fortunately self-limiting. I crashed and burned, but at a low enough altitude that we could both limp away from the wreck I had caused. It cost us much, but we will survive. In my friend’s case, there is no such automatic limit. It is a pain which, if nursed, will grow forever; at each stage of its growth making a healing harder and more painful, and, as the intrinsic untruth is believed, darkening his mind. It becomes hard to hold tightly to truth in some places and refuse it in others. I was not able to do it for very long, and I sense it happening to my friend, who once was so zealous for our common faith.

My dilemma, which I may have just solved by crashing and burning in my role as friend, is that if I simply listen and affirm the pain, at some point I start joining in that denial of truth. For a while, it is OK. But there comes a point where that is simply making the pain worse, by encouraging it to continue, by giving the pain itself legitimacy. Not validating the sufferer, validating the suffering. It is my friend I want to be strong and continuing, not his pain.

But if I make a hint towards looking at the truth, I become not a friend, but an armature physician, and a bad one who couldn’t even cure himself, and whose medical intervention is un-sought un-appreciated, and un-welcome. Open hostility.

I have thought many times that, given this state of affairs, I would be well justified to simply bow out of the relationship. I’ve done all I can, and may well be doing harm. But if I did not try, who would? I have at least a little knowledge of the whole situation. My friend is (thank God!) finally developing some new friends, but they have no knowledge of the situation beyond what they are told. They of course see things exactly as the pain describes them; they are limited to the deception. They accordingly believe it, and act in support of it, they are good friends. But they are, in turn listened to and cited as supporting voices by my friend. In truth, they are simply well-meaning rubber-stamps for his emotional pain.

There are others, who know the situation only from the opposite view of my friend. They have heard the pain of another, stronger, but also a sufferer. But they do not know my friend’s issues, and can offer very little but what seems condemnation. They don’t know, they are only doing what seems right, by being faithful to their friend (who is also very important to me).

So where am I? What am I to do?

Probably, I am to ask that question at least a week ago. I am probably past it now. Actually, I did ask that question a few weeks back, and decided that I could not be that “enabling listener” I described; that if I were to continue, I must draw cards in the game, and do what I could. I spoke with the other party. In the last few days, I opened my heart and my mind to my friend. I told him everything I was thinking. I tried to do it easily, but upon resistance, I appealed to truth simply as truth, as an issue to which both he and I had once accepted in an appeal to Holy Scripture. There was a time when such things would have mattered deeply.

I expect I have lost my friend forever. That does not overwhelm me; he has only minimal impact on my life after all these years. But I do wish I could have done some good. I am afraid that I blew it, that I did actual harm, and lost my last chance in the bargain.

=============================================

To get back from my own whining to a more general point.

I have often read those verses in the first chapter of Romans as an indictment of the state of humanity without, or before, the intervention of Jesus; and of the state of those who refuse His intervention. But I was far, far too limited.

All of us, from a high and exalted ministry of God, to me, to my God-loved friend are entirely capable of suppressing the truth so that our thoughts become futile, our hearts become darkened and our self-understood “wisdom” becomes foolishness.

It would be tempting to think that the “truth” that Paul describes as rejected means the truth about God. But I don’t think that is warranted. Jesus did not say “I am …some truth, the important truth.” He said that he is “THE truth”

In the past, I would fall into a particular ‘harmless’ denial of the truth by pretending that one more push of the “snooze” button would do no harm. I know better. That “Just one cookie” will not harm me. I know better.

These are tiny denials, but even they have consequences. But the worst is that these little denials are like my “closet” – if it becomes habitual, common and acceptable for me to deny truth, at what truth will I draw the line? Can I tell? Is that line not itself a “truth” that I may or may not choose to suppress? And that is the danger.

We are always and everyday confronted with the opportunity to choose truth. The more it is a habit, the easier it is. The more we have chosen truth in little things, like my alarm clock or that cookie, the easier and more obvious the choice will be when it gets to something that deeply and forever matters.

Ms Duin’s book called the Charismatic renewal to acknowledge that truth matters. My former spouse filed for divorce and forced me back to the truth. I hope and pray my friend gets there, although I fear that he may not.

To suppress the truth is a very risky strategy.

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