Returning again to what really is an altogether fascinating series of thoughts on offer by the Apostle Paul, we join the Roman congregation in hearing “For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers together until now. Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies” (8:22-23). As has been made clear, the language here employed by Paul, specifically that of groaning and redemption, is the language of Israel’s defining story.
Revisiting an earlier theme that we have raised, which is Paul’s use of “we” in his engagement with Gentiles, which appears to be Paul’s way of self-identifying with Gentiles and to play a role in his desire to see a united family of God, the use of “adoption” in precise connection with these highly charged terms merely amplifies and exacerbates the end that Paul believes to be on offer in the Gospel’s announcement (the Lordship of Jesus that portends the inauguration of the kingdom of God). It is easy to understand Paul’s aims in this regard, as the congregation of Roman believers is generally understood to be a more evenly mixed congregation of Jew and Gentile and therefore in need of the “adoption” of an inclusive family language for what must become an inclusive family story. The fact that Paul spends time in his letters specifically addressing what would be largely Jewish concerns reinforces the picture of that relatively even mixture.
While there are also Jews in Corinth, and undoubtedly Jews as part of the assembly of Jesus believers there, the situation in Corinth is understood to be a bit different. Perhaps there are a very small number of Jewish believers, so their concerns are not particular germane the whole assembly? Accordingly, there is no pervasive crisis. Consequently, the abiding concerns of his Jewish brethren do not warrant the overt attention of Paul. It is possible that the Jews there were more Hellenized, and therefore less stringent in their adherence to the traditions addressed in the Romans letter, such as table fellowship and the marks of covenant inclusion. Speculation could continue. However, what is unmistakable is Paul’s employment of overtly Israel-centric terminology here in this passage that is quite the mirror of part of Romans eight.
Again echoing the above-quoted words of that chapter, with words such as “suffering,” “eternal,” and “glory” ringing in our ears as that which closes the fourth chapter, along with the “creation,” “groans,” “suffers,” “adoption,” and “redemption” of Romans eight (realizing that these terms are all conceptually linked by the narratives of Israel and Jesus), we advance into the fifth chapter of the second letter to the Corinthians and hear “For we know that if our earthly house is dismantled, we have a building from God, a house not built by human hands, that is eternal in the heavens” (5:1). Crucially then, in the next verse, Paul writes “For in this earthly house we groan, because we desire to put on our heavenly dwelling” (5:2).
In yet another unmistakable fusion of the disparate peoples of the world into the family of God whose continuing story of relationship with the Creator God has as its foundation the story of Israel (which, we remember, goes all the way back to Adam, though Adam is also understood to be the progenitor of humanity), Paul calls to mind the exodus. Israel, who had the promise of a return to the land that had been promised to the family of Abraham---and we do not miss the connection to the church of the Christ as the family of Abraham and the whole of creation as the land originally promised to Adam as the divine image-bearer, presumably groaned under their bondage precisely because of the remembrance of that promise (at the very least, this is what is to be taken from the people-of-God-defining narrative as supplied by the Hebrew Scriptures), longing to put on their heavenly dwelling, which was their promised land.
It is important to continue to remember that Israel’s groaning was to escape bondage, but not to escape the world. The idea that the world was something shabby, second-rate, and to be escaped, is nowhere present in Jewish thought. Rather, the world was very much understood to be a good creation sullied by the very ones given a charge to keep. That same creation was to be renewed by God, who would accomplish it by His own intervention and His own power, through the instrumentation of the same beings that had originally failed in the performance of their assignment. This was the way that the story of Abraham, according to the structure of the very foundations of Israel’s story (Genesis one through eleven), was perceived.