By: Dennis Bates
A popular TV personality who counsels troubled people on his show frequently asks them the following question: “What were you thinking?” If you’ve watched Oprah or his spin off show you know who I’m talking about. Let me make it clear from the beginning that I am not necessarily a fan of this individual nor the shallow pop psychology he often offers to the masses. However, at times he can be very insightful, and this question is often valid, as far as it goes.
Think about it. How many times have you asked yourself just that? What was I thinking when I did this or that, thought this or that, or didn’t do something that I knew even at the time I should have done? Why do I do the things I do and refrain from doing the things I ought to do.
Maybe we will never understand our motivations all that clearly and just maybe we aren’t supposed to. The question itself is not new. The Apostle Paul raises the same issues in the book of Romans at the end of Chapter 7. He sounds almost like one of the guests on the self help talk shows when he says:
“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do….For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing….When I want to do good, evil is right there with me.”
That last line in particular gets my attention every time I read it, no matter how many times that is. In short, Paul tells us that even when we try to do the right thing, the wrong thing is sitting right next to us trying to change our mind. I can relate to that, just as I can his frustration in the sentences before it.
I certainly don’t understand what I was thinking when I do some of the crazy things I have done. Most aren’t major things, but, trust me, they are enough. Besides, if you stack up enough little things, pretty soon you have a major thing and I am a pretty good stacker at times.
But that isn’t the worst of it. Paul tells us that even when we try to do the right thing, we do the wrong thing. Why, because we’re weak and the evil we hate loves us and snuggles up close so it can influence us especially at times when we want to do better. Evil is clever that way, and far too often successful, at least when it hangs around me.
I’m weak, or as Paul puts it, “Oh what a wretched man I am!” Not all the time, but more than I care to admit to anyone other than a Pastor or a Priest. The beauty of that weakness, however, is that it forces me to look elsewhere for my strength, it forces me to look to the person who came in the form of a sinful man like me, but had no sin himself.
You see, evil is clever, but not clever enough. Paul knew that, and it allowed him to state boldly in Romans chapter 8, verses 1-2:
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”
What was I thinking, why did I do that? Who knows and furthermore who cares? I will continue to try to do better, and, most likely, I will continue to fail, but I am not condemned for those failures because Christ Jesus is in me and I am in Him.