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Blogging Romans: Daddy!

February 2, 2012

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Paul begins chapter eight with a powerful capstone for the epistle thus far: We were in sin.  Through baptism, in faith, we are now in Christ.  Therefore, though sin remains, I am no longer in sin nor is sin, as a power, in me.  Therefore, I am not condemned.  God’s verdict upon my life has been issued.  I am justified.  You are justified.  You are set free, able to live not according to the things of the flesh but according to the Spirit.  God, Paul assures us, has sent his Son to “deal with sin” (8:3).  Sin’s reign in us is over.  In baptism, we are free.

The remainder of chapter eight deals with the life of Christians between our justification (through our dying with Jesus in the waters of baptism) and our glorification (which has yet to be revealed).  Here Paul moves out of the language of covenant and beyond the language of the law court into a more powerful realm: the family, where love reigns.  We are joined to the covenant begun by God with Abraham.  We are declared just by the victory of Christ.  For what?  So that we may receive a spirit of adoption as children of God, “and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (8:17).  Dead with Christ we are united to Christ; we are in Christ.  Therefore we share in his relationship with the Father.  We are now children of God, sisters and brothers of the one true Son.

Paul drives home this point by inviting us to call on God the Father, through the Spirit, with a cry of “Abba!  Father!”  The power in such a cry is twofold.  First, Abba is the address used by Jesus when praying to his Father (see, for example, Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, Mark 14:36).  As brothers and sisters of Jesus, we have access to the Father in the same way, by the same name.  But that’s not all.  Abba is not staid, distant term for one’s father.  Abba is best translated “Daddy,” implying a great degree of intimacy and love.  As those who have been set free in Christ, we are invited to call on a God who has not simply put wrath away, but has opened the loving family of God to us.

This sheer weight of this has finally been driven home for me in my role as a father.  One of my favorite moments each day occurs when I arrive home from work.  I open the door and, more often than not, am greeted with a cry of “Daddy” from somewhere in the house, followed up by the appearance of a little blonde bundle of love streaking toward me with arms outstretched, yearning to be picked up and held.  (I am, by the way, banking away these memories for her teenage years, when my arrival will almost certainly elicit a different sort of response).  When Paul tells us that we, in Christ and by the Spirit, can call on the Lord God as Abba, this is the sort of relationship into which he is inviting us.

In this way, Paul calls us to live cruciform lives.  We are shaped by the one in whom we now have life.  If Christ is the Son of God, we too are God’s children who take their places in God’s household.  This sets the stage for the other element of our newfound cruciformity.  We are given the joy of God’s love through Christ while at the same time being called to suffer with Christ (8:17).

Paul now addresses the question of suffering in the present time for the Christian who lives between justification and glorification.  This, for Paul, is not a question of theodicy.  Paul is unconcerned with the philosopher’s question regarding God’s ability or desire to prevent suffering (a fine question in the abstract but one that has little to do with a living God or the reality in which we find ourselves).  Paul has made clear already that the bulk of human suffering is the fault of a freely fallen humanity.  God’s answer to human suffering is not to prevent it, but to succumb to it through the death of Jesus and, finally, to triumph over it through the transformative work of Jesus’ resurrection.

Our world continues to groan in labor pains as we await the new creation.  We, the children of God, are called to groan along with creation.  After all, nothing we endure can compare to the glory that will be revealed (8:18).  This is not a justification for the suffering of this world, but a reminder for the faithful that our suffering is grounded in the sure and certain hope that there’s something better around the corner.  We are thereby set free to care for one another and for this creation, beloved by God, even as we await the new.  We, the children of God, have been predestined, called, justified, and glorified (8:30).  As such, we can endure this present time, calling out to God in the power of the Spirit to intercede with deep sighs, weaving together all things into God’s final (and finally) good plan.

Paul closes the chapter with words that have provided comfort across the ages.  He has assured us that in spite of sin we are now in Christ; apart from the law, we are justified; we suffer now but are called to glory.  Paul asks the question that lurks beneath the surface: Can anything undo this?  Can anything separate us?  No.  For Paul, there is no doubt.  Nothing in this world or any other, nothing in this time or any future time, nothing whatsoever can undo what God has done for us in Christ Jesus.  Why?  Because finally God’s driving force is not justice but love.  Love that sustains us even as we, with creation, endure the labor pains of God’s transformative work.  Love that has called us sinners home and given us a place at the table.  Love that gathers up the children of God and holds them close.  Love that opens the front door at the end of the day and picks us up, twirls us around, and refuses to let us go.  Love that delights when we recognize it, that yearns to hear its little ones call out, “Daddy!”

“For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Romans 8:38-39

From → Scripture

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