We end this second week, and first half of Romans, with another familiar funeral text. Once more, we might best start by ‘un-learning’ a dominant interpretation and use. The dominant culture pictures an individual spirit or soul, leaving a body at death, and taking its ‘ticket to heaven’
There’s a powerful image invoked here, of cosmic labour and birthing, rather than a disembodied transit of spirits. Imagine a panentheistic God, groaning in the birthpains, blood and guts and all… It’s a bit like John texts, with the risk or threat of dualism always nearby, invoking blood sacrifice to ground us again, to defy the Gnostic elitist spiritualizing of the faith.
I much prefer the modesty of these claims, that God works with us, as a partner, not a champion to do it for us, or against ‘them’. Even if we don’t have our act together, we get to put it on the road already. You also know by now that I echo this hymn to hope: I often quote Henri Nouwen,
distinguishing hope from wishes – that anchors patience and endurance.
The text positions Paul, and so us, as defending against accusations, rather than identifying with the prosecutor, or worse, with the judge. God intercedes for us as an advocate, but does not relieve us from the world. My history of tradition of Romans 8:29, 30, in a Calvinist heritage, is about doctrines of ‘election’ (softened by Methodist ‘Arminianism’ acknowledging choice).
At its best, it relies on God’s providential process given to us, rather than focusing on our prudential response to God, as the main part of being put right or in right relations.
I feel obliged as well to acknowledge the Akedah reference, The allusion to Abraham’s sacrifice of his son (Isaac in Jewish tradition, Ishmael in Islam). We’ll engage Abraham again in Romans.
For now, let’s un-learn our dominant readings: neither God, nor Abraham, must be read as abusive child-killers, indulging in human sacrifice… or totalitarian demands and obedience.
Nor does that version of ‘blood atonement’ have to rule us: that God ‘spent’ or ‘paid’ for us using Jesus his son, analogous to Abraham offering his son to God…
What if God was disappointed with Abraham’s obedience, his incomplete exercise of his God-given autonomy? The Akedah story invited him to argue back against God! Similarly, God’s offer of Jesus is not unilateral murder but provoking, arguing, inviting us to recognize and respond.
The last verses catalogue the putative challenges to God’s loving action in Christ, to the faithfulness of God
Once more, the diction includes grand metaphysics, about an enchanted universe, transpersonal forces, principalities and powers angelic and demonic forces.
Let’s not reduce it to phenomenology, In the current academic vogue appropriating our hermeneutical traditions.
You have lots of notes from many preachers, Given the popularity of this text. How do you ‘read Paul’ in chapter 8?
18 For I consider that the sufferings of the present time are not comparable with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
19 For the eager longing of creation is awaiting the revelation of the sons-of-God.
20 For creation was subjected to futility,
not willingly but all because of him who subjected [it], in hope
21 that also creation itself will be set free
from bondage to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
22 For we know that the whole creation groans together and suffers pangs together
23 Not only that, but also we ourselves, who have the Spirit as the first fruits, also we ourselves groan among ourselves, waiting for adoption, that is, the redemption of our body.
24 For it is in hope that we are saved. [The object of] hope which is seen is not [really] hope, for why should someone [need to] hope for what one sees?
25 But since we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patient endurance.
26 Similarly, also the Spirit helps our weakness, for we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the very Spirit intercedes with unspoken groans.
27 For he who searches the hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, that [the Spirit] makes petition in accordance with God [‘s will] on behalf of the saints.
28 We know that he [God] works together in all things for the good with those who love God, with those who are called according to purpose.
29 For those whom he chose beforehand he also designated beforehand to be of the same form as the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many
30 and those whom he designated he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified
he also glorified.
31 What then shall we say with respect to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?
32 If it is true that he “did not spare his own son” (Gen 22:16) but delivered him up for us all, how will he not also with him give to us [as inheritance] all things?
33 Who could bring a charge against the elect of God? [Since] God “justifies,
34 who could condemn” (Isa 50:8)? [It is] Christ Jesus who died, or better, was raised, who is at the right hand of God,
who also intercedes for us.
35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
36 As it is written: “For thy sake we are being killed the whole day, we have been reckoned as the sheep of slaughter”
37 But in all these things we are super victors through him who loved us.
38 For I am convinced that [nothing],
death nor life, angels nor principalities,
present things nor future things, nor powers,
39 height nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord
19 The created world itself can hardly wait
for what's coming next.
20 Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in
21 until both creation and all the creatures
are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.
22 All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it's not only around us;
it's within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We're also feeling the birth pangs.
23 These sterile and barren bodies of ours
are yearning for full deliverance.
24 That is why waiting does not diminish us,
any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don't see what is enlarging us.
25 But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.
26 Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God's Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don't know how or what to pray, it doesn't matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.
27 He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition,
and keeps us present before God.
28 That's why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.
29 God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset
to shape the lives of those who love him
along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him.
30 After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end,
gloriously completing what he had begun.
31 So, what do you think? With God on our side like this,how can we lose?
32 If God didn't hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition
and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else
he wouldn't gladly and freely do for us?
33 And who would dare tangle with God
by messing with one of God's chosen?
34 Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us - who was raised to life for us! – is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us.
35 Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ's love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:
36 They kill us in cold blood because they hate you. We're sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.
37 None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us.
38 I'm absolutely convinced that nothing
- nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow,
39 high or low, thinkable or unthinkable –
absolutely nothing can get between us and God's love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.