This is the second portion of the message I shared Sunday:
In the book of Romans, Paul says this: in chapters 8 verses 18-25:
18I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that[i] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
22We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
I wonder what it was like, in Paul’s sexist society to read those words. In his world, there was all sorts of segregation between the genders. There was something that looks like fear of the biological difference between men and women. Basically, the grown men acted like a 5th grader who’s grown up with out sisters, in terms of how comfortable they were with the reality of women’s biology. Even today, most guys, myself include, feel a little goofy about being compared to women in labor. In his day, this suggestion must
have been almost scandalous.
But there is brilliance in this comparison. Despite the cultural baggage, this is such a powerful phrase. Paul is saying more than just all of creation—including us—are suffering. He could have provided plenty of examples of things that both genders experience that are painful. Notice, for example that he doesn’t say, “The whole of creation is groaning as in the pains of a kidney stone.”
Kidney stones hit men and women. We expect him to have gone this route, avoided the whole uncomfortable thing and gone with something relevant to men and women.
If you focus on this specific experiences and not the wider picture, there’s not much difference between passing a kidney stone and having a baby. They both involve a painful process of getting something inside a body outside a body. They both involve receiving medical support. They both tend to happen to adults. We know what causes both and often can predict when they are coming.
The thing is, nobody gets all emotional about passing a kidney stone. Nobody calls the experience beautiful and video tapes it. I’m hoping nobody names the little stone and feels a connection to it.
It’s the end of the story that makes child birth beautiful. It’s the end of the story that accounts for the meaningful differences between child birth and passing a kidney stone. It’s the wider context.
Every pain you feel, every struggle you have, every challenge you face, whether you experience that as beautiful, like a child birth, or painful, like a kidney stone…
So much depends on what we see as the wider context.
When Paul describes us as groaning in child birth, he’s evoking this idea that there is an end to our suffering that is worth waiting for. Interestingly, he mentions that this end is felt both by the whole world and by individual people.
This particular groups of verses highlights a tension. It highlights dangers going in to either one of two extremes.
At one extreme are people with out anything to hope in. They are people who don’t believe that there is anything wider than the story.
Do you watch lost?
This week there was this great exchange between Sawyer and the character who appears to be John Locke. Locke says, “Do you know why you’re here”
And in a great, black comedy moment, Sawyer says “I’m here because my plane crashed. And my raft sank. And the helicopter ran out of gas. And the submarine turned around.”
And Locke said, “No, that’s not why you’re here at all.”
Locke was a bit like a person who might tell me that I got the three little pigs story wrong. When it wasn’t so much that I got wrong. It was that I didn’t include enough.
Locke is basically telling Sawyer that he knows why all those things happened. He knows the end of the story. And what goes on at the end of the story changes everything.
These are people who, like Sawyer, believe that the end of the story is what it appears to be. As individuals we die with our bodies and then our bodies rot, just as the world is going to die in a nuclear war or get swallowed into the sun or washed away under melting ice caps.
David Foster Wallace was the writer of “Infinte Jest.” He looked like he was going to be the next big thing. His book was a tremendous bestseller. He became something of a rock-star writer. He was profiled in magazines like Details and Rolling Stone.
He was not a Christian.
There are ways that he brings to mind, for me, King Solomon, who wrote “Eclesiastes”, the book that Marty preached from a couple weeks ago. Wallace was smart, rich, and well connected. On the surface, it appeared he had everything going for him.
He said “I think the reason why people behave in a really ugly manner is that it’s really scary to be alive and to be human and people are really, really afraid. Fear is the basic condition… But the fact of the matter is, is that, is the that the job we’re here to do is to learn how to live in a way that we’re not terrified all the time… The face I’d put on that terror is the dawning realization that nothing’s enough, you know? That no pleasure is enough, no achievement is enough.”
In short, there’s nothing within our story that makes it worth it.
I wish I could report that this was just a momentary thought of Wallaces. I wish I could tell you that he found an end of the story to have hope in. But a few years after that quote, the talk therapy and psychiatric medications he was taking stopped working. After a long, painful decent, David Foster Wallace took his own life.
I am not niave enough to think that if David Foster Wallace had simply opened a bible once, that we can truly know that some sort-of instant and life changing transformation would have occurred.
But I do know that he was was a wealthy man who had access to the best health care in the world. It’s clear that everything the therapists and psychiatrists were doing simply wasn’t enough. It’s also clear that he tried to find a better end to the story of his own life, that he wanted to live in a story with a satisfactory ending.
Wallace had too little to hope in.
But at the other end of the spectrum is the idea that we become so full of ourselves that we think we can see exactly what it is that we’re hoping in. We think we know.
Scripture tell us that Hope that is seen is no hope at all.
If God could paint a picture of exactly what our eternity is, he would kill our hope. If we actually saw, it wouldn’t be hope any more at all. There’s an idea implied here that’s spelled out elsewhere in scripture. Hoping makes us better. It grows our patience.
If we ask ourselves what we use to see, the first thing we answer is “our eyes.” But if we consider it a moment, we’d realize that we use our past experiences and our limited concepts as much as we do our eyes.
Anthropologists have this interesting story to tell about aborigines. There are people who spend their whole lives in the jungle. The largest open spaces they ever see are smaller than this stage. They never experience the effect that things that are further off are smaller.
When you take these aborigines into a plain, and they see an elephant several miles away, they assume that the elephant is tiny. The aborigine is seeing.
When we see something new, we always base our responses on what we have seen before. Have you ever had a friend who shaved off their beard or radically changed hair styles, and you didn’t even notice because you just projected what you expected to be there?
If we think we can see our eternity, we’re using only our past, limited, and fallible experiences in a fallen world.
There are people who call themselves followers of Christ, I think, who go to this extreme. They believe that they can see. And they kill hope. I was one, when I was stingy with the water with that kid. I believed that I was following Christ. I placed my hope in him for my salvation. And yet the salvation I was longing for, it wasn’t a whole lot. I thought that I could still see that the world was the sort of place where you should give people what they deserve. I should have held on to the hope that it was more.
Some times I watch my brothers and sisters in Christ. And I squirm on the inside. I want to disassociate myself from them. They look at the economy of the world: things are bought, things are paid for, you get what you deserve and you deserve what you get. And when they talk about life like good deeds earn us God’s frequent flier miles. If you can only earn enough of them, you get to redeem them at the end to take a plane ride to heaven.
Sometimes, we even treat Jesus like he’s some sort-of pack animal. We think of him as the instrument of transportation, not transformation. He’s going to give us a ride to some destination, and then we’re going to dismount, leave Him behind, and go run amuck in some sort-of theme park that’s been waiting for us.
The focus is on escape. And the reason for all the good they do is called into question. Their lives of goodness were simply an attempt to bribe God. Their acceptance of Jesus is really just a plan to get him to take us to Heaven.