When the pandemic first caused our lockdowns in late March we gathered our strength and knew that soon in the future that this pandemic would all be in the past and we would begin to recover physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually and economically. When the restrictions began to ease and we could again have church services under tight restrictions of numbers allowed and cleaning requirements – we were excited and happy to follow the requirements to the letter of the law and even over and above what was required of us.
We looked forward to further easing of restrictions and made plans of increasing our numbers and reintroducing Holy Communion. We rejoiced at those first services seeing familiar faces on the Sunday morning and Wednesday afternoons happy that we were coming together again.
But then we heard that we were going to delay that further easing by a fortnight because of some fresh outbreaks. But we thought – well we’ve been through 3 months, what’s a couple weeks and at least we can still gather with 20 and plan and prepare during those 2 weeks for larger numbers and Holy Communion.
But then the numbers began to get higher and higher and showed no sign of relenting. And then last week we heard the inevitable – back into stage 3 lockdowns for greater Melbourne for 6 weeks. That news was devastating to say the least. And the feeling of this relapse is worse than the original lockdown that we had to undergo.
Paul’s description in today’s bible reading sums it up for me: We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. This statement by Paul was written some 2000 years ago and feels so real today with our bodies groaning, physically and spiritually.
You wonder what Paul must have had in mind when he wrote that about the world groaning in pain. The reality is that our world and humanity have groaned under the weight of suffering from the moment evil entered into creation by way of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil from which Adam and Eve ate. There has been famine, disease, droughts, floods, war, crime and a whole host of suffering which has caused creation and humanity to groan – and that’s just in the opening chapters of Genesis.
But also in the opening Chapters of Genesis God dealt with limiting the extent of our suffering and groaning by withdrawing the Tree of Life from the Garden of Eden and limiting human life even further than what we see in the likes of Adam, Noah, Methuselah and others who lived to around 800 to 900 years. God limited life to no more than 120 years. God wanted to eradicate all human life and sent a flood, but there was something special, something unique in human life – something intimate that he did not have with the heavenly realm that saw him continue human life that was created in his own image. So God shortened human life to limit the extent of human suffering. And I guess that’s something we never really understand. That God loves us so much that he wants human life to continue but because of free will he doesn’t remove the evil and suffering that entered into the world as a result of our free will to disobey – but God has put it on a very short tether.
And so Paul says: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.
One of the biggest challenges that faces the Church and Christians in witnessing to the world is the existence of suffering and evil in the world. And Paul does not deny its existence but says that God has prepared an amazing experience once evil and suffering has reached its end. The world we live in is God’s gift to us so he did not want to simply end it when evil entered in.
Human life is created in the image of God and is special to God so he didn’t, or rather couldn’t just end it when we disobeyed him in the Garden of Eden. So God is working with this dilemma. Allowing the creation and humanity that he loves with his whole heart to continue to exist but also showering his blessings on us which sadly we don’t see clearly because of suffering. So God, in his love for the world, limited human life span and sent his own Son as a human being to pay the full price of our disobedience and guarantee that when we die we enter into the eternal bliss that God had always planned for us. And again, that’s what Paul says – our eternal life is guarantee through Christ: Because, we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ– if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
But that still leaves one question unanswered. Why did God allow the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil to exist – to provide that opportunity for humanity to disobey God and allow evil to enter? That is a question we may never know the answer to but we don’t know everything about God’s plan We don’t know why Satan, after being banished from Heaven was allowed to roam this earth. Jesus tries to explain the situation in today’s Gospel parable. He explains the situation but not the inner details of why. He says; The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil – not God;
Again, we don’t know everything of the heavenly realm but what we do know is that in Heaven no evil can exist. Everything evil has been banished from there including Satan and his demons. And as a result there will be no more suffering or death because nothing evil will be permitted to enter. And that’s why Paul says: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; We wait a maximum of 120 years – some less – but receive an eternity of bliss.
Paul knows what he is talking about because he was given a glimpse what is waiting for us in the Heavenly realms. In 2 Corinthians he says that he was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. Friends, this time of suffering is difficult. It is difficult because we have not been able to worship. We have not been able to receive Holy Communion. We have not been able to see family and friends. It is extremely difficult for the elderly, the lonely, those whose health is compromised.
And it can challenge our faith wondering what is God doing. But let us remember what Paul says – this suffering is like the suffering of birth pains – of labour about to give birth.
And God has asked us to wait in hope. To wait in trust that God knows what he is doing even if we don’t.
Even if we can’t see what God is doing. Remember what Hebrews says about faith: faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. What we don’t see is how God is using this suffering for good. What we hope for is that this suffering produces perseverance, perseverance, character and character hope – and hope will not disappoint us. We would all love for this to be over – for things to go back to the way things were. But let’s be honest – the way things were included a church that was declining – a Christian faith that was struggling for relevance. So let us remember what Joseph said to his brothers – what humans intend for evil God uses for good. I’m as disappointed as anyone that we have been forced back into lockdown but I am assured, and assure you too that Christian hope will never disappoint us.