Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Rome, Corinth & The Liberation Of Creation (part 1 of 3)

Just as we cannot approach Paul’s presentations of “justification” in the isolation of individual verse, but must look to Galatians, Philippians, and Ephesians in order to ascertain the all-peoples-inclusive language that is the bedrock of justification, while also looking to the stories in Acts to aid us in coming to terms with the development of Paul’s theological, soteriological, ecclesiastical, and eschatological positions, so also we do not consider what can be discovered in the eighth chapter of Romans, as it is a vital interpretation of the work of God in Christ and the ongoing story of Israel, in isolation as if it is an isolated occurrence.  In that spirit, we cast a net upon the waters of Paul’s letters that we might be able to see that Paul’s position on display in the eighth chapter of Romans, with its connection to the broader narrative of Israel’s history and its being foundational for the call and purpose of the church to live as the community of Resurrection, is most assuredly not isolated. 

Where might we look to find an echo of the prominent themes of the latter half of chapter eight of Romans (glory, renewal/redemption, groaning, and the affirmation of the goodness of God’s physical creation)?  Though these themes can be found littered throughout the Pauline literature, we find them rather tightly packed in the second letter to the Corinthians.  Now, while it is quite possible that what we have in the New Testament as the second Corinthian letter is actually a conglomeration of multiple letters, there can be little doubt that the section at which we will be looking, which comes to us as the end of chapter four and the beginning of chapter five (according to the chapter divisions introduced into the text in the thirteenth century) is from the same letter. 

We read: “But since we have the same spirit of faith as that shown in what has been written, ‘I believed, therefore I spoke,’” as Paul includes (adopts?) the Gentile Corinthians as recipients of and participants in Israel’s Scripture and its story, “we also believe, therefore we also speak.  We do so because we know that the one who raised up Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus and will bring us with you into His presence” (4:13-14).  This fits nicely alongside “And if children, then heirs (namely heirs of God and also fellow heirs with Christ)---if indeed we suffer with him so we may also be glorified with Him” (8:17). 

Of course, this also causes us to back up just a bit so as to incorporate some very Israel’s-exodus-story-like-but-now-transformed-by-Jesus-Gentile-believer-inclusive language of suffering and glorification that is found in “We are experiencing trouble on every side, but are not crushed; we are perplexed but not driven to despair; we are persecuted, but not abandoned; we are knocked down, but not destroyed, always carrying around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our body” (4:8-10), which, for Paul, is the body of believers as a microcosm of the whole of the covenant people of God, just as Israel, both the people and the land, were a microcosm of the redeemed covenant people of all nations and the redeemed creation. 

Continuing with that thought: “For we who are alive are constantly being handed over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our mortal body.  As a result, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you” (4:11-12).  Returning then to Romans in our comparison, we read “For I consider that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us” (8:18).  Back to Corinthians: “For all these things are for your sake, so that the grace that is including more and more people may cause thanksgiving to increase to the glory of God” (4:15).  To Romans: “For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God.  For the creation was subjected to futility---not willingly but because of God who subjected it---in hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children” (8:19-21).  To Corinth: “Therefore we do not despair, but even if our physical body is wearing away, or inner person is being renewed day by day.  For our momentary light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (4:16-17). 

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