Bible blog 2007

ROMANS 8: 26-30

In the same way the Spirit works alongside us in our weakness: we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit itself pleads for us in wordless groans; and the Searcher of Hearts understands the intention of the Spirit because it pleads for God’s people in God’s way. Indeed we know, that with those who love God, all things co-operate for good; with those, that is, who are called to be part of His plan. Those, whom he knew in advance, he also designed in advance to be re-shaped in the likeness of his Son, so that He might be the firstborn among many siblings. Yes, those he designed in advance, he also called to his side; and those he called, he also made into just people; and those he made just, he also made splendid.

My daughter, who suffers from an acute depressive disorder, is again ill, so I know what Paul means about wordless groans. I don’t know how to pray for her, or indeed anyone else, other than entrusting them to the One who enlivens the dead and brings the worlds out of nothing. The spirit is nothing other than the shared being of all things which share the being of God. This is neither pantheism (God is eveything) or even the fashionable panentheism (God is in everything) but the biblical truth that everything is in God ( I don’t have a word for this): “In him we live and move and have our being.” We can refuse to share this Spirit, often instead sharing our lives with false gods who control us, but when we do open ourselves to the creative Spirit, we are freed from idols. I can sort of imagine what Paul means when he says this creative Spirit prays for me: it does not by-pass me but adopts my anguish as part of its divine being. I can even imagine, that when I am open to this Spirit, my messy self is being made over, however minimally, in the character of Jesus. I believe that this can be true for my daughter also and for all who struggle with illness of the mind and soul – indeed for all people who open themselves to the lovely and terrible Spirit of change.

But there is something here I can’t imagine. How can Paul say that everything cooperates for good? I love God as well as I can but cannot see my daughter’s illness as any part of any good. Yet I know that Paul included the suffering of Messiah Jesus and his personal sufferings as part of the “all things” that cooperate for good. Doubtless this is why some translators have rendered it as ” IN all things GOD cooperates for good with those who love him.” I see no justification for this translation which reflects respectable belief rather than the wild words of Paul. I think he is recording  in these words a faith that is beyond me.

The fuss made over this passage as evidence for or against the doctrine of predestination seems to me misplaced. Paul often speaks of God’s plan for creation. Here he simply refers to the way God selects, designs, calls and beautifies the human beings he needs to carry out his plan. This is not a picture of John Calvin’s divine puppet master, but much more of God as the kind of skilled tradesman that Paul knew and indeed was.

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