Suffering and Glory
July 20, 2014
You people. You people know something about the sufferings of this present time. You know them rather intimately and you’d really rather not. Suffering, particularly the suffering of those we love, has a way of consuming all our vision. Like a massive vacuum it sucks our vitality and energy right down.
Today the Holy Spirit through St. Paul gives us a different way of thinking about suffering. You see, he holds all the pain and sorrow of this life up against the glory that waits for us. And he finds that the sufferings are simply outweighed. “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).
So Paul writes to the Romans to help them stand in this painful moment looking forward to the final revealing of God’s Son. And his words come to us to help us stand here today. In Christ, we have been made into the children of God. This is sure. This is certain. His death has destroyed the power of sin for you and His resurrection has brought you the promise of a new creation. Yet what you are is not fully seen and experienced in this world. Take a deep close look at God’s people, Paul says, and you will see a people, just like you sitting here, imprisoned and suffering, groaning because they desire to be free.
So we stand, awkwardly positioned between the sufferings of this present world and the glory yet to be revealed. And in this place, the apostle Paul asks us to meditate on our situation and to trust in the work of the Holy Spirit.
If we meditate on our situation, we can see deep suffering among God’s people. In America, Christianity used to be a strong cultural force. Prayer was said in public schools. At graduation, high schools would hold baccalaureate services led by ministers. We don’t see this much anymore, and it makes the necessity of our school that much more apparent.
St. Paul knew the suffering status of Christians in this world. In Rome, Christianity was not a legal established religion. It confronted barriers to the expression of its faith. Christians sought to worship one God in a city that had many gods. Christians sought to confess “Jesus is Lord” in a city that confessed “Caesar is Lord.” Christians worshipped a person who had been associated with insurrection, was publicly tried and condemned and crucified. This suffering Jesus ruled over a suffering people.
Christians were marginalized, and things today are similar to how they used to be then. In December, one could find a nativity prominently displayed in the public square. That connection between Christianity and American culture is dying. We find ourselves being marginalized. Pushed further and further away from public notice, written into a smaller and smaller corner of the public square where we are viewed as unwelcomed, different, even extreme. Such experiences are frightening. It looks like we are losing strength, like we will not survive. Across the board, church attendance is dropping. Some might even wonder if God has abandoned us. How can we be God’s people, the church, in a post-Christian and sometimes anti-Christian nation?
These are not new questions. The Roman Christians were meeting in small homes rather than huge and beautiful churches. They were populated by slaves rather than powerful rulers. Soon, they would experience persecution. They would carry their dead into caves and tunnels carved under ground and hold worship services there in the dark, in the place of the dead, crying out to the firstborn of the dead. He opens our ears so we hear one more cry, one more groan. The groaning of the Spirit, who is interceding for you.
St. Paul writes, “Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27). In these words, Paul joins groans with a glorious vision.
On the one hand, the Spirit intercedes for us with groans too deep for words. There are times when we are at a loss for words. The suffering we have seen in this world, the longing we have for the new creation is so strong and so deep that we cannot find words to express it. What do you say when you go to a funeral? You stand there, your heart filled with groans that words cannot express. What do you say when you hear that the diagnosis is cancer? When tornados rip through towns leaving only rubble in its wake. We have trouble speaking to one another, and even more trouble speaking to God. At moments like this, Paul asks us to listen. To hear the groaning. The Spirit takes our suffering and puts it into prayer.
On the other hand, these groans of the Spirit are joined to glory. The glorious desires of God for his people. For all creation. Paul says that “the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom. 8:27). The Spirit knows the deep mysteries of our suffering. The Spirit also knows the deep mysteries of God. God’s vision of a new creation. You have been joined by baptism to God’s new creation in Christ. God is at work in you. He is shaping your lives, forming your faith, working in small and sometimes painful ways as He continues His promise to bring about His kingdom.
When you experience suffering and find ourselves not sure how to put all of this into words, the Spirit Himself speaks for you. He brings your petitions to the throne of the Father. Your suffering touches God’s glory in the words of the Spirit for through the suffering of God’s Son, God’s glory is made certain for you.
Christianity may be losing cultural power in America, but there is no loss of a sure and certain hope. God rules over all creation. The Spirit knows the mind of God and He hears our cries and prays for us according to God’s will. He sees your life, He knows your suffering, and He has sent His Spirit to be present for you. He listens to your groans, and He puts your life into prayer according to God’s will, that you would be conformed to the image of the Son of God, Although you suffer in this world, you are heirs of the next, predestined and called by the Spirit, justified by faith in the crucified and risen Jesus, eagerly awaiting the glory of the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting.