Present Sufferings, Eager Longings, & Inward Groanings
Lectio: Romans 8:12-25
So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Meditatio: Present Sufferings
Our “present” sufferings are just that: present. Here, now, not to be ignored. But they are also not promised to last. Easter’s resurrection demonstrates that the world does not end in a tomb, in death, in darkness; instead, our “end” (as in “goal”) is a new body, a new earth, and a new community. The glory that is to come, the glory that has already come as a foretaste and firstfruit, outweighs whatever we face here and now.
Paul says, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” This word consider suggests the image of a balance, a system of scales. Paul has placed our suffering on one side, and against this, the glory of the hope of the resurrection of the body and the second coming of Christ and presence of the kingdom of God on earth, and Paul has found all this to far outweigh any suffering here now. And remember that Paul had his sufferings. In other parts of the New Testament, Paul almost boasts how much he’s had to endure for the sake of the gospel; but here, Paul throws all of it away, saying that all of this is not even worth comparing with the coming glory.
All of this boils down to hope for Paul. Radical, unwavering, confident, surprising hope. And what, then, is hope? Christian hope is Spirit-assured, Spirit-led waiting and praying through suffering, weakness, and groaning.
We have only so much control over who we are. The good news is not that the gospel gives us the control we crave, but that the resurrection of Jesus Christ demonstrates to us that “who we are” is not the truest thing about us; instead, “who we are becoming” far outweighs our current situation. All of our selves — our negatives and positives and glories and failings — will be transformed someday, someday soon. Not forgotten, but redeemed and made to bear the fruit of the gospel.
Oratio: Eager Longings
Lord, Jesus Christ, Risen God reigning now,
We pray for your return, not so that we might escape all of the suffering and horrors and terror and violence our world is succumbing to, but so that we might embrace the fullness that we audaciously hope is coming with your return.
We hope for infinitely more than nonviolence, nonhatred, and nondeath. We hope for peace, love, and life abundant, and these can only be found in you.
Contemplatio: Inward Groanings
What is our duty, then? (In verse 12, Paul writes that “we are debtors.”) Our responsibility is how we stand in relationship to who we are and who we are becoming. If we embrace “who I am” as the ultimate, that is living “according to the flesh.” That is to deny any possibility of a future that is any different/better. That is to deny the resurrection, which is to deny salvation and Jesus and heaven and everything. But if, instead, we embrace “who we are becoming by the grace of God,” that is how we live in hope, by the Spirit, and it is in that hope that we will be saved.
This hope is the Christian’s identity: that we are somehow sealed for something greater, and we hope profoundly that what we can’t quite see is nevertheless coming.
This hope is also then, the Christian’s great work: that our audacious hope drives us to do audacious things that only make sense if the world is going to become what the Spirit tells us it will.
To close, I share this quote from the Slow Church conversation:
“On one hand, the book is certainly driven by the social, ecological and economic urgency of the crises we face today, but while alluding to these crises throughout the book, we didn’t want our argument to be driven by fear (there are plenty of other books out there that do that!) On the other hand, there is a fine line between urgency and haste (particularly as seen in the sorts of activist faith that are so eager to act without considering how). I hope that our book bears witness to the way of Jesus that holds (perfectly) in tension the patience of God that enters into the suffering of others and the desire to see all parts of creation reconciled.“