One of the greatest comedy classics of all time is the movie “Dr. Strangelove.” (That’s the short version of the title.) It’s a dark comedy with an important message about nuclear war. The title character, Dr. Strangelove, is a former Nazi scientist who had been recruited after World War II. In the movie, his hand suddenly reacts in strange ways, as if out of control. The hand seeks to strangle Strangelove and involuntarily breaks into a Nazi salute towards the President. Interestingly enough, this phenomenon of the hand acting on its own is a real medical condition known as “alien hand syndrome.” There are many different conditions that can cause this syndrome, but it reveals itself when a hand reaches for objects and/or manipulates them without the person wanting to do so.
Sometimes, the hand that is under the control of the mind needs to control the hand. Peter Sellers, as Dr. Strangelove, exemplified that as the movie depicted him struggling with his alien hand to prevent Nazi salutes and the self-strangling. While the condition led to laughs in the movie, I can only imagine how difficult it is for someone suffering with this condition. I thought of Dr. Strangelove as I read this morning’s Bible reading because Paul’s description of sin, the law, and God’s grace was a picture of “alien hand syndrome of the soul.” His discussion culminated in this reaction: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” (Romans 7:24-25)
I don’t know if there’s an easy way to explain this chapter. Let me try. Paul tells us that he didn’t know what sin was without the law. In other words, if you do something that’s wrong, but no one tells you that it’s wrong, it’s not a sin. When the Law enters the picture, two things happen: 1) we realize what that certain behaviors are sinful, and 2) it seems like we’re attracted to sinful behavior. This is when we experience the “alien hand syndrome of the soul.” We know what right and wrong is and we want to do right. The problem is, that we’re attracted by sin, and even more so than when we didn’t know that a behavior was sin. Is everything clear. What happens is that I keep sinning when I don’t want to sin; and when I know the right things to do, I can’t do them. This is the dilemma that Paul deals with in his question in verse 24: wretched man that I am, who will rescue me from this body of death? His answer in verse 25 is gospel: Thanks be to God who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
I don’t know about you, but even after committing my life to the Lord many years ago and walking with Him a long time, I still struggle with sin. It’s like…ok, what do you want to do any time you see a “Wet Paint” sign? If you’re a normal human being, you want to touch the paint to see if it’s still wet. A “Don’t walk on the grass” sign is an open invitation to walk on the grass, am I right? We know that certain behaviors are wrong and yet, no matter how long we’ve walked with the Lord, we continue to be drawn to them. Here’s the deal: just like we can’t make ourselves good enough for God to love us before we commit our lives to Him through Jesus Christ, we can’t keep ourselves good enough for God to keep loving us. We need His grace and forgiveness each day, each hour, each minute even, to live for Him. Our victory over sin so that we come to faith in Christ comes from God. Our victory over sin in everyday life after we come to faith in Christ comes from God also. Don’t get discouraged by sin, trust God.
Lord, You would think after so many years of walking with You, sin wouldn’t tempt me. It does. Keep giving me strength to follow after You and not let sin draw me away.