Sunday, May 9, 2010

Subjected to futility in hope; Pastor Min's view

For the creation itself was subjected to futility, not willingly, but by him who subjected it in hope. For the creation itself also will be delivered from its bondage to corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but even we who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our bodies

I want to go into this deeply, because I love it and I'm inclined to just take Pastor Min's word on it.

Here is Pastor Min's view, as I remember it:

So Adam and Eve fell and God, being God, loved them and wanted them to come back to Him. He knew the plan He had to save them and their descendants, through Jesus. Also, being God, He knew that if things were always easy for them and they continued to live in His perfect creation, they would not really have any incentive to seek Him or return to Him, now that they had chosen their own way and to be separate from Him. The devil would have things his own way and all people would be condemned to separation from God forever. So God, in His mercy, wisdom and love, cursed His perfect creation so that people would realize their own need and deficiency and be able to come back to Him and be saved. That is, creation would be subjected to futility, in the hope that people would come back to God. When all people do leave the slavery of their separation from Him and come back to the liberty of being united with Him, the purpose of the broken creation will have been fulfilled and it can be restored to being in harmony with His will and design. This is why it is eagerly waiting for the sons of God to be revealed, assuming that that is a euphemism for people becoming like Jesus, and why its current state of violence and pain in just birth pangs... it is giving birth to a new humanity.

I don't think Pastor Min talked much about what futility meant (and what a great word that is!) but I am assuming it means the violence, the brokenness, the cruelty and inefficiency-- sort of the opposite of Isaiah 11, where

"They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea

Looking at this, it seems that the principles of the strong preying on the weak, of things having to eat and hurt each other to survive, are especially things that Christ's rule will change. I'm not sure whether this actually refers to animals or whether it is a metaphor for what happens with people, but I am inclined to think that it is both, because it says that THE EARTH would be full of the knowledge of the Lord. Looking back to the words of the curse itself, it's interesting that the idea of the strong preying on the weak is kind of seen in the relationship between Adam and Eve "your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you," and a little bit the idea of competition... what the ground had given freely before would now have to be fought for.

Is there evidence elsewhere in the bible for this? And what does it mean that we, just like creation, are groaning? Next post!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Why does creation eagerly wait?

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us. The earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation itself was subjected to futility; not willingly, but because of him who subjected it in hope. For the creation itself also will be delivered from its bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.

I love this so much. Why does Paul bring in the creation? I sort of have the idea, I think from CS Lewis, that we don't tend to be told stuff that's not our business. Why is the futility and liberty of creation our business? Or probably a better question, what place does it have in the gospel?

Paul brings it up to show us why the sufferings of this present time are not that big of a deal. As written about before, he doesn't explain the sufferings or specifically make them redemptive (well, maybe he does, but not overtly..more about that later); instead he says, they're "not worthy to be compared with the glory which will be revealed in us" So the glory is used to put the suffering in its proper perspective, but the word "revealed" says that we aren't the objects of that glory; I mean, that the glory isn't solely for our contemplation. Instead, the audience to that glory is the rest of creation. I mean, Paul could have said, suffering now pales in comparison to the glory we'll experience later, in which we will be redeemed from all futility. That would have been enough. That would have been our gospel.

But he brings in the creation, and the strange, strange metaphor (or description) of the whole creation eagerly waiting around us, holding its breath in anticipation of our flesh being stripped away and the glory of God shining out of us. The richness and abundance of God's mercy is shown, in that God will let nothing continue in bondage to decay; he will glorify and redeem everything. Our suffering is not that important because creation is terribly important, and God in his mercy and love has chosen us not merely to be redeemed but to be his instruments of redemption.

I don't know how this works, and I fear I'm getting carried away. Are there other explanations for the fact that "the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God"? There's one... if the creation can't be redeemed until humanity is, then of course it will "eagerly wait" for it. It doesn't necessarily mean that humanity's redemption itself frees creation from its bondage to corruption, it could just mean that the freedom of both hinges on the same event. I think that this view leads most naturally to Pastor Min's explanation of the following verse...he says that God laid the Curse as a mercy and not as a punishment. That is, he screwed up his own creation after we sinned, in order that through hardship and tragedy and such we would need to seek and call out to Him, and so could be saved. Hence, "the creation was subjected to futility by Him who subjected it in hope". I agree with this, and can't think of another explanation for that verse. So it would make sense that once humanity is redeemed, creation can go back to being non-screwed up. That's why it's waiting for us to be redeemed, and also sort of explains the "birth pangs" metaphor-- its decay and degradation are painful but productive, in that they help to bring forth new life.

There's some parts that this view doesn't explain (why use that phrase "revealed in us"? Why does it say that the creation, upon being freed, will be brought into "the glorious liberty of the children of God"?) I'm still inclined to think that the truth has some of both ideas in it... sort of like how the Fall was caused by humanity's action, even though we didn't physically go out and plant all the thorns, the redemption of creation will also somehow come "through" humanity.

Anyhow, more later.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Not worthy to be compared

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed in us. The earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God

I just spent like three posts on suffering, but Paul here only spends half a sentence on it before he dismisses it as not that important. This is so fascinating! I think it was Andrew in a comment was talking about how Paul is guiding his readers sort of step-by-step through the process of salvation from beginning to end, and each step gently prepares his readers for the next one. And it is gentle... he spends a lot of time elaborately establishing why we can't live according to the flesh, what the alternative, the exact role of the Holy Spirit in relation to the Father in relation to Jesus in relation to us, how exactly flesh and spirit will both be redeemed and the nature of the new life that they are redeemed into. You'd think that would have to be the last step, but no! it gets even better, better than that! to such an extent that human suffering, which most likely to his readers is one of the more important facts of their present lives, gets only an oblique mention (here, at least) as a means on the way to it.

The reason, of course, is that his sufferings are not worthy to be compared with, and I love this phrase, "the glory which will be revealed in us." A couple things here... it's not our glory and it doesn't originate with us, but it's not the glory we will experience externally, either. It will be revealed, to the creation, in us. From being the means by which creation is cursed, we will become the vessels for the glory which will be revealed to it.

This is too exciting a topic to finish off at the end of a post!

Monday, May 3, 2010

What do we do while we're waiting to suffer?

To those who have seen
The Child, however dimly, however incredulously,
The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.
For the innocent children who whispered so excitedly
Outside the locked door where they knew the presents to be
Grew up when it opened. Now, recollecting that moment
We can repress the joy, but the guilt remains conscious;
Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It.
And craving the sensation but ignoring the cause,
We look round for something, no matter what, to inhibit
Our self-reflection, and the obvious thing for that purpose
Would be some great suffering. So, once we have met the Son,
We are tempted ever after to pray to the Father;
"Lead us into temptation and evil for our sake."
They will come, all right, don't worry; probably in a form
That we do not expect, and certainly with a force
More dreadful than we can imagine. In the meantime
There are bills to be paid, machines to keep in repair,
Irregular verbs to learn, the Time Being to redeem
From insignificance. The happy morning is over,
The night of agony still to come; the time is noon:
When the Spirit must practice his scales of rejoicing
Without even a hostile audience, and the Soul endure
A silence that is neither for nor against her faith
That God's Will will be done, That, in spite of her prayers,
God will cheat no one, not even the world of its triumph.

WH Auden, end of the Christmas Oratorio

Not like WH Auden has any right to be my spiritual authority, but I like this poem a lot and thought I might take a digression and figure out if its view is biblical. According to this, as I understand, we see Jesus by glimpses and briefly experience his order of things, where he and no longer we are the center and everything takes on significance in relation to Him. But we go back to our lives and the mundane world comes with us, and in day-to-day life everything loses its significance, including ourselves, and our joy at seeing Jesus becomes guilt that we weren't able to sustain that life we were invited into and that the promised joy was not really able to redeem our lives. Hence, the reason to seek suffering to inhibit our self-reflection. But this comes from "craving the sensation but ignoring the Cause." But in bringing people who are His into boring and non-significant everyday life, to praise Him and trust Him in its small productive activities, he 'redeems from insignificance' broken machines and irregular verbs themselves. Hence, God does not even cheat the World of its triumph.

I think the reason I like this so much is that if we're trying to follow Jesus we think about life at the extremes a lot. Our theology tells us how to live for Jesus if, say, someone offers to kill us if we don't deny Him, but not terribly much about how to live for him while doing statistics homework. A logical implication to this is, stop spending so much time doing statistics homework and start to get into situations where people offer to kill you. I'm thinking about when I first read Bonhoeffer's chapter "The Call to Discipleship" about how every disciple of Jesus needs to radically leave behind all their safety and livelihood so he can be the only thing that they follow or trust in. My instinct said, 1. Is that Biblical? 2. If everyone left their nets, who would catch fish to feed people? and 3. We only can leave behind our lives and follow Jesus when he calls us, and he doesn't actually call us right away or all the time. What do we do while we're waiting to suffer?

And so I guess I'm back to where I was at the end of the last post, but now I know WH Auden agrees with me :) We bring Jesus into our pointless sufferings now, our 'spirit practices his scales of rejoicing'. The greater sufferings will come, but in Jesus, not only the great sufferings will be redeemed and glorified and merged with his (because not even our greatest sufferings ever could possibly compare or even have anything to do with his; really, compared with his suffering, could even martyrdom be more redemptive than a stubbed toe, apart from his mercy which declares that it shall be?) but the little sufferings of the boring day-to-day world, because they are part of our redemption, will also be redeemed. As the poem says a bit later,

"He is the Life
Love Him in the World of the Flesh
And at your marriage, all its occasions will dance for joy"