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; 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 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. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
(Romans 8:18-25 NRSV)
At the heart of Advent is a message of hope. I have already in an earlier reflection touched upon the end of the universe either in terms of collapse and a cosmic fry-up or in terms of continual expansion and a freeze. Whichever one of these outcomes occurs the universe is indeed condemned to a futile destiny.
How does all this relate to the message of hope that we also find in Romans 8? Paul quite obviously had no understanding of the universe that parallels the 21st century scientific understanding of the cosmos. For Paul the future of creation is tied in with our own future and it is a future underpinned with glory and hope. The whole of creation is something that matters to God as does the fate of every human individual.
Scientists speak in terms of the universe originating with the big bang, it is more difficult for them to think in terms of a new creation. Science has its limitations and not everything reduces to something that has a scientific explanation. Some attempts have been made, the American physicist Frank Tipler wrote a book entitled The Physics of Immortality (Macmillan, 1995) which is a highly reductionist approach to eschatology. John Polkinghorne accepts the methods of science are reductionist , but he explores in a number his writings the future in terms of resurrection and the recreation of matter as a new creation (see for example The God of Hope and the End of the World, SPCK 2002).
For myself I would rather let theology take the lead at this point ‘we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience’. The resurrection of Jesus points not only to the destiny of human beings but also to the transformation of the universe. The whole of creation ‘will obtain the freedom and glory of the children of God’.
This future hope also speaks to us of present ethics. If God is concerned about creation and its future then we are also reminded that we are to have a care for the environment and all living creatures.
God of hope,
we remember that there is nothing so dead or destroyed
that you cannot bring life bursting forth again where only death has reigned.
Thank you for the hope that was born in the manger.
Thank you for the hope born again from the tomb.
Thank you for the hope that your love for us and this world is so irrepressible
that you will be born again.