“Paradox” is a great word. It means something that appears absurd, looks like it just can’t be the case, but is actually true and really is how things are. It’s a great word – but a paradox can be difficult to live with, particularly if we don’t know it’s there.
Romans 8 v. 18 – 25 confronts us with something of a paradox. It declares that a believer in Jesus is likely to encounter suffering, and perhaps plenty of it, because we live in a world that is broken by our rejection of God. And yet at the same time, it declares that we have “the first-fruits” of the age to come when all suffering will be done away with.
“First-fruits” is what it says – the first crops a farmer gathers from the field which tells him that the rest of the harvest is on the way. Verse 23 says that the “first-fruits” in the believer’s life is the gift of the Holy Spirit. The message is that the Spirit has been given to us, and so the rest of what God has promised, including the time when suffering will be done away with, is on its way.
So, here’s a series of questions that generate strong opinions in some and cause concern and confusion in others, which this passage in Romans can help us address:
These verses in Romans help us face those questions, I believe, because they declare that we are living between the now and the not yet, between the present and the future. That is not to say that the present has no connection to the future. Not at all. The Spirit is within and among God’s people! And so, by His power, through His people, God’s kingdom is breaking into a world that has rejected Him. So it is that we see love for God in the lives of believers, changed hearts and changed behaviour, sacrificial giving and unselfish loving, a desire for prayer and for God’s Word, physical and emotional and mental healing in part or in whole, and the gospel going out into our communities. But we don’t see any of that perfectly: fullness and perfection is to come. It will come, but not yet: as verse 25 says, “we hope for what we do not see”.
It is so important to get this clear in our hearts and minds. If we don’t, we will either live as though the church is just to hang on until Jesus comes again and never expect to see God work any evidence of His kingdom amongst us; or we will become insensitive to others who are suffering when we are not (we will wonder why they don’t enjoy the ‘fullness’ that appears to be ours), and become discouraged when that fullness no longer appears to be what it once was.
For now, we live with two world tension. May God give us the grace to do so, by the power of His Spirit.