A Friends (Quaker) Perspective on Romans and Galatians
Provided several years ago for Illuminate, an adult Sunday School curriculum published by Barclay Press, a Friends publishing house
Romans 1:18-23; 3:9-12, 19-20
Quakers have a view of the human heart that includes both the bent toward evil and the yearning toward good. The light of God enlightens every person (John 1) as well as the need for people to turn from their own error and idolatry to worship the true God. George Fox frequently pointed out how the churchgoers of his day placed the building and the hierarchy in the place of God, who dwells in each believer as a temple and who meets with congregations of believers to teach them in spirit and in truth.
Paul says that each person has an internal witness to truth and that the wicked in every culture ignore that witness. That witness calls us to accountability for our actions. Instead, we prefer to place creation before the creator, and we sacrifice to things that have no eternal worth.
I was startled into awareness of my own early departure from that witness within. I was reading Becky Pippert’s Out of the Saltshaker, and she referred to the myth of innocence we carry when we try to justify ourselves, to make it ok that we have violated our inner witness. I remembered a cruel exclusion of another child when I was very young. It came back to me so clearly and convicted me that I was not innocent; my meanness had scarred me, even though I was so young. Paul points out that none of us has a place to stand that makes us qualified to judge others. This is both humbling and a big relief.
Even grownup Christians can violate their instincts to do good, can disobey the light within, can ignore what the law requires, namely to love our God wholly and love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Romans 13:8-9). As Fox would have put it, we need to “possess what we profess.” When God points out a gap between what we say we believe and what we do, we need to be ready to turn around and go God’s way.
Paul asserts that the law, the prophets, and the faith exhibited by Jesus all reveal the trustworthiness of God. The faith of Jesus in God our Father helps us understand the law and the prophets. We understand the whole Bible through Jesus.
George Fox wrote that the scripture was given forth by the Spirit of God and all people must first come to the Spirit of God in themselves by which they might know God and Christ of whom the prophets and the apostles learned; and by the same Spirit they might know the holy scriptures and the Spirit which was in them that gave them forth, the spirit of God. He told his countrymen that they did not know the word of God but only the letter.
In his search for truth, George Fox met Jesus personally: “There is one,” he heard, “even Christ Jesus, who can speak to thy condition.” This transformed him from a heartsick seeker to a jubilant and determined sharer of the good news that Jesus Christ is present today to teach his people himself. Just as the inner witness of God was universal, the nearness, the presence of the Kingdom is universal also. Jesus ransoms all from slavery to sin. In our present time, God is just what God should be, right and good, and God makes us just as we should be. We can trust God to do this because Jesus did.
Prepositions are so tricky in every translation, and the ones in this phrase from verse 22, “unto all and upon all” (KJV), are telescoped into “for all” (NRSV). However, the dual sense of how we can now know that God is just as God should be is a little lost in “for all.” This conviction about God is both moving toward and into us and resting on us. The combined sense of movement and rest shows up in the next story of Abraham (Romans 4) whose confidence in God made him right with God and helped him hope that God’s promise would be fulfilled despite his not seeing how it could be accomplished.