I want to focus on the following statements Paul made in his letter to the Romans:
“[T]he mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject[i]itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so….
“[C]reation was subjected[ii]to futility[iii], not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free ….”
Romans 8: 20-21
Life and death, the universe and all the “stuff” that is, ever was and ever will be are “in God’s hands”. That is another way of saying that God created everything. God is timeless and immaterial and has created all that is material out of nothing, including us.
But the material world, the world as we know it, is passing away (1 John 2:17), even from the moment it was created! That’s what science (the second law of thermodynamics) tells us also. The world has been has been “winding down” since the “Big Bang”.
Paul’s statement about the “futility” to which the world has been subjected suggests that futility is part of God’s ultimate plan, because it was done “in hope”.
If that doesn’t add up for you, I don’t think you are alone. I have been puzzling on it for awhile. What possibly could be the plan?
The trite response that “God’s ways are not our ways” falls short. We want to know, though perhaps it’s true that we may never completely understand. Still, I have some ideas that are informed by Scripture that I will try to lay out in this article.
I am listening to the BEMA Podcast with Marty Solomon and Brent Billings as they work their way through Genesis applying a more Hebrew, eastern approach to understanding and interpreting scripture. I have talked about these things in previous articles, so I will not rehash.
One of the observations made in the story of creation is that God rested on day 7. The theme of God resting can be followed throughout scripture, especially in the law of the Sabbath rest.
The writer of Hebrews says that the nation of Israel would not enter His rest because they hardened their hearts “in the rebellion” in the wilderness when they “tested and tried” God; rather, they went astray in their hearts and did not know God’s way. (Heb. 3:7-11) From these statements, we understand that God withholds His rest to those who harden their hearts, test and try God, go their own ways and do not “know” God’s ways.
In Hebrew thinking, to know God’s ways is not just an intellectual thing. It’s an experiential thing. To know is to connect personally with and to experience. Knowing is not just intellectually grasping, but becoming personally intimate with something.
God promises us that we will enter into His rest if we do not harden our hearts, if we do not test and try Him and do not go astray, but know (experience, become intimate with) God’s ways. (Heb. 4:1-2) God desires for us to enter His rest.
One conclusion a person might draw from the story of creation is that God knew when to stop creating. He knew when to rest. He knew when enough was enough, and He invites us likewise to know when enough is enough: to rest.
God’s work has been finished since creation (Heb. 4:3), but that doesn’t mean His purposes are accomplished, yet. We know, for instance, that He subjected creation to futility (mataiotés – vanity, emptiness, unreality, purposelessness, ineffectiveness, instability, frailty….”) in hope. (Rom. 8:20)
If He subjected creation to futility in hope, He did it with the expectation and purpose that the hope would be fulfilled and accomplished. The hope is that “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God”. (Rom. 8:21)
This suggests that God may have been done with His works when he rested, but His purposes were not yet accomplished. Gods rest prior to the ultimate accomplishment of all that He purposed is part of the story. There is more to the story then simply the creation.
The creation was intended for a purpose that is yet to be accomplished, and our freedom and glory is needed to accomplish that purpose and to liberate creation from its bondage to decay! But what is that yet unfulfilled purpose?
This article is inspired by the following article in which the author takes issue with an author of another article taking issue with the idea of the eye as proof of an Intelligent Designer. Go ahead and read the article if you are curious. My point goes in a different direction, though. I will pick up when you are done. (Or you can skip it and jump to where I start again.)
Nathan Lentz finds fault with the human eye and, therefore, argues that the human eye is poor evidence that a Designer God is behind it. Lentz comes from an evolutionary materialist position. Cornelius Hunter uses the force of Lentz’s argument against him.
In essence, Hunter counters that the fault-prone human eye should have spelled the demise of the human species if evolutionary materialism is true. The fault-prone human eye would have prevented humans from climbing to the top of the food chain and would have weeded us out long ago (on the evolutionary paradigm).
I am not really convinced by the counterargument. But then, I am not really convinced by the initial argument. Both arguments boast of knowledge and wisdom we have no claim on.
If God exists, who are we to find fault in His design? Design requires a purpose. Design doesn’t drive purpose; rather, purpose drives design. We must know the purpose of something before we can really comment on the design.
A design may be well suited to certain purposes and not to others, in varying degrees. The human eye serves a purpose in providing us the ability to do many things, and we have survived (obviously) despite the faults to which the human eye is prone. Perhaps, we could do more and survive better if the human eye wasn’t so subject to problems.
Then again, maybe the point (the purpose) of the human eye isn’t primary or only to allow us to do things and to survive. Maybe the human eye is designed to accomplish a much a greater purpose than mere utility and survival.
One the other hand, the fact that humans have survived despite having eyes that are susceptible to near-sightedness, far-sightedness, glaucoma and a host of other issues may simply suggest that we have evolved with other strengths that overcame the weaknesses in the human eye. The faults in the human eye don’t really disprove evolution.
But I have no interest here in continuing to prove or disprove either argument. I believe sufficient evidence exists to establish that a creator God is the best explanation for the universe.
What interests me is the following passage in Romans that speaks to the Lentz article on the seemingly flawed design of the human eye:
“[T]he creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope…..”
Romans 8:19 (ESV)
The idea I come back to is that God subjected the creation to futility… in hope. That means God subjected the creation to futility for a purpose. If the human eye is “flawed” (from our perspective), it is “flawed” for a purpose.
I have been listening to the BEMA podcast. I highly recommend it. As summarized one the website, “‘BEMA’ (or bimah) is a Hebrew word that refers to the elevated platform in the center of first-century synagogues where the people of God read the Text.”
The early Christians knew their Scripture. They built their lives around it. They devoted themselves to it, and to prayer, and the apostles reaching, and to fellowship and shared meals. (Acts 2:42
The BEMA podcast attempts to approach Scripture the way easterners would have, the way the early Christians in the Middle East would have approached it. My Jewish professor in college told us one day that Jews were not westerners; they were easterners, and they thought differently than westerners.
Christianity quickly became westernized, but it’s origins are eastern. We would do well to gain some new perspective from a more eastern way of thinking. I encourage you to listen to the first couple of episodes of the podcast linked in the opening paragraph if you want an introduction to an eastern perspective of the Bible.
Reading the first 11 chapters of Genesis from an eastern, Hebraic perspective, opens up new insights. Not the least of which is the genre of literature these chapters represent. They are poetry. They are chiasms with intricate organization and emphasis that is found in the structure of the chiasms.
The Tower of Babel story is one of the chiastic passages in Genesis. The story actually begins in the Hebrew with the last verse of Chapter 10 (as it is organized in English Bibles), and it goes like this (ESV):
These are the clans of Noah’s sons, according to their lines of descent, within their nations. From these the nations spread out over the earth after the flood.
Now the whole world had one language and a common speech. As people moved eastward, they found a plain in Shinar and settled there.
They said to each other, ‘Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.’ They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.’
But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. The Lord said, ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.’
So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. That is why it was called Babel—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
Hebrew has no vowels, only consonants. There are vowel signs over the consonants that denote where breaths should be taken for anyone reading Hebrew out loud.
The consonants in this chiasm are repetitive: N, B, L, H; then H, L, B, N in reverse. There is a front half and a back half. The middle of the story is 11:4, which I have emphasized by bolding it.
The verse in the middle of the chiasm is where the emphasis lies: the peoples’ concern about being scattered over the face of the earth. They didn’t want to be scattered.
Why not? That’s the question we should be prompted to ask.
I am not sure I can do any justice to the layers of meaning and the questions that arise in these verses in a short blog post. I can only scratch the surface, but here goes….
Jeremiah wrote a letter to the Jews in Babylon. The Jews were exiled by God’s doing. He has been warning them about it regularly. Then, it happened. I am sure they were stunned anyway. Jeremiah opens his letter saying:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon….”[i]
God put you and I where we are, also. What God says to the Babylonian exiles then is instructive for us today, wherever we are.
I am going to break what Jeremiah says down and apply it to our world today, but first we need to set the stage. We need to step back and consider the big picture.
“From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this [marking out our appointed times and where we live] so that [we] would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.” (Acts 17:26-27)
Nothing in all of human history has caught God off guard. God saw the sweep and the details of that history from before time. He also knew you.
He knew where you would be born. He knew the hairs on your head. He knew the smiles and frowns on your face, your thoughts and every word that would slip from your mouth before they were even said. (Echoing Psalm 139)
God saw the United States of America, and all the nations of the world before they were established, their course in history and their demise. What we call future isn’t future to God. He exists outside of time. He existed before time began to tick. He exists now, and He exists in our future.
God is orchestrating the people, the times, the events in history for one end. John caught a glimpse of that end when he saw people of every nation, tribe and tongue gathered around the throne of the Lamb. (Rev. 7:9) Has Paul described God’s plan and purpose this way,
The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.
All creation is in on the purposes of God and is waiting for the fulfillment of God’s plan
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it,
Our present conditions are part of God’s plans and part of the ultimate purposes of God to be accomplished in the world He set in motion
in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
God’s plan and purpose is for creation to be freed from the present futility to which He subjected it as we obtain the freedom of becoming His children.
For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.
It was so from the beginning. When Eve fell in the garden, God increased her pain in childbirth….
And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies
When we are born again, by faith in God’s grace, and receive the Spirit, we taste the fruit of the life God offers and look forward to our ultimate redemption.
God’s Ultimate Plan
God marked out the appointed times in history of all the peoples of the earth and the boundaries of their lands throughout time, and that history is part of the larger creation that is waiting in eager expectation for the plans and purposes of God to be worked out in us and, ultimately, in creation. We are part of that plan.
We are at the center of the plans and purposes of God, who made us. Of all the creatures God created, we alone are created in His image. The creation waits eagerly for us to engage in that plan and purpose of God – each one of us and us, and us collectively.
Like the people of Judah in Babylon, we find ourselves exiles and strangers in the earth (1 Peter 2:11), if indeed we have been born again, born from above. When we are born again, we are born of the Spirit (John 3:1-21) by which we gain entry to the kingdom of God, which kingdom is not of this world. (John 18:36).
“But to all who … receive him, who [believe] in his name, he [gives] the right to become children of God, who [are] born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:12)
When we receive Him, He gives us “the right to become children of God”. Though God knew us and “chose us in Him from before the foundation of the earth” (Eph. 1:4), He gives us, at the same time, the right (exousia, the right or authority) to become His children – it isn’t a forgone conclusion – at least not from our perspective.
We have to receive it, to begin with, and to believe (trust and commit to) it. In more popular parlance, we have to walk in it. Indeed, Jesus calls us as disciples to follow after Him, to “walk” the way he walked, to live as he lived. Paul says it this was:
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,[c] being born in the likeness of men.And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:1-8)
Jesus is no longer with us to demonstrate in person how to walk as he walked, but we have Scripture and the Holy Spirit as our guide. Indeed, all Scripture “is God-breathed” (inspired), and it is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”, so that we can be “thoroughly equipped for every good work”. (2 Timothy 3:16-17) The people who first heard these words would have thought primarily of what we call the Old Testament.
What we find in Jeremiah’s words to the people of Judah exiled in Babylon are instruction for those of us today who are exiled as aliens and strangers in this present world (if indeed we have truly been born again). What he says may not fit the modern Church narrative and example, though – or at least the poplar notion of what that is.