Thursday, October 25, 2012

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

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. 

As it relates to Israel in Egypt, which is the paradigm on which Paul clearly operates for quite specific purposes, the groaning was based on a desire to return to the place where God had visited and placed their forefathers.  This then is the attitude that is to be adopted by the church, which will include confirming the mindset that sees creation as inherently good, while rejecting the mindset that creation is something that is less than good, which is a way of thinking that is foreign to all of Scripture, foreign to the thought-world in which Jesus lived and conducted His ministry, and foreign to the Apostle Paul.  We recognize the advent of the kingdom and its restoration of the physical creation by means of the Resurrection, and so groan to escape the bondage of the old age of sin and death by participating in the new age of the life of the Spirit.  This is accomplished whenever Jesus is proclaimed as Lord, be it in word or deed, as our actions are explained by adherence to the principles and ideals of the kingdom of God as announced by Jesus. 

We, who compose the church of Christ and function as glory-to-God-bringing Ambassadors of the kingdom of God, do not groan to escape the world, but to enter into the land originally promised to the original divine image and covenant bearer (Adam), which is the restored creation, as the renewal of that creation is foretold and foreordained by the promise of God and the Resurrection of Jesus.  Our heavenly dwelling is two-fold, in that it is (1) the creation that will be overrun by the power of God’s kingdom, which is (2) to be enjoyed by His image-bearers in glorified, resurrected bodies that are suited for the world of God’s kingdom reign.

To that point we append Paul’s subsequent language, wherein he adds “if indeed, after we have put on our heavenly house, we will not be found naked.  For we groan while we are in this tent, since we are weighed down, because we do not want to be unclothed, but clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (5:3-4), thereby linking the promised land of the new creation, which is obviously far more explicit in connection with the groaning in Romans, with the implications of the Resurrection.  The old age (flesh/mortal) is swallowed up by the new age (spirit/life).  It is for this, and for what should be our desire, if we call Jesus Lord, to participate in God’s kingdom program in the here and now as effective and loyal citizens, that the “Spirit helps us in our weakness,” and “intercedes for us with inexpressible groaning” (8:26a,c), as we groan like Israel in Egypt, in knowledge of promises, a land, the faithfulness of our God, and His purposes for us in and for this world. 

As Paul reflects on the heavenly house, which should produce thoughts not far removed from the idea of the household of believers and therefore the family of Abraham that is united under a single head through the confession of Jesus as Lord, along with groaning, a tent (thoughts of the tabernacle of the wilderness is not too far away if exodus is in mind), clothing, and the creation that is under the sway of mortality being overcome by the power that brought Jesus back from the dead (this is how kingdom people could usefully perceive their service of God in the world), he goes on to declare that “the one who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave us the Spirit as a down payment” (5:5). 

Having gone to some length to demonstrate the companionship between the two passages that are here on offer, we again consider those popular words from Romans, and within the same echoing chamber hear “And we know that all things word together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose” (8:28).  Yes, it is within this rubric of God’s purposes for His covenant family and His creation that we then consider Paul’s words concerning those who are predestined, called, justified, and glorified---conformed into the image of His Son (Adam, Israel, Jesus, the church). This reminds us, yet again, just how incredibly crucial it is to hear these Scriptures not only in their immediate context, but within the context of the story of the redeeming God who is going about the business, through His covenant family, of setting His world right.   

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