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Advent and the Earth

November 20, 2021 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – Romans 8:20-24a (NIV)

For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, 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.

Focus

Creation groans and suffers from the results of human sin. Rather than adding to the bondage to decay in careless acts, we should seek to live in ways that reflect God’s redemptive plan for all of creation as well as for each other as bodily creatures. This, I think, is a significant part of what it means to live with resurrection hope; we work against the groaning and suffering of creation, and know that ultimately our work is not futile.

Devotion

This coming week, I have two Thanksgiving celebrations planned: one with my wife’s extended family and one with our own immediate family of sons, daughters-in-law, a new grandson, and my father. I will be reminded again that God created a good physical world for his human creatures to live in, care for, and delight in. The physical bodies God created us with are intimately tied to that good physical earth. We experience the goodness of creation through our bodily senses: through tastes and smells (including good food and especially fruit pies); seeing the beauty of God’s handiwork (trees and rivers, meadows and flowers, valleys and hillsides); enjoying also the sight of human creativity in a well-built farmhouse or covered bridge; listening to music as well as birdsongs as soundwaves travel through air and strike our eardrums.

Even the goodness of human relationships is experienced through our bodies as we talk and listen, exchange the warm hugs of greeting or the assuring hand on a shoulder, and recognize that the piece of pie that brings such pleasure through our taste buds was made for us by another person as an act of love—made with apples, butter, and flour grown and harvested by a farmer somewhere, whom I am now relationally connected with through the eating of the meal.

Yesterday I reflected on the deterioration of our physical bodies, and the “bondage to decay” that Paul writes about in Romans 8. I suggested that as we live in the second Advent and await Christ’s return—as we look forward in hope to the promised bodily resurrection of those saved by Christ—we ought to reflect on how we care for one another as bodily creations: how in doing so, our actions can reflect the characteristics of God’s Heavenly kingdom and his redemptive plan.

Today I want to reflect on another important aspect of God’s redemptive plan in Romans 8:20-24 that goes hand in hand with the redemption of our bodies. In this passage, Paul tells us that God has a redemptive plan for all of creation, to liberate it from the bondage caused by human sin. God’s entire creation—oceans, forests, grasslands, lakes, rivers, mountains, prairies and tundra, birds and amphibians—all suffer from the consequences of human sin. Paul describes it as “bondage to decay.” The bodily decay I observe most poignantly in my father as he suffers from Alzheimer’s disease is a decay and bondage that afflicts all of creation.

When I think of God’s redemptive work, and of his promises to bring that work to fruition at the second coming of Christ, I usually think first of the “freedom and glory of the children of God;” God’s saving work in his human creatures (accomplished by Christ at His first coming) and about the hope of the resurrection. I think of the promised resurrection when my father will be given a new body and his lost memories will be restored.

What I find interesting in this passage, though, is that God’s redemptive plan includes redemption for all of creation. Just as the whole creation has been brought into the suffering that we humans experience as a result of our sin, so also will the whole creation be restored and redeemed; it will be “liberated from its bondage to decay.” That is God’s redemptive plan! It is a glimpse of the second Advent, and of the characteristics of his new kingdom.

We might return, then, to how I ended yesterday’s devotion by reflecting on the Lord’s Prayer. When we pray “Your kingdom come, your will be done,” we ought to reflect on the characteristics of God’s kingdom that we are praying will come. The best way to prepare for that kingdom and honor its King is by seeking to live out the characteristics of His kingdom in the midst of the sin-ravaged world we live in.

That should entail care for one another as bodily creatures: healing the sick, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the widow, the orphan, the poor and oppressed, the stranger and refugee. It also ought to involve caring for all of God’s creation: soil, air, and water, tropical rainforests and arctic tundra, wild places and cultivated fields, domesticated animals as well as the wild goats on the mountainsides and the leviathan that God made to frolic in the deep. (See Psalm 104.)

That creation not only was proclaimed good when God made it, but we can see in this Romans passage that God still considers it so good that He has included it in his redemptive plan. Creation groans and suffers from the results of human sin. Rather than adding to the bondage to decay in careless acts, we should seek to live in ways that reflect God’s redemptive plan for all of creation as well as for each other as bodily creatures. This, I think, is a significant part of what it means to live with resurrection hope; we work against the groaning and suffering of creation, and know that ultimately our work is not futile.

Reflect

Ponder the Lord’s Prayer. What does it mean to ask for God’s will to be done on earth?

Think of the local places where you live and work. How do you see creation groan in your own “backyard,” so to speak? How do God’s creatures suffer? What are ways that your life can reflect God’s care and redemptive plan for all of creation? What impact might you have in your workplace which can alleviate some of the groaning and suffering?

What if you expand that question to the broader world? How does creation groan? How do God’s creatures suffer? What impact does your lifestyle have on that?

Act

Ponder one way that you might act differently today, or this week, that might better reflect the characteristics of God’s kingdom. Keep that in mind when you pray the Lord’s prayer and say, “Your will be done.” Try to put that into practice this week.

Pray

Creator God, your world is good and beautiful, from the smallest insects to the vastness of the stars. Thank you that we can take delight in that creation. Let our delight in creation always lead us to worship of you, the creator.

Even as we praise you for your creation, we recognize the groaning and suffering of that creation. We confess that even as we have prayed “your will be done,” we have often continued to live according to our own will. We have done so with little thought as to how our lives add to the bondage suffered by other humans or by your creation.

So we pray again: Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Even as we await Christ’s return and the fulfillment of our hope in the bodily resurrection and the restoration of creation, we pray that here and now we would live out in our daily lives at home and at work the principles and characteristics of that new kingdom that we long for.

Praise be to Jesus who has redeemed us with his blood, and whose resurrection gives us the hope that all your promises are true. Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project. Commentary on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Nothing Can Come Between Us and the Love of God (Romans 8:31-39)


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