I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration…in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved…. But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
-Romans 8:18-25 (NIV)
Kerri Strug. Derrick Redmond. If you’re a fan of the Olympics, you might already know the names, or at least remember the stories. Kerri nailed a one-footed landing on a vault to give the US Women’s Gynastics team a gold medal in 1996 - despite having torn two ligaments in her ankle on the previous vault. Derrick finished his 400 m semifinal race in 1992 - with a little help from his dad - despite having torn his hamstring. And, of course, if I ask if “you believe in miracles,” you’ll probably think of a certain hockey game in Lake Placid, New York in the winter of 1980, long before NHL players were allowed in the Olympics.
This year, it might be Sarah Burke’s name that stands out most. She worked tirelessly to get her sport, Women’s Free Skiing, into this year’s Olympics, but was killed in a training accident less than a year after the IOC voted to include it. Her last conversation with fellow skier Marie Martinod, of France, was to convince her to end her retirement from the sport to ski in the Olympics.
Martinod won silver.
At least part of what we like in the Olympics are the stories like that - stories of redemption. Recovery from injury. Underdogs winning against all odds. Veterans with so-so careers pulling it all together for one final medal run. Newcomers shaking up a sport by performing far above their age and experience. Family and friends banding together to support an athlete. Never mind that there are plenty of stories at every Olympics that don’t exactly go that way. We watch to see athletes do things that we never could, to be sure. But the stories we love most are the stories where pain is overcome, injustice is vanquished, fear is defeated, and quitting is denied. Stories of redemption.
I think human beings are drawn to stories of redemption because redemption is something we’re all searching for. The first time we tell a playmate that something they did isn’t fair, the first time we see evil and injustice for what it is and say, “that’s not right,” our innocence is lost a little. We notice for the first time that the world we live in isn’t quite right. Its equilibrium is off. The weak are pushed into the dirt by the strong. The poor too often remain poor, while those who could help most accumulate more for themselves. We see influential people feathering their own nests, leaders who should be mindful of those they lead interested only in what they can squeeze out of them. We see disease and catastrophe take random victims. We find out that some parents abuse their children, and that some children neglect their parents. Things aren’t right. And that desire for things to be right comes out most clearly in our love for stories of redemption.
That’s why, in Hollywood, the good guy always wins. Even if he dies, his death has a purpose. People stay away from movies and TV shows in droves if they don’t get their redemption fix.
We want to believe that somehow, somewhere, sometime, things will make sense. What’s not right will get fixed. We want to believe in redemption.
We groan for it, says Paul: especially, he says, those who “have the first fruits of the Spirit.” He means that Christians, people who have put their faith in Jesus, have a sharpened sense of how things ought to be because the Spirit of the Creator of “things” lives in us. If human beings naturally seem to ache for redemption, for Christians that desire is a knife in the gut, twisting. In another place, he calls the Holy Spirit a “down payment” on the redemption that’s coming when Christ returns. It’s a taste, but it doesn’t satisfy completely. It’s a preview, but it’s not the main event. It’s a trailer, but the premiere is still down the road a click or two. And that’s why we “groan.”
We groan because it hurts to know what’s coming but see it so delayed. It hurts to see people die knowing that one day death will be a relic of the past. It hurts to see people hurt each other knowing that one day injustice will be dealt with definitively. It hurts to see the marks of evil and sin and death in our lives and in the lives of those we love, knowing that one day that will all be sorted out. It hurts to know redemption is coming, and to see that is isn’t coming just yet.
So we groan, and we hear the groans of the creation around us. Things aren’t right in creation at large because things aren’t right with us, the people who God put in charge of it. So, as much as us, the world around waits for redemption. It waits because when we’re no longer slaves to what binds us, then creation won’t be either.
Some Christians in their groaning have withdrawn from the world around them. They huddle in enclaves and turn a disdaining eye on the rest of the world, where things aren’t right. And they try to create little terrariums where things are right.
Other Christians in their groaning have turned their guns on the world around them. They angrily denounce the world for not being right, even though lots of people who fall under their glare feel that lack of rightness too. They yell at the world to join them or burn, and some do, but most don’t, and don’t even take their message seriously.
Paul says we should “wait patiently.” Wait, by not giving up on the hope of redemption in Jesus, but wait patiently, by not withdrawing from the world. Wait for the redemption that’s coming, and never be content with the sad substitutes that so easily capture our attention. But wait patiently, by remembering that people ultimately chase those substitutes because they feel the same need that we do. Wait, by proclaiming the very good news that in Jesus creation is being redeemed, and that one day soon enough he’ll set things right again. But wait patiently, by trying to live out what it will look like in that redeemed creation when love is the lingua franca and the strong care for the weak and selfishness, terror, evil, and death will no longer have a place.
May we never stop groaning for redemption - and may we never stop trying to create stories of our own where redemption is happening - until we see the Lord return. And may we never stop saying, with the church through all the ages, Marana tha!