Eagerly Awaiting Bodily Redemption for Ourselves and God’s Creation (Romans 8:18–30)
Being “glorified” with Christ (Rom. 8:17) is our hope for the future. But according to Paul that hope is part of a process already underway. We are to engage patiently in it, with the expectation that at some point it will be completed (Rom. 8:18–25). The gift of the Holy Spirit already received as “first fruits” of this process (Rom. 8:23) signifies our adoption as children of God (Rom. 8:14–17, 23). This constitutes proof that the process is underway.
This process culminates in “the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23). This is not a rescue of our souls out of our physical bodies, but the transformation of our bodies along with the entire creation (Rom. 8:21). This process has already begun, and we experience its “first fruits” (Rom. 8:24) in our life and work today. But far more and better is yet to come, and at present the “whole creation” groans in “labor pains” as it eagerly anticipates being set free from its own “bondage to decay” (Rom. 8:19–23). Paul is clearly drawing on imagery from Genesis 2–3, where not only Adam but also creation itself was subjected to decay and death, no longer able to live into what God created them to be. This reminds us to consider the impact of our work on all of God’s creation, not only on people. (For more on this topic, see “Dominion” in Genesis 1:26 and 2:5 at www.theologyofwork.org.)
Wayne Alderson at Pittron Steel
Wayne Alderson created a cooperative, collegial working environment at Pittron Steel, and the company was rewarded with productivity and quality gains that made it very profitable. It was so successful that it was bought out by another company. The new management reverted to the traditional management vs. labor work environment, firing Wayne and the managers who had created the collegial environment. Workplace strife ensued, and the company’s productivity declined until it went out of business seven years later.
The good work that Wayne and his workforce did at Pittron was extinguished, although his ideas have been copied by others and are still in use in other companies today.
The process is slow and sometimes painful. We “groan” while we wait for it to be accomplished, Paul says, and not only us individually but “the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains” (Rom. 8:22–23). This echoes the groaning of Israel while enslaved in Egypt (Exod. 6:5) and reminds us that nearly 30 million people are still enslaved in the world today. We can never be content with merely our own release from the evil forces in the world, but we must serve God faithfully until he completes his salvation in every part of the world.
Nonetheless, the salvation of the world is sure, for “all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). God is at work in us now, and the time is coming when God’s salvation will be complete in the world. God’s original verdict “It is very good” (Gen. 1:31) is vindicated by the transformation at work in us now, to be fulfilled in God’s time.
Because the transformation is not yet complete, we have to be prepared for difficulties along the way. Sometimes we do good work, only to see it wasted or destroyed by the evil that is presently in the world. Even if we do good work, our work may be vandalized. Our recommendations may be watered down. We may run out of capital, lose the election to a scoundrel, drown in red tape, fail to engage a student’s interest. Or we may succeed for a time, and then find our results undone by later events. Health workers, for example, have been on the verge of eradicating polio on several occasions, only to face new outbreaks due to political opposition, ignorance, vaccine-related transmission, and the swift pace of modern travel.
Al Erisman, “Wayne T. Alderson: Valuing People Helps Business” (conversation with Wayne Alderson), Ethix issue 66, July-Aug. 2009, accessible at http://ethix.org/2009/10/01/valuing-people-helps-business.
“Inaugural Global Slavery Index Reveals More Than 29 Million People Living in Slavery,” Global Slavery Index 2013, October 4, 2013, http://www .globalslaveryindex.org/category/press-release.
“Poliomyelitis Eradication,” in Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poliomyelitis_eradication.