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 labour 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.
I would need to have greater experience of suffering before stating so confidently to others, ‘the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.’
Of course, it’s Paul who says it, and he knew more about suffering than I do. Beaten, rejected and imprisoned on more than one occasion, he was, most likely, executed on account of his faith in Jesus. And Jesus certainly knew what it was to suffer.
Yet Paul has the vision to connect his personal suffering, and Jesus’s sufferings, with the big picture. Yes, currently, everything is caught up in futility and decay, but (and it’s a big ‘but’) this is with Creation’s glorious freedom always in view and always intended.
Believing that current suffering will give way to glorious freedom does not arise from a careful calculation of our current circumstances. Whether we’re pondering experiences of personal suffering or the prospects for a planet ravaged by humanly caused climate change, matters in themselves are too complex, and often the details too depressing, for us to foresee the future with clarity or with sunny optimism.
Instead, along with Paul, we hope for what we do not see. We work towards that for which we hope – individual joy, renewed relationships, a flourishing planet. We continue to do so, even when we struggle and ‘groan’, sometimes wondering if we will ever achieve these things.
What will keep us going in such unpromising circumstances? It’s recognising that our best actions are actually a joining-in with God’s firm intention for the glorious freedom of all things. In such realisation we find hope, and in and by such divinely inspired hope we are saved.
Gracious God, even amidst futility and decay, give us a vision of your glorious freedom; for ourselves, for others, for your world. And give us hope so that we may continue to work towards it. Amen.
The Rev’d Trevor Jamison, Minister, St Columba’s United Reformed Church, North Shields.
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