The War Within

I do not know about you, but in my life, I have found I go through a flow of how much I care about or even follow the nightly news or political agendas which dominate our public discourse. I tend to operate like a bit of a pendulum, swinging from one side to the other. There have been times when I am deeply concerned about the political situation in our country. I read, follow, and defend my side against the other. Then there are times, I suppose I would even call them happier times, when I just turn it all off. Perhaps you could say I focus on much smaller political situations, that of my family, friends, and of my congregation. That said, I cannot completely cut it all off. I have a desire to be “in the know” with regard to what is happening in the world, but the more I take it all in, the more I hear debates on the latest hot button topic, the more I fear there is something profoundly wrong with our world. Feelings and emotions replace the quest for the truth. Opposing ideas are never entertained, rarely engaged, and usually shouted down as being racist or fearmongering. There seems to be only a grasping for power while the mental health of generations spirals out of control.  

The reason I do not like to watch the news, the motive for not wanting to engage (though perhaps I should) is because the brokenness of our world is but a mirror that highlights the fractures within us as well. Oh, you may deny it and press back against this idea, but there is something to it. There is something inside of us which is not quite right. We have all sorts of clinical terms for it these days. We can talk about depression and anxiety, bipolar disorder, or ADHD. We can speak casually about midlife crises and one’s quest for purpose in the world. But we all know there is something in us that is out of sorts. Perhaps it is your hopes and dreams that have not been realized, or regret and frustration about your situation, but every one of you has some sort of battle within, a struggle you probably do not tell anyone about. You keep it all bottled up and soldier-on in silence, but deep down you are desperately seeking something which will work as a cure, as a way through the confused feelings and discontentment of your life. If there is pain and brokenness in our world, you do not have to turn on the news to find it. It is found right within your own heart as well.  

For many, the Church is put forward as a solution, an answer to what is broken within the heart of mankind. After all, the Word of God offers some direction, some focus for the living of your life. In order to find a more peaceful and contented life people reach out again and again to the ancient instructions and guidance of God’s pure and holy Law. But if we dared to be honest, we would confess it does not seem to work out so easily. Oh, we can smile at each other in church on a Sunday morning. You can put on some nice clothes and do your best impersonation of one who has it all together, but that deep wound within you, the depression, anxiety, or sorrow remains.  

The Apostle Paul seems to speak directly to these situations, straight into your uncertainty and hurt. He says, “For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” The Law is spiritual. However, the Law that would offer guidance and suggest a way toward healing is beyond us, for again, it is spiritual, but we are of the flesh. In fact, we are sold under sin, bound to it, unable to free ourselves from it. The Law can point out the way to healing. It can proclaim the objective you must achieve to find the remedy you desire, but it cannot give you the means to get there. It cannot do the work for you. It only and forever highlights the work you need to do.  

As a result, we are tempted to think that the work we engage in, the acts of faithfulness we strive towards, will be the source of healing. You are active in the things you are supposed to do. You try and forgive those who have hurt and wounded you. You look for opportunities to serve, to show compassion and love for your brothers and sisters in Christ. You volunteer, give, share, and offer prayer and praise to God, and these things are good. They feel good. They bring you alongside a community of believers. Yet, the broken thing within you, that discontentment or sadness which seems to steal your joy, your hope, your confidence, it remains. It may abate for a while, but it always comes back, sometimes fiercer than before. So, instead of solving the problem, the spiritual and holy Law has been used by your sinful flesh to reveal just how broken you really are.  

This is the great lie our society sells, the falsehood we tell ourselves, the untruth that we think will actually hold true and work this time. Whether it is voting for the right people into office, embracing the right crises of the day, or doing the right churchly thing, we believe in this instance we will find the healing, finally fix what is broken in the world, shattered in our society, fractured within our own hearts. If we work hard enough at it, if we strive diligently with the right spirit and the correct intentions, perhaps we can finally find what is missing within us, discover the healing for our souls. But it continues to slip away, does it not? As Paul says, “I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the Law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”  

Sin takes hold of your own work and twists it into the opposite of what you were hoping it would provide. Instead of healing, it brings a greater realization of how broken you are. Rather than hope, it brings despair. In an effort to have a better life, it works only death. In despair, Paul cries out for a solution outside of himself. He confesses there is a war within, a conflict he cannot solve by any work of his own, no matter how holy and sacred the effort might look, or how generous and kind it may be to others. His sinfulness cannot be overcome, so that sin twists the work into pride and arrogance, death and despair. Recall how as the prisoner’s entered into the camp at Auschwitz, they passed under a sign which read, “Work sets you free.” It was a lie then, and it is a lie now.  

Therefore, Paul asks what you ask, his words become your words. “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” If your work cannot do it, if your best effort, in fact, leads the opposite direction, what hope is there? What solution to the brokenness can be found? Where do you turn? Is there anywhere you can go from here? You need a deliverer. You need someone outside of your sin, external to your twisting of the Law who can give you what you are unable to achieve. Consequently, Paul cries out with extraordinary joy, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Thanks be to God there is One who delivers, can heal, and bring life. Thanks be to God that the deliverer has come in the person and work of your Lord Jesus Christ.  

So, for those who turn to the Church to find healing, to discover some hope, a promise that things will not be marked by pain and discontentment forever, there is an answer. There is hope. In fact, it is the only solution. It is just not found in your work or your effort. It is only and forever in the life, death, and resurrection of the only begotten Son of God. His gift, that deliverance is given freely to you. Into His death you have been baptized. As a result, His victory, His holiness, His assurance is given to you in exchange for every failed work, every sinful action, every broken promise, and every shameful deed. Here is hope. Here is life. Here is healing which stretches beyond this age and is secured for you in the work of Christ alone. In Jesus, there is forgiveness and deliverance from the war within.