Steady Heart

I am constantly in the process of being humbled and amazed, and it is wonderful.

Do you know how much, in my journey from my life before God to a life lived with God, I petitioned him to know the end game? To reveal to me the places where we were going together? And I was given hints but the majority of the time it was one step at a time. Infuriating, frustrating, and aggravating.

But so, so good. It revealed God’s faithfulness. It deepened our relationship. I was shown my vast capacity to trust in God and to rest in love. I found myself as I was seeking God and discovered what I was made of: love, compassion, empathy and hope. I found freedom in becoming the person I was designed to be and found healing and restoration in my body, heart and soul. I discovered faith is less a destination than a journey, and the beauty in it is astounding.

 

For the Future

Abba, how good and faithful you are to one who is so faithless. I see from the beginning of the bible a plan of covenant and marriage, for relationship, and the faithlessness of your people to you, and yet it gives me hope. For in all the places you have redeemed my life, God, for in all the ways that you have brought about life transformation, it gives me hope that the desire you planted in my heart might become an answered prayer. As I search the bible, I see that mankind was created in your image as male and female; that it was not good for man to be alone. Formed by your hand, breathed with your breath, from the start we were designed to engage in your creation together, to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it not through kingship but through kinship. To love creation because it was created by you; to love each other because we are created by you, whom we ought to love steadfastly. Father, I pray you hear this prayer, that I might be part of this fruitfulness and multiplication. That through the man I would marry and the children we would have, your kingdom would grow closer to this earth. That we would be part of the story of reconciliation that began so long ago. Father, I pray that as your daughter, you bless me with this undeserved abundance that I might better serve you. I pray that my family, now and in the future, is not defined by the blood in our veins but rather by the blood that was spilled by a king for those who rejected and despised him. I pray that we would be a place of love, comfort, hope and joy to those who find themselves lacking, and that you would use our family to bless others in theirs.

My Relationship with Disability

My relationship with “disability” goes back to when I was a kid, and the impact it had was powerful. I wish I had a better understanding back then of how society, God and “disability” all come together but I didn’t. An illness that I saw as disabling was ultimately the reason I abandoned God for a while. My mom is an extraordinary woman. I remember listening at the top of the stairs with my eyes closed as she played the piano. I recall the light in her eyes as she talked about running. I can hear the love in her voice as she points to the costumes and outfits in pictures that she had made for us with her sewing machine, or told us about the outfits she would make in college. I remember the comfort of her running beside me as I learned to ride my bike and the joy of her pedaling next to me as we biked down the beach as a family.

And I can remember the ache and pain of watching all those things slowly getting stolen from her. I can still feel the anger sometimes; that so much of what she loved was snatched away from her by MS. The girl’s weekends with her friends from college. Having to go from running, to a cane, to a walker, to a wheelchair. Did God not know my mother? What could she possibly have done to deserve this? I saw affirmation in the godlessness of this world as I studied history: the Holocaust, the history of women throughout most societies, slavery practices in North America, the treatment of the people indigenous to this country… The list could go on and on of one group of people perceiving themselves as being better than the other and getting away with untold atrocities.

As I found God again, there was a timidity I had in approaching disability and God. Could my faith really stand up to my questions? Was this a space I wanted to seek in? Yet through this class I came to understand even more deeply that more often than not, biblically, a person’s embodiment was not tied to their sin. Furthermore, Jesus went to them time and time again and cared for them holistically: he went after the physical, the spiritual and even the provision of basic necessities. He ministered on every level and then called his followers to do the same.

It wasn’t God that failed my mother but me. My family. My society and its institutions. The “religion” I knew that said that God blessed the good people. Nobody explained to me that when it says in Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart,” it meant that if you are delighted in the Lord, you’ll desire what God desires. It didn’t mean if you desire your mother to be healed, you have to reach a certain level of “Christian” to get it. In this context, it would more look like my mother not experiencing isolation in this society, of her having access to the medicines that she needs and the places that she needs to go. Of society benefiting fully from her participation. It would mean that she wouldn’t see herself as a burden because nobody would think to treat her like one. God loves my mom exactly how and where she is and He wants us to do the same. To reap the gifts that she uniquely offers as a creation made in the image of God. How short we fall in doing this for her and all people.

My mother is an extraordinary woman who has not let this disease called Multiple Sclerosis prevent her from impacting lives. Instead of giving into the pressure society puts on her to accept how things are, she identified gaps in where society cares for its people and worked with my father to create a business that provides more affordable, private transportation for those who require ramps and wheelchairs.

This class gave me language to engage with God and others in my community around what I sensed but couldn’t put words to for quite a while, particularly ableism.  Jesus came for everyone; his community was filled with people that society rejected, marginalized and oppressed because those things are not the ways of God. Our Father tells us repeatedly that he came for the widow, the orphan, the prisoner, the ones society throws out. God tells us to be an inclusive community: to love one another as you love yourself. To give and care and comfort. To do the things we are called to do requires all of these very necessary parts of the body.

I Corinthians 12:21-26 explains it best: “The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” And so we need to see ourselves, our community, as all one body with each part offering something so that we can all be whole. Just as Jesus honored the parts of the body that seemed weakest, so should we, because they are the ones that bring us to wholeness.

Life According to Ecclesiastes

I always feel differently about Ecclesiastes depending on the place I am in my life. Ecclesiastes starts in a place that sounds dire. Many people I have spoken to have been stuck there at one time or another; it is a place I existed for a long time. The belief that everything is meaningless. Then it gets more specific. It asks, what about spending our life seeking wisdom? Or conversely, living foolishly?

“I said to myself, “Look, I have increased in wisdom more than anyone who has ruled over Jerusalem before me; I have experienced much of wisdom and knowledge.” Then I applied myself to the understanding of wisdom, and also of madness and folly, but I learned that this, too, is a chasing after the wind. For with much wisdom comes much sorrow; the more knowledge, the more grief.” Ecclesiastes 1:16-18 

So the wiser you are, the more sorrow you come to know. The more knowledge, the greater your grief (although from observation I believe this is true if indeed our hearts are part of this growth in wisdom and knowledge). Later it is clarified that it is better to be wise than foolish, but that it doesn’t in itself create meaning. It goes on next to examine the pursuit of pleasure. This is an endeavor our society can relate to. “Do what makes you happy.” “Do what you want to do!” “…the pursuit of happiness…” and so forth.

“I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 

That sorrow and grief I felt made me decide that the pain I felt was not worth it. I hardened myself and decided to try to pursue my own happiness; it turns out that happiness is not obtained in such a manner, at least not for me. The more I checked off my list of things I believed would bring me happiness, the emptier I felt. I had put value on the wrong things and in the wrong places. So I threw myself into my work.

“For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless. A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” Ecclesiastes 2:21-25 

So I toiled and toiled; my nights were restless. I worked long hours in a field which I was least suited for but I did it well and I cared about serving the people with whom I worked by making their jobs better. This served them well and it grew me as a person but I was becoming more unhappy and it was effecting my health. Slowly my passion died. Then I started to get to know God, and I really began exploring what life looked like when you put God first and each aspect of my life started to shift.

“To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” Ecclesiastes 2:26

God gave me sources to go to for knowledge, wisdom and happiness; and He somehow made me a source of those things to others. God began creating abundance in my life in the matter of a few crazy short years. There certainly has been struggle and sacrifice on my part but on the other side of it is crazy goodness! This is no longer a chasing after the wind. One of the keys here is that we don’t do it alone. Ecclesiastes talks about meaninglessness of the man toiling alone, longing after wealth when he has no brother or son. It goes on to look at the value you create together:

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 

After telling us that our value is found not in isolation but in relationship, it examines our relationship with God. This isn’t being terrified of God, but understanding the awesome power of God and respecting it; not making light of the covenants or promises that you make to God and that you remain faithful in the commitments you make to God. If the only thing you have with God is words but your actions don’t reflect your relationship, then it is meaningless.

“When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it…Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore fear God.” Ecclesiastes 5:4-7

So we’ve got value in relationship with others and God (kind of like when Jesus said the two greatest commandments were to love God and love others). But there’s a lot of other things that come with life. Can our value be found in wealth? Ecclesiastes 5:10 says “Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.” It lists a lot of ways wealth, consumption and desire are meaningless. So where is the goodness in wealth? To happily toil and be content and enjoy their gift with a glad heart from God.

“This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God. They seldom reflect on the days of their life, because God keeps them occupied with gladness of heart.” Ecclesiastes 5:18-20

Contentment; to be content with where God calls us and to serve Him with a happy heart. To love the life that we have been given with the people we are with; because to not see the abundance of blessings that exist within our life and give thanks for them is to endure suffering of the most acute kind; as written, a grievous evil.

God gives some people wealth, possessions and honor, so that they lack nothing their hearts desire, but God does not grant them the ability to enjoy them, and strangers enjoy them instead. This is meaningless, a grievous evil. A man may have a hundred children and live many years; yet no matter how long he lives, if he cannot enjoy his prosperity and does not receive proper burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he. It comes without meaning, it departs in darkness, and in darkness its name is shrouded. Though it never saw the sun or knew anything, it has more rest than does that man— even if he lives a thousand years twice over but fails to enjoy his prosperity. Do not all go to the same place?” Ecclesiastes 6:2-6

We all must die. In Ecclesiastes 9:2 it says, “All share a common destiny—the righteous and the wicked, the good and the bad, the clean and the unclean, those who offer sacrifices and those who do not.” We all leave this world through the veil of death; the question is, what do we do with our life? First, enjoy it with a glad heart.

“Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do… Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love… For this is your lot in life and in your toilsome labor under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the realm of the dead, where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom.” Ecclesiastes 9:7-10

Invest diversely and abundantly and do not be idle; although we now understand some things much better than they did when Ecclesiastes was written, the awesome mysteries of the universe are bountiful and remind us how little do we know. Even smaller is the amount of influence and control we have over the direction our investments take, whether we speak of time, assets, or energy.

“As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things. Sow your seed in the morning, and at evening let your hands not be idle, for you do not know which will succeed, whether this or that, or whether both will do equally well.” Ecclesiastes 11:5-6

And lastly but perhaps most importantly, remember your Creator who blessed you with the day that you have and the breathe that you breath. Honor the covenant between the Lord God and yourself.

“Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.” Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

Final Paper: Life Through Death

Paul wrote in an early part of his book about how quickly the medical students changed and that the, “Cadavers reverse the polarity. The mannequins you pretend are real; the cadavers you pretend are fake… to take one good look at our cadaver’s face and then to leave it covered; it makes the work easier.” (Kalanithi, 45) It’s facelessness quickly allowed what was once a person in whom life dwelled, a person who may have loved deeply and been deeply loved, to become instead pieces of a body. Although in this paper we look at Paul’s life as he approaches death to understand what has been learned both about living and the process of dying, let us not forget that Paul was real and his loss was deep. Loved by his wife, family and friends, he also left behind a future in his words, the lives he impacted and his young daughter newly created. It is in his words to his daughter, who will remember him only through others, that we see the title of our class captured so clearly:

When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing. (Kalanithi, 199)

This kind of response to one’s own death might seem extraordinary to many, but it was sculpted by a lifetime of influences. His Christian father and Hindu mother had eloped from the south of India to New York City where he had been raised for a while before being moved to Arizona with his family. His mother’s concern about his education caused her to emphasize reading heavily at a very young age. Meanwhile, his father was deeply committed to his medical practice which meant that he was not frequently around, making Paul view the personal cost of medicine as too high early on in his life. However, these things would remain important threads throughout the story of Paul.

Brave New World founded my nascent moral philosophy and became the subject of my college admissions essay, in which I argued happiness was not the point of life.” (Kalanithi, 27) After starting college he consumed literature courses in a search for human meaning but soon began to look into biology to understand the mechanisms that made creatures creators, ultimately moving over to the pursuit of a medical degree. And yet literature continued to shape how he tried to understand his patient’s experiences and, ultimately his own. “Neurosurgery attracted me as much for its intertwining of brain and consciousness as for its intertwining life and death… being so close to the fiery light of such moments only blinded me to their nature, like trying to learn astronomy by staring directly at the sun.” (Kalanithi, 81) The medical culture he was now immersing himself in caused him to struggle to respond as a person dying instead of as a doctor and yet his lifetime of seeking served him well in expressing his experience through the book he ended up writing and scoping out his purpose towards the end.

“It is the differences in meaning, far more than mere differences in vocabulary, that isolate cultures and that cause them to regard each other as strange or even barbaric. It is not too surprising that many cultures refer to themselves as “The People,” relegating all other human beings to a subhuman form of life.” (Barland, 39) This division by culture is easily identified when there are language barriers, differences in dress, or other ethnic markers that turn a comparison between people into a study in contrasts. Maybe it is just as likely that cultural misunderstandings occur when we are almost the same. There is so much to relate to Paul on that when I struggle to understand him, it is hard to remind myself of the cultural nuances. For instance, in a culture that requires 100 hours a week when you’re dedicating yourself to the care of other’s, perhaps a reduction of empathy is a means of survival whereas I, having never had such demands put on me, see only callousness. Paul, upon hearing that a friend died from a car accident after an attempt to save her life, wrote: “In that moment, all my occasions of failed empathy came rushing back to me: the times I had pushed discharges over patient worries, ignored patients’ pain when other demands pressed. The people whose suffering I saw, noted, and neatly packaged in various diagnoses…” (Kalanithi, 85)

Additionally, I wonder if I would have chosen to have a child before I died, leaving my spouse with a permanent reminder of myself and the possible burden of being both in mourning and a single parent simultaneously. His wife also asked him, “Don’t you think saying goodbye to your child will make your death more painful?” (Kalanithi, 143) It wouldn’t only be hard on her; they both struggled with the decision. It’s clear as you read that family is a strong value for him from the very beginning. If I had been his wife I think I would have wanted to have the baby. He writes in reply to her question regarding it being more painful, “’Wouldn’t it be great if it did?’ I said. Lucy and I both felt that life wasn’t about avoiding suffering.” (Kalanithi, 143) Indeed, loss is the cost of our commitment to one another sometimes; the price we pay for love. If loving someone more deeply was what made this death harder, perhaps that is the best way one could exit this world.

Another perspective would be that having the child was a form a denial that death was as imminent as he was being told.  In fact, he wrote, “We would carry on living, instead of dying.” (Kalanithi, 144) Paul manifested denial differently than many of us might. He could not intellectually deny that he had cancer, or that he understood to at least some extent the severity. He had become the patient for the very things he treated. He writes: “After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. But now I knew it acutely.” (Kalanithi, 132) He undoubtedly felt it profoundly. But his denial was found in his actions. He stated that if he had a sense of the time he had left it would determine what he would do. Two years versus ten years mattered, but he knew she couldn’t give him what he was asking. It appears he was able to exist in a place where he was more acutely aware of his mortality while generally operating in denial until the birth of his daughter. “Yet there is a dynamism in our house. Day to day, week to week, Cady blossoms: a first grasp, a first smile, a first laugh… Time for me is now double-edged: every day brings me further from the low of my last relapse but closer to the next recurrence-and eventually, death.” (Kalanithi, 196)

Paul writes that he believes he went through the five steps of grief in reverse; that because he knew he was going to die but at the time was unable to know the when, instead of experiencing denial first, he experienced it last. Due to his vast medical experience in the field, he saw the stage of acceptance as being at the very beginning because he understood his prognosis. I would say that while Paul and Lucy certainly experienced that stages of grief, acceptance for them was at the end. “One of the most important aspects of Nearing Death Awareness is the need for reconciliation. Dying people develop an awareness that they need to be at peace.” (Callanan, 137) Before his diagnosis, his marriage was in danger of ending. In a way, the cancer brought healing. “Our relationship was still deep in meaning, a shared and evolving vocabulary about what mattered. If human relationality formed the bedrock of meaning, it seemed to us that rearing children added another dimension to that meaning.” (Kalanithi, 142) To that end, the other important part is legacy, that we have defeated death through our ability to continue on even after we have died. Paul and Lucy managed this aspect of their grief through their child and completing the book together.

These aren’t the only things that changed for Paul towards the end of his life. Voirst writes that “our dying may sometimes provide a new opportunity, that dying may sometime permit… growth and change, that dying may precipitate a further stage of emotional development that had – until now—been well beyond our capacities.” (Voirst, 318) At first he had thought that he could never do surgery again. In the end he realized that his doctor had done what he himself had strived to do with his patients: protect the attributes which they value and empower them to discover what they wanted to do with their remaining time. As he practiced surgery, he learned more about how his illness transformed him: “The tricky part of illness is that, as you go through it, your values are constantly changing. You try to figure out what matters to you, and then you keep figuring it out… Death may be a one-time event, but living with terminal illness is a process.” (Kalanithi, 160-161) In other words, dying is a process that at its best has you discovering who you are until the very end.

We come at last to consider the role that religious beliefs played in how Paul dealt with both being diagnosed and dying.  Although certainly approached in a scientific and academic manner, Paul was not devoid of a relationship with God; he wrote that if he had known God sooner he would have perhaps pursued a pastoral role instead of the one he ended up in. The fact that he saw no proof of God left him in a place where believing in God seemed unreasonable and so he didn’t. It wasn’t that he didn’t have the foundation; he was familiar with Scripture and his family raised him Christian. After searching through much of his twenties, he reached the following conclusion:

“The problem, however, eventually became evident: to make science the arbiter of metaphysics is to banish not only God from the world but also love, hate, meaning-to consider a world that is self-evidently not the world we live in. That’s not to say that if you believe in meaning you also believe in God. It is to say, though, that if you believe that science provides no basis for God, then you must also be obligated to conclude that science provides no basis for meaning and, therefore, life itself doesn’t have any.” (Kalanithi, 169)

Paul reaches this conclusion and saw sacrifice, forgiveness and redemption as the foundational principles of Christianity. This was crucial to helping him deal with his situation, even if he doesn’t appear to lean on it very heavily. This is true also of his lens of seeing Jesus as delivering a message of mercy over justice. Christians understand that sacrifice is a part of their story; Paul responds to his loss of life, time and experience less with anger and more with a zeal to squeeze what he can out of what is left. While he strives, he is full of forgiveness and we see redemption is his relationships time and again.

Christian’s often define faith with language like “assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen,” similar to Hebrews 11:1. To this end, I don’t believe this is a struggle of Paul’s. The way he is built makes supernatural faith hard, but he sees evidence in the world around him that speaks to a Creator who wants our lives to have meaning and purpose. So while his faith might look different, that doesn’t make it any less deep. This is a man who, dying, chooses to create life. To write of his experience dying in order to help others. I do not see a struggle of faith in Paul; I see a man being faithful in his struggle, much like the man after which he was likely named.

Works Cited

Barlund, Dean. “Communication in a Global Village.” Basic Concepts of Intercultural Communication: Selected Readings (1998): 35-48. Print.

Callanan, Maggie and Kelley, Patricia. Final Gifts: Understanding the Special Awareness, Needs, and Communications of the Dying. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2012. Print.

Kalanithi, Paul. When Breath Becomes Air. New York: Random House, 2016. Print.

Viorst, Judith. “The ABC of Dying.” Necessary Losses (Unknown): 305-327. Print.

Bravery or Courage?

Bravery is defined as feeling or showing no feeling; being fearless. But courage? Courage is defined as having the strength to act in the face of pain or grief, to do something even when you are fearful. So while they sound similar, courage certainly seems like the more preferable attribute.

If I had to choose, I’d pick courage over bravery every time, although there is certainly a time and place for bravery.  However, at some point or another we will all reach a place where we are overwhelmed by what appears to be insurmountable grief, or one of the myriads of pains that mankind is plagued with. It is in those moments where “fearlessness” stops being applicable. We can be debilitated or conquered by our emotions, our minds, our bodies, or we can be courageous, moving beyond ourselves.

It makes me think of the Romans verses in which the Greek equivalent of “hyper-conqueror” is used, but it’s usually translated as “overwhelmingly conquer.” This verse makes me think not of how FEARLESS they must have been, but how courageous. Even in the face of pain and grief their faith gave them courage; they would not be separated from their love of God which was anchored in Jesus Christ.

Romans 8:36-39 “Just as it is written, “For Your sake we were being put to death all day long; we were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Stepping into the “Unknown”

I recently finished an exegesis on a different part of Philippians (posted here somewhere), but another group of verses came to mind as I went through my last day at work, re-telling people time and again with a smile and a chuckle that “Indeed, time sure does fly… No, nothing lined up yet… I’m sure everything will work out fine… Yep, something more faith and/or community focused… Yeah, I’ll be spending a week in prayer and reflection trying to understand my next steps…”

Knowing that Jesus is countercultural and doing something counter to your cultural are two very different things. It can feel isolating, and yet I know I’m not alone.

Philippians 4:10-13 “I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

I am startled at how much I related to this today. The two years leading up to this? Oh man! How I struggled. To let go of money being the thing I put my trust in and my property defining part of my identity. I asked, “What is the value of a life directed towards the pursuit of happiness?” For me I discovered it wasn’t much and it rarely brought me happiness.

No, I think God tells me that a life pursuing a meaningful purpose has the side effect of joy and happiness. Every life is worth the same, but what of the value that every life creates? We exist in a society that often idealizes selfishness, perhaps thinking the key to happiness lies within that trait. And yet the more selfish we become, the fewer friends we have per capita, the more isolated we are, with higher rates of anxiety, depression… Oftentimes we can’t even gain a sense of our own identity anymore.

Yet here I sit in a place with God where, when I talk about where I am it clearly stirs up anxiety in the hearts of some people; it makes me realize how good God is that he brings me here to this place to sit in this struggle and grow with Him. A man called Father Mike posts videos on Ascension and in one of them he talked about the difference between patience and rushing towards the next thing. He used the example of building a shed. They had put a foundation down but it wasn’t level and his answer was to just drill all new holes for the shed but the man leading the project insisted they do it right so they disassembled, leveled the foundation, and easily assembled it so it was built right.  This is how God sometimes operates.

I went down a path for 14 years that excluded God from the equation and God, in His graciousness, has torn so many things down to the foundation so that we could make sure it was built right in my life. Now what He’s building is good and I can trust in His work and lean into a vision even when I don’t understand it. This is the goodness of my God.

 

Philippians 2:5-11 Exegesis

Text: Philippians 2:5-11 (NIV)

  1. “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:” (2:5)
  2. Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;” (2:6)
  3. “rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (2:7)
  4. “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death even death on a cross! (2:8)
  5. “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,” (2:9)
  6. “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,” (2:10)
  7. “and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (2:11)

Theme/Paragraph Analysis

Paul’s entire purpose within this passage is to instruct the community on cruciform love; on how to relate to one another using Christ’s life as a framework for our life so we can begin to understand what cruciform love looks like in our day to day lives.

  1. In your relationships with one another, recognize Jesus in each other and be a reflection of Christ.
  2. Jesus, being God, considering his equality to God not something to be exploited for himself.
  3. Despite his divine glory and equality, Jesus made nothing of himself by being made in human likeness to serve man.
  4. Thus being man, he lived a lifetime of humility culminating in obedience to death on the cross. (2:8)
  5. God responded to Jesus’ super abasement by raising Jesus up and giving him the highest of high places and the highest of names. (2:9)
  6. That, at his name, all of the universe would bow in adoration. (2:10)
  7. And everyone will worship Jesus Christ as Lord because of his sacrificial love, which brings glory to God, his Father. (2:11)

 

 

Historical Analysis

Although it may not be historical, in reading the New Testament it would be difficult not to see that the book of Philippians is a letter of love, thanksgiving, hope and friendship. It was written to those in Philippi which was named for Alexander the Great’s father, Philip of Macedon, when Augustus re-founded the city as a Roman colony under his own patronage in 31 B.C.[1] Because it was an emperor’s city, there was a greater emphasis on Rome adulation, local deities and the cult of the emperor. “There is no evidence of a Jewish synagogue, though there appears to have been a very small Jewish community (cf. Acts 16:13, 16).”[2] The city itself was neither large nor small but was ideally located for trade via land and sea.

“Paul’s letter confirm that he experienced suffering in Philippi (1:29-30; Thess. 2:1-2) and that women played an important role in the church (Phil. 4:2-3).”[3] Acts reports that Lydia was his first convert in Philippi and reports her baptism as well as her home serving as a house church. As for suffering, this was something the Philippians also shared with Paul because it was perceived that the gospel being shared was un-Roman and targeted Gentiles.[4] This lead to ongoing targeting of followers. “Yet the Philippian believers were both generous and joyful in their affliction (2 Cor. 8:2).”[5] Paul wrote this letter while imprisoned, which means that there is a good possibility that the Philippians were as much of an encouragement to Paul as he meant to be to them.

Some focus on the possibility that this may be a “unified” letter; that is, the combination of several letters into one. Others have explored whether the nature of the relationship between Paul and the Philippians was more friendship or perhaps patron-client. When read in its entirety though, one thing becomes clear: “For the letter to the Philippians, while perhaps occasioned by the need to give thanks for a gift, is focused much more on the need for those who are in Christ to live a cruciform life in the face of internal and external challenges to the gospel.”[6] Rooted in Christ’s story, Paul speaks from his suffering to the heart of another suffering people with great encouragement.

Verse Analysis

1. Paul starts his instruction in Philippians 2:5 (NIV) “In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:”[7] Thus, in the first part of the sentence he makes it clear that the verses following this are regarding how the Philippians should relate to one another.   The second part of the sentence requires a little bit more in-depth analysis; it experiences a variety of translations in Bibles due to its own lack of clarity. “Lit., “have this attitude among you which was also in Christ Jesus,” The second en with the dative is understood as an equivalent of the simple dative (expressing possession…) But it is also possible to render the verse, “Have for one another that attitude which you also have in Christ Jesus.”[8] If it is the first interpretation, we are meant to understand that the Philippians should possess the attitude of Christ; in the second interpretation it is more of a union between Christ and the Philippians. It is less about the individual mimicking Christ and more about the transformation of the Christian community within Philippi itself.

In order to gain a little bit more perspective, we can take the broader Pauline theology into consideration by looking at II Corinthians 5:16-17 (NAB) “Consequently, from now on we regard no one according to the flesh; even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer. So whoever is in Christ is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.”[9] It is clear in this verse that Paul believes that whoever is in Christ is transformed; not merely imitating Christ but becoming like Jesus. “Thus we may paraphrase: Think among yourselves what you think in Christ-i.e. think of each other the way you think about Christ; regard each other from the same perspective.”[10] I am inclined to think what Paul saw as the implications of his sentence are that by being in Christ Jesus you are dying to the old ways; you would see others and treat them the way Jesus would have seen them and treated them.

2. The following verses were most likely answering a question that Paul foresaw: What does that look like? So he reminds them by using a hymn, and the first half “begins with God and descends to the low point, death. Each of its 3 active verbs focuses on a moment in the deathward movement toward obedience.”[11] Before we examine the trajectory of the first half of the verses, the really extraordinary thing we need to appreciate is specifically what Paul is saying in the first part of the sentence of Philippians 2:6 (NIV) Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;”[12] namely Christ’s pre-existence.

“Philippians 2 is the earliest passage in the Pauline literature to raise in our minds the serious questions about the pre-existence of Christ. Already Paul has made statements implying a change in status on Christ’s part, notably in 2 Cor 8:9, where Christ, who was rich, became poor for our sake-this is the language of incarnation. Now we find Christ, who was in the form of God, emptying himself taking the form of a slave, and becoming man…”[13] This is tremendously powerful. Jesus wasn’t formed first as a man with God qualities but rather was a being whose very nature is God and equal to God. This was written by a monotheistic Jew who believed Jesus Christ was the Messiah and was passionate about the Holy Spirit. In fact, the translation “…of divine status: Lit., “originally being in the form of God; having as a possession the form of God.”[14] Morphe theou, or “form of God” was, according to Fitzmyer, meant to express the external appearance of Jesus; his body. This is a radical and countercultural idea for the monotheistic Jewish people who were without a Trinitarian theology.

Understanding that Jesus resided in such a form, Paul wanted to make it clear that his divine status wasn’t something that Jesus clung to or literally, “considered it not a thing-to-be-clutched[-at].” The word harpagmos is rare…it has been understood actively as an “act of plundering” (Vg rapina)…”[15] The intention of juxtaposing this word with Jesus’ divinity is most likely because of how such authority and power would have been viewed by people, particularly in that time. Kings would set themselves apart and shore up their authority, which would be passed down often only through their own lineage. It was, indeed, something to treat as “miser’s booty” if you were of this world. But Jesus was not and Paul wants to remind us that we are, again, to recognize Jesus in one another and be a reflection of him.

3. We begin the descent with Philippians 2:7 (NIV) “rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”[16] Jesus, having the form of God, made himself nothing. Here we have radical transformation occurring. “The heart of the matter is the change of roles from divine authority to slave status, from the highest thinkable role to the lowest known.”[17] Keck points out that this is a metaphorical divesting and not a metaphysical divestment of Jesus’ divinity; it is a status change rather than a change of essence. Fitzmyer clarifies exactly what Jesus divests himself of: “Jesus, in becoming man, divested himself of the privilege of divine glory; he did not empty himself of divinity, but of the status of glory to which he had a right…”[18] Instead of being served, as he had every right to be, Jesus chose to become a servant (or slave) to all. Furthermore, he was like all men; although he performed miracles there was nothing extraordinary about his body; he grew up like all boys, learned and acquired skills, bled and died like any other man. His external shape, as he appeared to men in the days of his flesh (Heb 5:7), was that of a man.”[19]

     4. “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death even death on a cross! Philippians 2:8 (NIV) [20] This is the second level on the descent of Jesus. “In the self-humbling we should see the sweep of Jesus’ life as a whole, not particular incidents in it. It is not clear who is being obeyed here-the cosmic powers or God. Perhaps it is enough to say that he acted as one who was obedient rather than as one who called for obedience…”[21] The entire life of Jesus’ is one of humility. Fitzmyer proposes that it is his devotion to the Father that leads to his heroism; I propose that Jesus’ devotion and humility are born out of faithful love for a people who most often showed faithless love to him in return.

When in the Mount of Olives before his death, it says in Luke 22:42-43 (NAB) that Jesus prays, “saying ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.’ [And to strengthen him an angel from heaven appeared to him.”[22] Before this moment, Jesus laments for his people in Luke 19:41 (NAB) “As he drew near, he saw the city and wept over it,”[23] Jesus actually wept over the fate of the city of Jerusalem. These actions seem to speak of the deep and abiding love that God has for his people and the covenantal relationship maintained with us, whether he walks as a man or not. Furthermore, asking for the cup to be taken from him doesn’t mean he wishes to deny the opportunity of salvation to his people. No, Jesus’ humility is most manifested in the moment when he is obedient to actual death; allowing himself to be reaped as a sacrifice for many.

5. Having been humbled as deeply as one can go, surrendering even to death, how does the Father respond to the Son? Paul writes in Philippians 2:9 (NIV) “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name,”[24] The literal translation for what God did is actually superexalted, and according to Fitzmyer, “The hymn refers to the ascension of Christ (cf. Eph 4:10). It is “Johannine” in its immediate passage from the cross to exaltation and un-Pauline in its passing over the resurrection. The Father has exalted Christ to a status that contrasts superabundantly with his condition of abasement.”[25] Just as we saw that the hymn was all-inclusive of the humbling life of Jesus, I do not believe it skips over the resurrection as much as it assumes it is part of the trajectory from death to the highest place where Jesus is given the name above all names. It is a necessary component. Lastly, his given “…name is Kyrios, which appears at the end of the hymn; this LXX equivalent of Adonai (my Lord) was used for the ineffable tetragrammaton YHWH. It is the name that surpasses all celestial beings.”[26]

6. Paul goes on in Philippians 2:10 (NIV) to say, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,”[27] making this an experience not just for earth but for all the universe. “…In an act of religious devotion. The hymn alludes to Is 45:23 and transfers to the new Kyrios the adoration given there to Yahweh. It is a universal and cosmic adoration paid to a sovereign.”[28] For what reason does all of creation bow to him? We read in Is 45:22-25 (NAB), “Turn to me and be safe, all you ends of the earth, for I am God; there is no other! By myself I swear, uttering my just degree and my unalterable word: To me every knee shall bend; by me every tongue shall swear, Saying, “Only in the Lord are just deeds and power. Before him in shame shall come all who vent their anger against him. In the Lord shall be the vindication and the glory of all the descendants of Israel.”[29] Thus through his statement, Paul alludes to the fact that Jesus fulfills the words spoken by God in Isaiah; words that are unalterable and true.

7. Paul finishes the sentence in Philippians 2:11 (NIV) by proclaiming: “and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,to the glory of God the Father.”[30] Where the first half emphasized Jesus’ life of humility (or downward trajectory of humiliation), the second half of the hymn was used by Paul to show the reversal of that trajectory. “God highly exalted him (NEB “raised him to the heights”) and bestowed on him the name above all names. These 2 verbs are 2 aspects of the same act. The self-humbling is answered by the exaltation by God, and the role of slave is answered by the role of master. The name is Lord (lit. “master”)… The entire cosmic power structure under whose authority Christ humbled himself now confesses he is Lord.”[31] Although it is as Keck describes, that Christ is now exalted by God and confessed as Lord, it is not a rivalry to the Father.

In fact, as it is described by Fitzmyer, “his voluntary abasement and the acknowledgement paid to him by creation in his rewarded status bring honor to the Father… This essential profession of early Christian faith in Jesus forms the climax of the hymn.”[32] The actual passion that lies within the story of Jesus’ life of humility, his sacrifice and the glory he brings to the Father when he is hyperexalted might distract from the original intention of the verses: to instruct the community on their interactions with one another. In the simplest way, Paul encourages them to be a community built on a foundation of cruciform love; in all their relationships to be so deeply rooted in Christ and have Christ so deeply rooted in them that their life reflects the life of Jesus to others. Not just in principles or teachings but in the shape of our daily life.

 

Works Cited

“Philippians 2 NIV.” Bible Reference. Bible Gateway, n.d. Retrieved August 19, 2016, from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Philippians+2&version=NIV.

Fitzmyer, Joseph A., S.J. “The Letter to the Philippians.” The Jerome Biblical Commentary. Vol. 2. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1968. 247-53. Print.

Gorman, M. J. (2004). Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul & His Letters. United States of America: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Print.

Hooker, Morna D. “The Letter to the Philippians.” The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes. Nashville: Abingdon, 1994. 467-550. Print.

Keck, Leander E. “The Letter of Paul to the Philippians.” Ed. Charles M. Laymon. The Interpreters One-Volume Commentary on the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 1971. 845-55. Print.

St. Mary’s Press: College Study Bible (NAB). (2007). Winona, MN: Christian Brothers Publications. Wright, N. T. (1994).

 

[1] Gorman, M. J. (2004). Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul & His Letters. Pg. 413

[2] Gorman, 414

[3] Gorman, 415

[4] Gorman, 417

[5] Gorman, 417

[6] Gorman, 418

[7] “Philippians 2 NIV.” n.d. Bible Reference. Bible Gateway. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Philippians+2&version=NIV.

[8] Fitzmyer, Joseph A., S.J. “The Letter to the Philippians.” The Jerome Biblical Commentary. Vol. 2. 1968. Pg. 250.

[9] St. Mary’s Press: College Study Bible (NAB). (2007). Winona, MN: Christian Brothers Publications. Pg. 1755

[10] Keck, Leander E. “The Letter of Paul to the Philippians.” The Interpreters One-Volume Commentary on the Bible. 1971. Pg. 850.

[11] Keck, 850.

[12] “Philippians 2 NIV.” n.d. Bible Reference. Bible Gateway

[13] Hooker, Morna D. “The Letter to the Philippians.” The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes. 1994. Pg. 502.

[14] Fitzmyer, 250.

[15] Fitzmyer, 250-1.

[16] “Philippians 2 NIV.” n.d. Bible Reference. Bible Gateway

[17] Keck, 850

[18] Fitzmyer, 251

[19] Fitzmyer, 251

[20] “Philippians 2 NIV.” n.d. Bible Reference. Bible Gateway

[21] Keck, 850

[22] St. Mary’s Press: College Study Bible (NAB). (2007). Pg. 1571.

[23] St. Mary’s Press: College Study Bible (NAB). (2007). Pg. 1566.

[24] “Philippians 2 NIV.” n.d. Bible Reference. Bible Gateway

[25] Fitzmyer, 251

[26] Fitzmyer, 251

[27]“Philippians 2 NIV.” n.d. Bible Reference. Bible Gateway

[28] Fitzmyer, 251

[29] St. Mary’s Press: College Study Bible (NAB). (2007). Pg. 1082-3,

[30] “Philippians 2 NIV.” n.d. Bible Reference. Bible Gateway

[31] Keck, 851

[32] Fitzmyer, 251

Romans 8:22-30 (My Exegesis Attempt)

Text: Romans 8:22-8:30 [NIV]

  1. “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (8:22 [NIV])
  2. 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.” (8:23)
  3. “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?” (8:24)
  4. “But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (8:25)
  5. “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” (8:26)
  6. “And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (8:27)
  7. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (8:28)
  8. “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (8:29)
  9. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (8:30)

Theme/Paragraph Analysis

The theme of these verses is the story of God’s faithfulness and mercy to an unfaithful people and the response of patience and love from those who receive mercy from Him through their faith.

  1. All creation, with mankind, is experiencing a period of strife as we enter a new age.
  2. Although believers groan inwardly, God gave us the Spirit which represents the firstfruits of things to come.
  3. Christians are saved by faith in Jesus’ resurrection; they hope in a future promised in the Spirit’s firstfruits.
  4. We wait patiently through our suffering, trusting in God’s timing because of our hope.
  5. The Spirit helps our weakness and intercedes for us in prayer.
  6. God searches our hearts and understands the mind of the Spirit, who he sent to advocate for God’s people.
  7. Those who love God are called to the things God loves; God is good and so His work is for good.
  8. God knows His people from their creation. God planned their salvation through his Son’s relationship with them: that Jesus’ sacrifice would create a community of people who love God.
  9. The path to glorification with Christ is righteousness through the blood of Christ and repentance.

Historical Analysis

“Romans is arguably the most influential letter ever written. It is certainly the most significant letter in the history of Christianity. Romans has spawned conversions, doctrines, disputations, and even a few reformations, and it has done so quite ecumenically and with a kind of domino effect.”[1] One of the things that makes Romans so significant is that it has remained impactful throughout the centuries, from modern theologians like Karl Barth back to those such as Augustine and Martin Luther. This is in part because it addresses the struggle of faith in most seasons. “It narrates the grace of God toward sinful humanity, both Jews and Gentiles, that creates a multicultural cruciform community of obedient faith issuing in generous love and expectant hope.”[2]

Although Paul clearly knew quite a few of the Romans based on the names of those he listed, it is also clear that he is not the Church Father. This leads to substantial debate as to the purpose of Paul writing them. There is one thing of which we can be sure: all was not well in Rome. “In 49 an edict of Claudius expelled the Jews (or at least many of them) from Rome because of their fighting about one “Chrestus” -in all likelihood an allusion to intra-Jewish debate over the identity and role of the Jewish Messiah and, perhaps, whether Jesus was the expected one.”[3] In addition, Gentiles made up the majority if not the whole of the Roman Church which would likely have led to a marginalization of the Jews. Indications lead us to believe that this plus the differences in their practices led to issues of judgment over practices.[4] These historical tensions elicited the powerful response we see from Paul: “…the theme of Romans is God’s grace – God’s impartial faithfulness and mercy – for Jews and Gentiles that creates the eschatological, or new covenant, community through the “obedience of faith” (1:5;16:26).”[5]

 

Verse Analysis

1. Romans 8:22 [NIV] tells us “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”[6] We see evidence of this in frontiers possibly never even considered by Paul: deforestation, global warming, factory farming, unethical global supply chains that destroy developing regions, trafficking of over 20 million persons[7] etc. Fitzmyer writes that this comparison of struggle to childbirth was very common in Paul’s time for Greek philosophers. “Paul adopts this image to express the tortuous convulsions of frustrated material creation, as he sees it. It groans in hope and expectation, but also in pain. The compound verb (synodinei) expresses the concerted agony of the universe in all its parts.”[8]

One matter debated is whether mankind is included in the “whole creation.” Whereas Fitzmyer sees it unlikely because mankind is not brought up until the next verse, I believe it more likely that Paul meant to include us with the rest of creation; it further humbles us and reminds us that God is the Creator and we are the created. We groan in the pains with the rest of creation and are not set apart in this way; we on our own cannot distinguish ourselves from the rest of creation; only the grace of God can do that. For this reason, I prefer the perspective offered through the Hebrew Bible lens: “Although confident that God will be victorious, believers live in the present age, which is characterized by suffering and decay… Paul draws on a convention of the Hebrew Bible in which birth pains serve as a metaphor for the period of strife and travail that ushers in a new age…”[9]

2. Paul goes on to clarify that although we groan inwardly, we are in possession of the firstfruits. To make such a statement was no small gesture, as seen in Leviticus 23:14 (NAB) “Until this day, when you bring your God this offering, you shall not eat any bread or roasted grain or fresh kernels. This shall be a perpetual statute for you and your descendants wherever you dwell.”[10] In remembrance of their time in Egypt, the Jewish people would offer their firstfruits to God before preparing or eating any of their crop. The firstfruit was set aside for God. Yet now there is a reversal and God’s people are receiving God’s firstfruit in them. Paul writes, “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.” Romans 8:23 [NIV][11] So although we groan with the rest of creation, we have also received a great gift from God.

The resurrection being such an important part of Paul’s theology, it is to be expected that he would mention not only sonship but redemption of our bodies, alluding to the resurrection of Christ and the belief that the same experience was in store for his followers in the future. Paul’s striving for love in the shape of a cross is not intellectual; it is literal. We have been saved but we are not yet remade in the image of Jesus. “Summing up the whole train of thought, Paul can declare, here and in vv. 26-27, that the present “groaning,” though at one level a sign of the present not fully redeemed state, is at the same time a sign of the Christian’s sure and certain hope… The body is intended to be a glorious, splendid, fashioned after the model of Jesus’ own resurrection body, no longer subject to weakness, humiliation, sickness, sin, and death (cf. 1 Cor 15:54; 2 Cor 5:1-5; Phil 3:21). The Christian in the present time is but a pale shadow of his or her future self.”[12]

3. Romans 8:24 [NIV] translates as “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have?”[13] There are some issues with this translation, primarily with the writing of the last verse which makes it sound as if Christians may be putting their hope in something other than the resurrection of Jesus Christ, on which salvation hinges. It may be better translated as, “’For we were saved in hope.’ …Paul’s concern is to stress that, while salvation is already a reality for the Christian (“we were saved”: the tense is aorist, denoting a one-off event), it carries an inevitable future component.”[14] Remember, Paul first has emphasized our need to be humble through our equal struggle with the rest of creation, then reminded us of the undeserved grace God shows in offering salvation through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This question of hope focuses the Romans on the hope offered in the generous gift of the Spirit given by God.

“Hope is built in to Christian experience from the start, and remains one of its central characteristics (see 5:2-5; 15:13).  But if this is so, Paul is stressing, one cannot expect present Christian living to be anything other than a matter of straining forward for what is yet to come, for what is yet unseen… One does not anxiously scan the horizon for a boat already in port.”[15] It is a state of being for the Christian rather than a means to an end. Hope is not our means of justification. “Justified through faith, man still looks to the future eschatological term of salvation and this is the sphere of hope.”[16] It is clear within the context of these verses why it is so important to differentiate between faith and hope so Christian’s build upon the proper foundation. “The replacement of faith by hope is understandable in this context, but they are not synonymous. In view of Paul’s understanding of faith, we cannot translate, “saved by hope” (KJV and even Luther). The full meaning is that we were saved-i.e. by Christ’s achievement, regard as complete, hence the past tense-so as to live now in…hope.”[17]

4. After clarifying we exist in a state where our spirit has been saved but our body not redeemed and that redemption is what we hope for but what remains unseen, Paul addresses how that hope should manifest itself within the community: “But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (Romans 8:25 [NIV])[18] This is not hoping with anxious anticipation, like a child waiting eagerly for the moment they get to open their presents, it is trusting in the timing of God. Never, in the case of Paul, does this mean inaction. “It is hope that enables the Christian to bear with “the sufferings of the present,” (8:18) but that also makes him a witness to the world of a lively faith in the resurrection (cf. I Cor 2:9; 2 Cor 5:7; Heb 11:1).”[19] In summary, Paul is saying that the Christ follower who has hope is patient and obedient in this life because the Spirit helps us to trust in the promise of the future, having received the firstfruits (the Spirit itself).

5. “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” (Romans 8:26 [NIV])[20] “The Spirit, he says, helps us in our weakness-or literally, “The Spirit helps our weakness.”[21] While Wright interprets that to mean the state prior to “full redemption,” I would rather take into consideration Paul’s first several lines referencing all of creation groaning in pain, and our groaning with it. While this is technically the state prior to redemption, Paul appears to be addressing issues of daily life with this verse. Mankind, by his very nature selfish, weak and prone to turn away from God now has within him an intercessor by means of the Spirit who speaks for us in our prayers when we have no words. “…the Spirit adds to them his intercession that transcends that weakness (hyperentygchanei,” intercedes over and above”) the result is that the Christian utters what would otherwise be ineffable. Even to pray “Abba, Father,” the Spirit must dynamically assist the Christian (8:15, Gal 4:6). But the Christian who so prays is aware that the Spirit is manifesting his presence to him.”[22]

When thinking of times of great struggle, turmoil or mourning there is often great comfort and relationship that can be found when we weep, cry and call out the name of our God and beg for His presence. Paul’s familiarity with this experience becomes clear to us through these last couple verses. “Rather, he is speaking of an agonizing in prayer, a mixture of lament and longing in which, like a great swell of tide at sea, “too full for sound or foam,” the weight of what is taking place has nothing to do with the waves and ripples on the surface…”[23] To be told that God in the form of the Spirit laments with us as we lament, mourns with us as we mourn, and gives voice to our prayers when we have no words provides great comfort to those who might feel like their experience is isolating, unbearable or unknowable.

6. Furthermore, whatever the Spirit gives voice to the Father comprehends. While Paul was certainly a monotheist, this is where we see some of the Trinitarian beliefs manifested. “That the Spirit intercedes for us distinguishes the Spirit from God. In vs. 34 intercession is the work of Christ…”[24] but when Christ leaves he said that he would send another for us, an “advocate” in some translations, and this is what we see now in Paul’s writing: “And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (Romans 8:27 [NIV])[25] It is this distinction between that of the Spirit who inhabits us and that of the Father who can search our heart but also knows the mind of the Spirit. We see this distinction because we know that the phrase, “he who searches the hearts,” originates within the Old Testament. Examples include Proverbs 20:27 which the World English Bible translates as “The spirit of man is Yahweh’s lamp, searching all his innermost parts.”[26] Or the CEV version of Psalm 139:1 that says, “You have looked deep into my heart, Lord, and you know all about me.”[27] A searcher of hearts and man’s innermost parts is a clear part of God’s ongoing relationship with mankind. Additionally, “It was part of God’s loving plan of salvation that the Spirit should play such a dynamic role in the aspirations and prayers of Christians.”[28]

7. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 [NIV])[29] The use (or lack) of ho theos (God) in relationship to the verb synergei and the emphasis it puts on panta has ended up with three different ways of understanding this verse. First, if ho theos is included and synergei, “…is understood intransitively with an indirect object (“works together with”) …It stresses God’s co-operation “in all things” (panta, adv. Acc.) with those who love, and this is seen as the realization of his living plan of salvation…”[30] The second interpretation still includes ho theos but makes synergei transitive, making the subject panta so that the phrasing becomes, “all things work together for good for those who love God.”[31] While this might seem to fundamentally say the same thing as the third interpretation, taken in isolation, this translation or the first (similar to the NIV used) could be misinterpreted in isolation to say that God does good for those who love Him, not what is made more clear in the third and my preferred translation: “If ho theos is omitted…and panta is taken as the subject of the verb, then “all things work together for good for those who love God.”[32] Likewise, we see similar thinking echoed earlier in the Aramaic in Plain English translation of Romans 2:7 “To those who in the patience of good works are seeking glory, honor and indestructibility, he gives eternal life.”[33]

Thus, in understanding the intention to be that uses all things for good in the lives of those who love him, we can now rightly examine the second part of Paul’s sentence, “who have been called according to his purpose.” Another variation of this which we find in translations like the NAB is “who are called according to his purpose.”[34] Some interpretations draw on this to mean predestination but others believe it is a compliment. As we consider Paul’s overall theology, I believe the intention was more to accent the response God elicits in those who love Him; in other words, when one deeply loves God, you cannot help but feel called towards those things that God pursues. It is a natural response of love to support the ones you love in their purpose. Since it is a foundational belief that God is good, it would only make sense that those who love God would work towards good through all things in their life.

8. Paul goes on to clarify this path of the Christ follower even further: “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” (Romans 8:28 [NIV])[35] I believe that Paul is speaking in a very general sense here, about an entire people and not an implication that God has sorted all people before the beginning of time. Paul tells the story of God and man in one broad stroke. We start with the phrase “God foreknew” which draws us back to the imagery of the Old Testament in Psalm 139:1-13 (NAB), “Lord, you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar… You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb.”[36] Then we move into the phrase “predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” To be reminded that it was God’s plan to provide for us a Savior that looked exactly like Jesus Christ all along, back from Isaiah:1-12 (NAB), “…To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? …There was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, no appearance that would attract us to him… He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering… But he was pierced for our offenses; crushed for our sins; upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, and by his stripes we are healed… But the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all…Though he had done no wrong nor spoken any falsehood…Through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear…Because he surrendered himself to death and was counted among the wicked; and he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses.”[37] And it wasn’t only that God planned to send us his Son to us but that those who are God’s people would conform to the image of his Son.  As it is written in 1 John 2:5-6 (NAB), “But whoever keeps his word, the love of God is truly perfected in him. This is the way that we may know that we are in union with him; whoever claims to abide in him ought to live [just] as he lived.”[38] In other words, those who love God as mentioned in Romans 8:28 should be conformed to the image of his Son, and by doing so a growing community, or brothers and sisters, who love God and have Jesus Christ as their Savior are created.

9. Paul carries on the line of reasoning by explaining: And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Romans 8:30 [NIV])[39] This articulates the fact that if you have received Jesus as your Savior, you are in fact predestined by God to be in relationship with Jesus and the community of followers. It follows that anyone who is saved is also called; God isn’t passive and neither are followers, according to Paul. If you are called, you will also be justified, which is another term for being made righteous (again, although this is not named explicitly as an action, it would likely involve repentance from old ways and turning towards God), and lastly glorified. “All God’s plan (involving call, election, predestination, justification) is aimed only at the final destiny of glory for all men who will put faith in Christ. It is important to realize that in this passage Paul is not speaking of the predestination of individuals; he is describing God’s design apropos of Christians as a group.”[40]

In summary, although we struggle with the rest of creation God, because of His faithfulness and mercy, provides for us the firstfruits in the form of the Spirit. Only because of God’s grace are saved by faith, and it is tin that which we find hope and patience through the Spirit, who gives sound to our wordless cries. An intercessor that God has placed within us, God can understand our hearts and the mind of the Spirit who helps our weakness and intercedes in prayer. This relationship and the love of God calls followers to the things God loves; the result of this is that all things are directed for the goodness of God for those whose hearts are like God’s. God has known his people from the start and planned their salvation through the relationship with his Son; the Son’s sacrifice and example create a community who love God and put them on a path to glory with Christ through His blood, repentance and relationship.

 

 

 

Works Cited

 

Blackman, Edwin C. “The Letter of Paul to the Romans.” Ed. Charles M. Laymon. The Interpreters One-Volume Commentary on the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 1971. 768-94. Print.

 

Fitzmyer, Joseph A., S.J. “The Letter to the Romans.” The Jerome Biblical Commentary. Vol. 2. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1968. 291-331. Print.

 

Gaventa, Beverly R. The Women’s Bible Commentary. Ed. Carol A. Newsom and Sharon H. Ringe. London: SPCK, 1992. 313-20. Print.

 

Gorman, M. J. (2004). Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul & His Letters. United States of America: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. Print.

 

ILO. New ILO Global Estimate of Forced Labour: 20.9 million victims. (2012, June 1). Retrieved August 19, 2016, from http://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_182109/lang–en/index.htm

 

Isaiah 53:1-12 Who has believed what he has heard from us? (n.d.). Retrieved August 22, 2016, from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Isaiah+53%3A1-12&version=ESV

 

Proverbs 20:27 World English Translation. (n.d.). [Reference] Retrieved August 22, 2016, from http://biblehub.com/proverbs/20-27.htm

 

Psalm 139:13 CEV (n.d.). [Reference] Retrieved August 22, 2016, from http://biblehub.com/psalms/139-13.htm

 

Romans 2:7 Aramaic in Plain English (n.d.) [Reference]. Retrieved from http://biblehub.com/romans/2-7.htm

 

Romans 8 (NIV) (n.d.). [Reference] Retrieved August 19, 2016, from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV

 

St. Mary’s Press: College Study Bible (NAB). (2007). Winona, MN: Christian Brothers Publications. Wright, N. T. (1994).

 

Wright, N. T. “The Letter to Romans.” The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes. Nashville: Abingdon, 1994. 395-770. Print.

[1] Gorman, M. J. (2004). Apostle of the Crucified Lord: A Theological Introduction to Paul & His Letters. Pg. 338

[2] Gorman, 339

[3] Gorman, 340

[4] Gorman, 342

[5] Gorman, 343

[6] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV.

[7] ILO. (2012, June 1). Retrieved from http://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/newsroom/news/WCMS_182109/lang–en/index.htm.

[8] Fitzmyer, J. A. S. J. (1968). The Jerome Biblical Commentary (Vol. 2). Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall. Pg. 317

[9] Gaventa, B. R. (1992). The Women’s Bible Commentary. London: SPCK. Pg. 318

[10] St. Mary’s Press: College Study Bible (NAB). (2007). Winona, MN: Christian Brothers Publications. Pg. 163

[11] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV.

[12] Wright, N. T. (1994). The New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes (Vols. X). Nashville: Abingdon. Pg. 597

[13] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV.

[14] Wright, 597.

[15] Wright, 597.

[16] Fitzmyer, 317.

[17] Blackman, E. C. (1971). The Interpreters One-Volume Commentary on the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon. Pg. 784

[18] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV.

[19] Fitzmyer, 317

[20] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV.

[21] Wright, 598

[22] Fitzmyer, 317

[23] Wright, 599

[24] Blackman, 784

[25] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV.

[26] Proverbs 20:27 World English Translation. (n.d.). Bible Hub [Reference]. Retrieved from http://biblehub.com/proverbs/20-27.htm

[27] Psalm 139:13 CEV. (n.d.). [Reference]. Retrieved from http://biblehub.com/psalms/139-13.htm

[28] Fitzmyer, 317

[29] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV.

[30] Fitzmyer, 317

[31] Fitzmyer, 317

[32] Fitzmyer, 317

[33] Romans 2:7 Aramaic in Plain English. (n.d.). [Reference]. Retrieved from http://biblehub.com/romans/2-7.htm

[34] St. Mary’s Press: College Study Bible (NAB), 1700

[35] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV

[36] St. Mary’s Press: College Study Bible (NAB), 356-7

[37] St. Mary’s Press: College Study Bible (NAB), 1090-1

[38] St. Mary’s Press: College Study Bible (NAB), 1923

[39] Romans NIV Bible Gateway. [Reference]. Retrieved from https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans 8&version=NIV

[40] Fitzmyer, 317

Psalm 30: A Different Reading

Imagine that for a long time you believed that after you died, you ceased to exist. The only value you had was those who remembered you but someday the earth would die. The sun would burn out. The universe would collapse. And all life would cease. And this terrified you. So you worked too much, drank too much, smoked too much and got into the wrong relationships (if you didn’t love them, who would?).  And it left you feeling empty and hollow and broken… and then you found God. You actually learned that Jesus came not just for a special group of pious people but for you. And Jesus loved your fallen, broken, empty, dark shell so much He filled it up with the Spirit. That’s kind of my story. And if you read Psalm 30, you can kind of feel how much I love God.

Psalm 30

I will exalt you, O Lord,

for you lifted me out of the depths

and did not let my enemies gloat over me.

O Lord my God, I called to you for help

and you healed me.

O Lord, you brought me up from the grave,

you spared me from going down into the pit.

 

Sing to the Lord, you saints of his;

praise his holy name.

For his anger lasts only a moment,

but his favor lasts a lifetime;

weeping may remain for a night,

but rejoicing comes in the morning.

 

When I felt secure, I said,

“I will never be shaken.”

O Lord, when you favor me,

you made my mountain stand firm;

but when you hid your face,

I was dismayed.

 

To you, O Lord, I called;

to the Lord I cried for mercy;

“What gain is there in my destruction,

in my going down into the pit?

Will the dust praise you?

Will it proclaim your faithfulness?

Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me;

Oh Lord, be my help.

 

You turned my wailing into dancing;

you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,

that my heart may sing to you and not be silent.

O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.