For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Romans 8:18).
This verse from St. Paul with which we begin today is either true or staggeringly evil and cruel. Our parish is certainly not without suffering; in truth, everyone here is suffering in some way or another as our physical strength weakens, our beauty fades, and our intellects slowly betray us. They say getting old is hard, but it’s also a kind of gift as it daily reminds us that there is something very broken about the human creature—so obviously created for beauty—falling apart like an old Hyundai. And if it isn’t our bodies falling apart, there’s always something else. It could be our marriages, our jobs, our families, but, whatever it is, there is always some suffering in our lives at which we can point and scream, ‘It’s too much God, there is no possible glory which could outweigh what I am going through now!’ When one culls through the personal stories of evangelistic atheists—people who spend their days and nights being very angry at a God they say doesn’t exist—one will usually find a great personal loss which leads them to ask, ‘What kind of good god would allow this suffering to happen?’ When, in truth, they should be asking, ‘Why would an evil god or the dark abyss of ultimate randomness create anything that is good?’
St. Paul has calculated the data which lies before him (the true sense of that word ‘reckon’); he has weighed the vast history of creaturely suffering against the promises of God—promises made empirically inevitable through the resurrection of Jesus Christ—and when he weighs those two items the great scale breaks before him with the immeasurable weight of glory which awaits the creation. As he says in his second letter to the Corinthians, ‘So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal’ (2 Cor. 4:16-18). Our resurrected eternity spent in the presence of God is the variable which makes all our calculations of gains and losses preposterous; particularly, since we are being gifted this resurrected, embodied eternity spent in a new world of love and justice and peace. Trying to measure temporary suffering against eternal glory is like trying to measure how much space five ounces of water take up in an ocean or how much sin can fit in the grace filled creation God is saving. As Paul writes, ‘But where sin abounded [in the creation], grace did much more abound: That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord’ (Romans 5:20-21).
It is this reign over the kingdom of grace which St. Paul is declaring to be the destiny of all the adopted sons and daughters of God when he writes, ‘For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God’ (Romans 8:19). Up until this point in Paul’s grand argument, it might have been possible to misunderstand salvation as only affecting human creatures and come away with a small and truncated view of God’s mercy and love: a self-centered view of redemption packaged and sold by so much of American Christianity wherein my personal transformation, my well-being, and my comfort are the sole purpose of being a savvy religious consumer. The process, more Hindu than Christian, goes something like this: a person does good things (the list of ‘good things’ being determined by the individual himself), and then the person gets to retire to heaven. I fear Christianity has lost much of its attraction to young people not because churches don’t have enough drum sets and TikTok videos, but because most young people don’t think they will ever be able to retire in this life, and so they can’t fathom being able to retire in the next.
Blessedly, the kingdom of God is not a kingdom of idleness or sloth but a kingdom of restoration—a kingdom in which the adopted sons and daughters of God respond to their own Christ given liberation from sin and death by joining with our Older Brother in setting the creation free from its bondage to corruption and death. The language Paul uses here is taken from the grand story of man’s redemption, starting with the fall of man in the garden: when Adam, humanity’s first representative, took off his God given crown of authority over the creation and handed it to the Devil, moving to the 1st exodus of God’s people from slavery under Pharaoh, to the incomplete setting free of the Holy Land by the 1st Joshua. We see a pattern in which God acts mightily to create or liberate His people, so that they can then go and be God’s divine instruments of justice for the creation. Here is the true Biblical pattern of Christian life: the Father liberates/recreates us through the Son so we can, by the Holy Spirit’s power and guidance, actually go and be the guardians of creation Adam and Eve were created to be. As St. Paul says in his letter to the Galatians, ‘For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another’ (Galatians 5:13). We have been set free for a purpose and that purpose is to reign over the new creation, but for now, our reign must look like our Lord’s when He too was on this side of the resurrection; our reign must look like humble service, devoted worship, and steadfast faith in the promises of the Father.
That mission starts even now, as Christians should be at the forefront of efforts to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, care for the sick, and protect the creation from its rapists, not to ‘build the kingdom of God’ as so-called Progressive Christians call this kind of work, but because Christ followers care for the created things of God because we are the suffering, serving witnesses to the inevitable future glory God showcases again and again through the salvation-history of His people. We are the living evidence of God’s refusal to let the creation extinguish itself in futility; we are human beings called out from the world to live as harbingers: the first fruits of an entire cosmos set right. This calling is a grave and mighty one, and it will be impossible to live up to if we don’t fully trust in the risen Christ who already reigns in glory and ‘sitteth on the right hand of God;’ if we don’t believe St. Paul’s words when he says to all true Christians ‘…you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory’ (Col. 3:3-4). There lies the great chasm between the true Christian calling in this life and all the other belief systems masquerading as such: the true Christian knows glory will never be his this side of the resurrection, and so he sacrifices and suffers not to receive some perishable trinket of this transitory age, nor expecting the love he takes to be equal to the love he makes; rather, the Christian groans along with the soon to be resurrected creation; he inwardly grieves at the state of the fallen world and lives for the future weight of glory the Holy Spirit is preparing him to bear.
And if we recognize our place in salvation-history, if we recognize our place in the mighty acts of God in time and space, we can take each day for what it actually is: one blink of the eye for a royal priestly people preparing to storm the castles of evil and take back what is rightfully ours. As St. Paul writes to the Thessalonians, ‘For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air…’ (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). The Lord who returns on that day will not be coming back to attend anyone’s church picnic. On that day, Jesus Christ—the 2nd Joshua—will return to cleanse the new earth, the new Holy Land, the new creation, of the evil which the 1st Adam was too weak to exterminate. The evil which smiles at the death of children, laughs at the slaughter of men, and lives to keep humanity weak and enslaved to idols. Jesus is returning to bury evil forever, and St. Paul is telling us today that by the free grace of God it will be the resurrected victims of evil’s tragic reign who will follow our resurrected king into the last battle of the last war in the last hour of this fallen world. We learn that our entire life has been about winning this battle.
‘What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?’ (Romans 8:31). Knowing this truth, let us then devoutly pray that we are always on God’s side, and let us truly prepare for the glorious revelation of the sons and daughters of God.