ROMANS 8: 18-25
I reckon that the sufferings of this present age are nothing in comparison with the splendour that will be revealed to us; for the creation peers ahead eagerly towards the unveiling of God’s children.The universe was made subject to frailty, not by its own decision, but by the One who subjected it, in hope that the universe itself will be liberated from its slavery to decay into the splendid freedom of God’s children.For we know that until this day all creation groans together in the pains of childbirth – and not only creation, but even we who have the Spirit as the firstfruits of God’s harvest, groan within ourselves as we await our adoption as children, that is, the ransoming of our bodies from death: we are rescued in hope. Now, a hope that is seen is not hope- who hopes for what she sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, then we await it steadfastly.
(translated M Mair 2016)
It is a commonplace claim of lazy atheists that faith denies the happenstance of history by selecting some events as determined by God; and justifies the suffering of sentient beings by inventing a heaven where nobody suffers.
Paul respects what he calls the “frailty” or “emptiness” of the created universe, just as he also respects the suffering of its creatures. He makes the interesting claim that the creator had subjected the creation to this condition. How can that square with the scripture that asserts the goodness of creation in God’s eyes? I think Paul sees the process as good in its completion, while noting that suffering is part of the process. That means seeing the suffering as part of the goodness, as well as part of the chaos and wrongness that oppose creation. Out this contradictory understanding comes his transformative metaphor of suffering as the birth pains of God’s perfect creation in which there will be no more suffering because death will have been overcome.
This is a leap of faith which is based on the suffering and resurrection of Jesus who as Paul believed, expressed his identity as a child of God in his willingness to suffer and die for God’s goodness, and found it confirmed in his resurrection. This leads to the astonishing assertion that universal suffering and the anguish of believers are in fact positive indicators of what is to come.
But it has not yet come and can only be defined as hope.
This comforts me as I recognise the recalcitrance to goodness of my own will and the stubborn evils of the world. Faith in Jesus does not demand that I lie about my own or the world’s condition. I can be aware of the utter imperfection of my life and of creation and make it a stimulus for a hope that commits my life to God’s process of change.
This faith and this hope, however, are not primarily individual but communal experiences of the assemblies of Jesus, who hope that they are signs of the new world.