Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Spirit helps us in our weakness

Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered. And He who reads the heart knows the mind of the Spirit, because He makes intercession for the saints in accordance with the will of God.

So, I think that the rest of the Romans 8 is just showing us why, as long as we are trying, we don't need to be afraid that we will somehow screw stuff up through being dumb or inadequate. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all working together to keep us safe.

The word "Likewise" is really interesting here. In the previous verses, the earth was groaning with the birth pangs of the new creation, and in the same way humanity was groaning for their full adoption and redemption. You could take this to just be pain or frustration, of the aaaaaah! why is it coming so slowly?? kind. But here Paul says that the Spirit is also groaning, and that His is productive. Our own distress or longing might be futile or misdirected, but the Spirit is in us, and He knows what we need and expresses it even when it's beyond our own expression.

So even though our own hearts don't know what we need, the mind of the Spirit does and so through Him our Jesus, who loves and intercedes for us, knows exactly what we need. But, and I love this, there's no opposition or argument in the intercession... Jesus is appealing to God for us because God wants Him to; that's the only way Jesus can. And so ... so strange... there's this intimate and beautifully balanced arrangement of divine family love and cooperation, that I am a part of now, when I pray! And it doesn't really matter if I pray right, because the Spirit is praying for me all the things that I don't even know about. I feel like our position is like people in surgery under the best surgeon in the world.. it's painful (and still maybe kind of risky), but the appropriate thing to do is to relax and not worry, knowing that the one who's working on us knows what he's doing.

Of course it's easy to write about all this now, when I'm not praying for anything desperately and feeling like it's not being answered or heard. But I need to remember this when that does happen, because I know it's not any less true then.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

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. For in that hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is not hope at all, for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverence.

I love this. Martin Luther, as I think I quoted before, calls Romans 8 the great chapter of consolation and comfort to the Christian following God but still struggling with the flesh, and to me this verse is close to the heart of that consolation. Here is my understanding of it, which I'm not sure is correct.

The first thing to notice is that our groaning is directly parallel to the groaning of creation. Why is creation groaning? With birth pangs; in giving birth to the new and redeemed creation. It was subjected to futility and corruption, but in hope... that is, if the previous interpretation is correct, the hope that God's beloved children would return to him and enter into his glorious liberty.

And we are groaning in the same way and for the same reason. And I'm pretty sure it's implied that it's because we have the Spirit--the first little bit of the Spirit, not the whole thing yet--that this is happening. It's the Spirit within us, groaning for our own futility to end, hating the sin and selfishness and stupidity that still make us miserable and prevent us from being like Jesus. So far, I guess I am not making this sound very consoling.

But I talk to so many people who are in so much distress because they can't shake off their sin, and it makes them so sad, and fearful that they aren't really saved or that Jesus is not really powerful in their lives. And my understanding of this verse is that it says that your distress at your sin is actually a sign that you have the first-fruits of the Spirit, and that it is working in you and redeeming you. Your anger at your sin (though not sadness and fearfulness, which are wrong) is or can be the holy anger of the Spirit, with which you are agreeing. And, my hippie-self says, your unhappiness at your sin joins you with the concerted efforts of the creation, to get rid of it, to be made new and reconciled with both God and creation.

And this is the hope we were saved in. I love that Paul puts in the next part; I think it's directly for people who are so anxious and sad because they can't seem to stop sinning. We are HOPING and WAITING to become like Jesus, to be fully adopted and redeemed. Don't worry too much, I think he's saying, if you keep falling down. Why would we still be hoping and waiting, if we were already there? Going back to what we were saying about creation, and the fall actually being mercy on us because it makes us seek God... I think that maybe that's why God takes so long sometimes to free us from the things we hate about ourselves. Because, for example, if he completely freed me from my carelessness and sloppiness today and I didn't have to fight them any more, my pride, which maybe I don't notice and don't hate, might grow more and keep me from recognizing my need to Jesus, and so from seeking him and loving him. In this way, I sort of think...and it might be wrong... that we, like creation, are subjected to futility in hope, because God doesn't want otherwise perfect people that don't love him.

So the correct response to our own continued sin, I think he's saying, is not to hate ourselves or doubt God's power to change us, or to say it's ok that we don't change, but to try hard to set our minds on the things of the Spirit and to walk accordingly, while trusting that we are in God's loving and powerful hands and that he is working to change us even if we can't see it ... that is, to eagerly wait with perseverance.

I think the rest of Romans 8 is about why we don't need worry; that there really aren't any holes we can accidentally fall through.