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 labor 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.
The end is near! For many of us who are about to graduate or go on internship, those words seem about like the best news there is this week. Or maybe your senioritis isn’t as bad as mine, who knows?
In all seriousness, though, Paul writes about the “eager longing” with which we wait for liberation, for the “glory about to be revealed to us.” And it’s probably safe to say that Paul was talking about more than just the end of seminary classes. We are waiting, as he says, for the “redemption of our bodies.” When I think about what that means, for our bodies to be redeemed, I can’t help but think about Dr. Hefner’s presentation last week, and Dr. Hummel’s presentation the week before that.
Dr. Hefner talked about the sanctification and consummation of the very matter that makes us up. He argued that the evolution of the entire cosmos might in fact be the path to our salvation in God. The human race may not even be around forever; he pointed out that our sun will expand to engulf the earth in a few billion years, and that humans may already have gone extinct long before we run the risk of being barbecued. But he also pointed out that even when or if this happens, our genes and molecules, our matter, will survive and continue – just configured in a different way.
Dr. Hummel spoke about the hope that may be present in celular evolution and scientific progress. We understand more and more about the cosmos, about our own bodies, and this opens up to us a multitude of perspectives and possibilities. He spoke specifically about our understanding of and perspectives on cancer. He described cancer development as “evolution in miniature, indifferent to consequences.” It is the very fiber of our own being, turned against itself.
Cancer presents us with a paradox that is present throughout creation. It takes advantage of our bodies’ natural process of celular evolution. This process, which allows our cells to grow and reproduce, to pass down advantageous traits and renew our flesh, is the very same process which allows mutations to multiply and invade. The celular processes we need to live are the very same ones that allow cancer to form.
This is similar to the geological paradox we talked about a few weeks before that. Tectonic plates play a key role in supporting life on earth; they recycle carbon and help generate the earth’s magnetic field, which protects us from solar winds. And yet they also produce earthquakes and volcanoes that destroy life. Wind patterns that bring cool breezes and pollinate plants also produce tornadoes and hurricanes.
And even on a social level, human free will is full of paradox. We can choose to cooperate with each other, to work for peace; we can creatively use our ability to choose, to work for the care and renewal of creation. And at the same time, that free will also allows us to choose things that are not in line with God’s vision for creation. It allows us to choose self-preservation over helping others, to let greed lead us into war instead of working for a world where everyone has enough.
In short, the paradox of creation is that many of the processes that are necessary for life and meaning also leave the door open for death and destruction.
It is striking how similar this conundrum is to Jesus’ parable of the weeds and the wheat, which actually accompanies this text from Romans in the lectionary. The servants of the person who owns the wheatfield are horrified to see that weeds are growing up, mixed in with the wheat. But their master warns them not to tear up the weeds, because in doing so, they would also be tearing up the wheat.
In creation as it is, we can’t have weeds without wheat, life without the risk of death.
But Dr. Hummel still found hope in this, using cancer as his example. He argued that the hope that we have for a better world may be the very key to making it happen. If we don’t have hope that we will find a way to beat cancer, we certainly never will. He used the specific example of cervical cancer. Most people thought it was impossible to ever have a vaccine for any kind of cancer, but a few people hoped enough to keep working on it. They discovered a connection between cervical cancer and HPV, and because of this, they were able to develop a vaccine against the virus that was dramatically effective in fighting this cancer.
Just as Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, hope that is seen is not hope. We hope for what we do not yet see, just like those who have worked tirelessly for so many years to find a cure for cancer.
And our hope is not in vain. As Paul makes clear, God’s plan is to redeem all of creation, including us. And we have a part in that, too. Paul writes that creation was “subjected to futility” “in hope that the creation itself will be set free” from decay and that it “will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” God has promised to set us free from slavery to sin and death, but God also has hope for creation to play a role in freeing itself.
And our contribution to this effort will be crucial. As Paul writes, our fate and the fate of creation are inevitably tied together; we groan along with creation in the labor pains of the new creation that is constantly being born. We humans bear the imago dei, the image of God, as Dr. Hefner noted in his lecture. Because of this, we have a creative capacity to change the world, and we have hope that gives us the vision to do it.
There’s no way to know exactly what God’s promised future looks like. Maybe we’ll find a cure for cancer, or a way to settle other planets to escape the sun’s expansion; maybe we will find a way to end global inequality, hunger, and war. And maybe it’s simply beyond all human imagination.
But what we can know for certain is that God is calling us, inviting us, luring us toward the glorious future that God intends for us. The eschaton is already at work in our lives, in our hearts, in the very cells of our bodies. God’s call is working in us, every moment of our lives, pulling us steadily toward the future. So we have reason for hope. The end is near.