The beginning of a new year is a good time to consider God’s primary purpose on the whole scheme of things, in all of human history, from the dawn of creation to the present time. God’s will for humankind has always been the same, as well as His ultimate purpose for the whole of creation. God had a plan “in the beginning” (Genesis 1 and 2) and that plan has never changed. There has never been a “plan B.”
The Bible does not leave us in doubt regarding God’s divine purpose in creating humankind in His own image. We were created, male and female, for communion with our Creator (i.e. not just for “communication,” giving us information or knowledge from time to time, but for “communion,” for fellowship with Himself for all time). We just celebrated Christmas, or the “Christ Event,” God’s giving of Himself. This is the unique truth that is fundamental to Christianity, not merely a religion offering information about God, not just theological propositions, but the very person of God in the gift of His unique and solitary Son, the Eternal Christ who took human form in the person of the historical Jesus, by whom we have been redeemed, reconciled to God, and given the assurance of everlasting life (John 3:16; Galatians 4:4-7; Philippians 2:5-11; Colossians 1:15-20, 2:9; Hebrews 1:1-4 and 7:26-27).
Without this “good news” of God’s incarnation, His atoning death on the cross and His victorious resurrection (Romans 5:6-8and 8:14-25), without this gracious visitation and intervention of God into human history and human experience, we would have no real hope (Romans 8:22-25), no “living hope” in the here-and-now or for the here-after (1 Peter 1:3-9, Romans 5:2). Without the hope that is ours in Christ crucified, risen, ascended, glorified, and coming again in power and glory to establish His kingdom, without the hope of a “new creation,” a “new heaven and a new earth” (2 Peter 3:13, Revelation 21:1), history would be little more than a vast and vain show, without any real meaning or lasting significance and purpose.
In his epistles, the Apostle Paul wanted his readers to understand that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not only a gospel of pardon (i.e. for the forgiveness of sins, a gospel of salvation) but a gospel of purpose. Not just for us personally, but for the whole of creation for the whole scheme of history (Romans 8:18-25; Ephesians 1:3-10). When Paul wrote his Letter to the Romans, he was writing to encourage his brothers and sisters in Rome during a time of intense persecution. He wanted them to know that their suffering was not without purpose. God was not afflicting them. God was not punishing them. God was working His purpose out at all times and in all circumstances, working “in all things for good” in the lives of those who were seeking to fit into His plan for His chosen ones (Romans 8:28). He was writing to share the hope of the Gospel with them, to help them to see everything that was happening to them through the bifocals of faith. He wanted to be sure they knew, as members of Christ’s Church in its infancy, during a time of tribulation and testing, that their suffering would be used by God to prepare them for the time when they would be restored to their true destiny as God’s adopted children.
He also wanted them to know that they were a part of something much larger than themselves, that God has a plan for all of creation and all of human history. This mighty pageant of the ages is not just a colorful stage for the rise and fall of nations, empires, and civilizations, but rather the womb from which the sons and daughters of God are born. The sufferings believers experience in this broken world are simply the “labor pains” or birth pangs of the children of God. Listen to Paul’s words with this understanding: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation itself waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God, for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the One who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved (not saved “by” hope, for we are saved “by grace alone through faith” – see Ephesians 2, but we were saved “in” hope)…Now hope that is seen is not hope, for who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not yet see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:18-25).
God’s primary purpose in all His mighty acts and interventions has always been and continues to be the development of lives that respond to Him as sons and daughters to a loving heavenly Father in “faith, hope, and love…these three, and the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). This is the key to history! Civilizations rise as they develop lives that respond to God in trust, obedience, and loving service. When any society or civilization succeeds in contributing to this divine purpose, it stands! It survives! When it fails, it eventually falls. This is the lesson of history that we need to learn at this particular time in our own nation’s history. Compared to countless older nations, the United States of America is still in its infancy. However, this is a perilous time, a time for the putting up of storm signals. These aren’t just difficult or critical times – these are dangerous and calamitous times. Thankfully, we are reminded by scripture that such times are often used by God, the “God the nations,” to bring forth His sons and daughters to help usher in a new beginning, another “Great Awakening.”
Such times as these are filled with much trouble and tribulation, conflict and confusion, division and derision as the result of petty party politics and the abuse of power, and people falling powerless and hopeless. But those of us who are followers of Jesus are supposed to be people of hope, for we know that with God there is always hope. As long as there is life there is hope, and as long as there is hope there is life. Yet there is neither life nor hope without trust in God: “our help is ages past and our hope for years to come.” Those who know and believe the scriptures, which write history even before it occurs, have overwhelming confidence in the only true and living God, the God of creation, the God of history, the sovereign God whose purpose will not be thwarted by those who “…love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil” (John 3:19). In fact, the God who is Almighty, whose power is unlimited, who can transform suffering into grace, can even use crises, calamities, and catastrophes for bringing forth his sons and daughters more easily than He can use comfortable and complacent times.
Those who believe the scriptures of the Old Testament and New Testament are authoritative for interpreting historical events, as well as moral and ethical conditions that exist nationally and internationally, do not despair when corruption seems so prevalent. This is the faith Christ’s Church has sung through the ages: “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing, our helper He amidst the flood of mortal ills prevailing…Did we in our own strength confide, the battle would be losing, were not the right man on our side, the man of God’s own choosing. Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He, and He must win the battle.” As the Apostle Paul says, Christ IS our hope, and “…hope does not disappoint us” (Romans 5:5). So “Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering…do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord” (Romans 12:11-12). The corrupt moral conditions that exist in our own nation, such as the lack of honesty and integrity, lies and more lies, calling evil good and good evil, cannot and will not go on endlessly. “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever is sown we will also reap…So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up” (i.e. if we do not lose heart, if we do not lose hope – Galatians 6:7-10). This is a moral world in which evil sows the seeds of its own destruction. Rebellion against God will not go unchecked. There will come a day of retribution, a time of cleansing, when God’s kingdom will come and Christ will judge the nations. Evil will be vanquished and Christ will reign supreme as God’s will is done on earth even as it is in heaven. This the “living hope” to which we have been born anew as children of God, by the same power that raised Jesus from the dead and will also raise us “…into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. Kept in heaven for all who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this we rejoice, even if now for a little while we have to suffer various trials” (1 Peter 1:13-6).
J.B. Phillips, in his wonderful translation of the New Testament, gives us this rendering of Paul’s words in Romans 8:22: “The whole creation is on tiptoe, waiting to see the wonderful sight of the children of God coming into their own full inheritance” (i.e. when our salvation is complete). Paul goes on to say in the same passage that the day is coming when the whole created order will “…be set free from its bondage to decay and death” (i.e. freed from corruption, from the terrible consequences of man’s disobedience to God), and will share in “…the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” This refers not only to planet Earth, but to the whole of creation, every galaxy and planetary system in the universe (scientists are even telling us now that there are undoubtedly other universes), celebrating together, with the sons and daughters of God, the glorious experience of final redemption and restoration (i.e. when our spiritual inheritance that was forfeited because of humankind’s disobedience to God is restored), and there will be a “new heaven and a new earth” (2 Peter 3:13, and Revelation 21:1). There will be no more sin, no more suffering, no more pain, no more separation, no more loss, no more sorrow, no more death, no more tears, for “…all things will be made new” (Revelation 21:3-5). However, as the Apostle Paul explains, and as we well know, the whole of creation is currently “in travail.” But the suffering is not without purpose. It will prove to be the “labor pains” for the birthing of the sons and daughters of God, and carries with it the sure and certain hope of a “new creation.”
In the meantime, Paul reminds us, that we ourselves are “inwardly groaning” as we “wait patiently” for this fulfillment of God’s purpose in the whole scheme of things, in all of human history since the Garden of Eden. In this hope we rejoice, for through Jesus Christ, our risen and reigning Lord, “…we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand (to “stand” is always the symbol of victory in the New Testament), and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our suffering, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us” (Romans 5:3-5).