Peaceable Kingdom (Isaiah 11) — John August Swanson

Today’s Bible reading

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. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? – Romans 8:23-4

More thoughts for meditation

The groaning Paul notes is not just about the sacrifices we need to make to have full and meaningful lives, it is also about the sufferings we endure as people engaged in a fallen and wicked world. Our sufferings are the sign we are coming up against sin and death. It may be a sore throat or a financial crisis, but all our sufferings have meaning and are each an invitation, in God’s hands, to explore personal or communal development.

Often Christians think of salvation as all about the age to come. But that is just one aspect of the term when it is used in the Bible. Salvation is about healing and wholeness. Holiness means wholeness. In Jesus, God is being reconciled to humanity and bringing reconciliation among individuals, communities, and with creation. Salvation is moving with that attention to the well being of all creation. The Old Testament names it shalom: being in right relationship with God, all our fellow creatures and creation itself.

We often think of our suffering as happening in our marriage, family or circle of friends. But as the Hebrew psalmists and prophets vividly declared, our enemies are larger than us and we should not presume that we, or our intimates, caused all the pain we bear. We are part of a church, a local community, a city/state/nation/people, a watershed/environment, a transhistorical body/realm of spiritual beings, and God is over it all. Our discernment is more effective if we relate to all these levels in our process.

When discerning transition, which may have been caused by suffering and will likely include it, we return to the truth that we discover who we are when we understand our relationship to the Creator, whether we are seeking in times of joy or distress. Spiritual light, as can be seen in the Psalms and Prophets, has always been understood to include both the glow of the forge of suffering and the brilliance of the moment of joy, utter defeat and surprising victory. The experiences are two faces of the same God: death and resurrection.

Suggestions for action

Pray: May the groans of my heart teach me and not defeat me. Lead me.

Try considering the transition you are in or entering, or your life, by considering four ways that open up our concerns in relation to all the levels of relating to creation we experience.

The positive way: How do you celebrate your life as a human being, created by God, redeemed by Jesus? As a creation you were declared “very good.” And while you were still a sinner, Jesus died for you. What aspects of being God’s creature in creation inspire you, fill you with joy and hope, uplift your spirit?

The negative way: What aspects of human existence create pain and suffering for you? They could be particular: health problems, psychological issues, or addictions. They could relate to the suffering of others in the world. What are the ways you deal with these sufferings? How does your awareness affect your present discernment?

The creative way: When we attend to our two faces, the two previous ways, our creative energy is unleashed. As you meditate on your responses to the positive and negative ways you travel, listen for how you go through suffering on ways that draw upon your sense of being blessed as one of God’s creatures. This process may lead to surprising  new directions as you consider your transition.

The transformative way: It is possible that our natural state includes some built-in discontent that constantly looks for relief when we see how our creative efforts relate to the life of the world. Our attempts to co-create with God create us; by transforming, we are transformed. How do you see yourself contributing to the salvation of the world?