Films and Songs reveal the status of our cultural souls and at the same time they shape our souls.
They shape what Paul called our “mindset” most often in opposition to the mindset of the Spirit of God…not always, but often.
I want to start our time this morning with a look at two films released 47 years apart.
One from a 1935 Great Depression novel made into a movie in 1969, called “They Shoot Horses Don’t They?”
The other a Will Smith 2016 Movie called “Collateral Beauty”
This is not an endorsement of either…but rather a compare and contrast.
They are totally different and essentially the same.
I would summarize them in the following way:
- Life is meaningless. Period.
- Life is meaningless. So find some meaning in yourself.
The technical term for the first is:
Nihilism (sometimes pronounced “Neelism”)
-Nothing has meaning
The technical term for the second is:
-Find meaning in my own existence, apart from any external absolutes.
They are different in that one says there is no meaning to be found (nothing-ism), and the other says you there is no meaning other than what you personally find (exist-ism)
They are the same in that they both begin and end with ourselves…and I believe that both are ultimately not satisfying…they both fail.
In Collateral Beauty a man who finds meaning in his work, family, friends…loses his 6 year old daughter and loses all sense of himself, all meaning.
Through encounters with “Time, Death, and Love” personified he regains himself…but he does so by rejecting any of the normal types of external help…religious, psychology, science, etc.
In “They shoot horses don’t they” a group of broken, dissatisfied with life people compete in a dance marathon for a monetary prize during the Great Depression.
They don’t know it but even the winners of the competition will not make any money because all expenses of the contest will be deducted from their prize.
The movie is built around this weeks long meaningless marathon of empty people dancing for a prize that doesn’t really exist…you can see the author’s view of life…nothing-ism.
It gets worse from there.
The finale is when the female lead quits and in her despair attempts unsuccessfully to commit suicide…so she asks the male lead to help her out.
He complies and as the authorities arrive to arrest him and wonder why he did it…recalling a time when he saw an injured horse put down simply replies “Well, they shoot horses don’t they?”
The show ends without the audience knowing who won the meaningless dance contest.
Sounds edifying doesn’t it? (Great date night movie)…but that is nothing-ism at its very best.
In Romans 8 Paul counters both nothing-ism and exist-ism.
But he does not fall into some sort of “religious-ism”…a world of hollow clichés that people in real life situations know are not real.
Will Smith’s character in Collateral Beauty mocks the Christians clichés that are sometimes thrown around during times of tragedy.
But he is attacking a straw man, because its not the real, robust gospel we see Paul declaring.
Paul does not put a sugar coating on our suffering but neither does he allow for nothing-ism, or exist-ism.
Paul shows the foundation for all meaning in life, including our suffering.
Is in the ultimate hope of the gospel…meaning now, comes from hope then.
Let’s continue our journey through this great passage, starting today in Rom. 8:18
- Suffering is inevitable and should not be a surprise to us.
Rom. 8:18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
Will Smith’s character seemed to be totally taken by surprise with his suffering…in my own experience with people this is not a Hollywood embellishment…its pretty common.
I understand this, and yet I don’t.
I understand in that suffering at the level of losing a child, or anyone close to us is impossible to fully prepare for…it is shocking what loss can feel like.
I don’t understand how it comes as a complete surprise to people that suffering is inevitable…it is shocking…but should it be a surprise? What did we expect and why did we expect that?
It is interesting how people will believe in God, or profess belief then when suffering comes it challenges that belief.
Yet the world is and has all of our lives been full of suffering.
So why does suffering pack such a punch when it happens to us?
It seems the idea that is most prevalent is that if God exists and if he is good and if he is strong…then he would never let anything bad happen to me.
Let me be clear: I cannot on my own declare with confidence that I will maintain my faith in if faced with enormous suffering…I cannot make that claim.
But my confidence is in my hope in Christ…not in myself…so I say along with Paul that…
Phil. 1:20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.
It should not be a surprise to anyone who reads the scripture, or studies the life of Christ… that suffering is a part of the normal Christian life…it is clear that we are to expect it.
The “bang” will happen…our faith in the good purposes of God sustain us right of the “bang”
And to be most prepared “Left of the Bang” we must be very careful to continually pay attention to where we are putting our hope.
- Our suffering is inevitible but it weighs less than our future hope.
Rom. 8:18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.
2Cor. 4:17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
Glory here is “Doxa” as in “doxology”…”Praise God”
“Praise God from whom all blessings flow…”
Let’s sing it together. (Rod stand and lead)
Glory “belongs to God”…to him alone be the “glory”…the praise…Father, Son, Holy Spirit.
What does it mean that his glory will be revealed in us…and how does it “outweigh” our current suffering?
C.S. Lewis: (essay) “The Weight of Glory”
We are to be like children, nothing is so obvious in a child as his great and undisguised pleasure in being praised.
When a child glows with pleasure before the praise of his father…this is not arrogance, it is beautiful, good, desirable.
At the pool with my grandchildren last week, I heard this phrase over and over…”Mom, watch!”
They would without shame shout it over and over until mom watched…then they would do whatever they had planned to impress mom with and then wait, expectantly for mom to say “Good job!”
Watch a child do something simply to hear her parent say “Well done, good job!”
You never think…”arrogant little snot! Fishing for praise all the time.”
You think…”How beautiful, how sweet…how good that is.”
Lewis connects this “glory” that is waiting to be revealed in us to being accepted, recognized, known by the glorious God.
1 Cor. 8:3 “The man who loves God is known by God.”
Matt 7:23 “I never knew you. Away from me…”
Part of his glory is his “fame”…he alone is “known” to the farthest reaches of the Universe…he alone will stand before every bowed knee.
To be known by him is to have his approval…his glory revealed in us.
This is the glory of hearing “Well done, good and faithful servant” from “Abba” our Father.
The glory that is God’s alone is ours to share because he shares his life with us…eternal life
We will out live the suns and planets…that’s not weird, or arrogant…it is a simple fact.
When the physical universe has passed away in its present form…you and I will still be alive.
But the life God gives us is not just long life, but a totally different kind of life…the kind of life he has…he adopts us into his family.
“Okay, but how does all this “weight of glory” and “out live the stars” stuff help me now?”
Let’s go on…
- Our future hope fuels patience and passion now
9 The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.
Three times in that section Paul speaks of “groaning”
If you are very young you may not know what this means…it is the sound you hear when an old person gets up from the floor after playing with children.
It’s the sound that comes out of your mouth when you move a joint that is injured.
Or, a better illustration is that it is what you unconsciously do when you are very sad…when you have lost someone or something precious…you groan (outwardly or inwardly)
Or when you have your heart set on something and it gets postponed, delayed.
Ready to go home and you find out, you won’t be going home today or this week…you groan in your soul.
I have groaned in my soul, you probably have as well.
Prov. 13:12 “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”
The groan is the expression of longing/hope not yet fulfilled.
It is interesting that three different characters groan in this passage…do you see them?
- The Holy Spirit
This describes our experience of the “Already/Not Yet”
Salvation has been inaugurated; Salvation is yet to be consummated.
We have a future hope…and it is sure…but it is not yet fully experienced…so in the meantime, life will include “groans”…pains of not yet met expectations.
That future hope fuels our lives now, but it is not experienced in full now.
“Who hopes for what he already has” Paul asks here.
So…we wait patiently for it.
But we do not just wait patiently…we wait passionately.
Passion: we cannot become apathetic in our patience
Patience: we cannot become demanding in our passion.
This combination of passionate patience…living with hope not yet fulfilled…causes us to “groan”
Not “complain”…the idea is an expression of longing.
- Creation groans: The natural world is personified here.
Human sin has cost all of creation…it is waiting for the end of all things.
The world is full of indescribable beauty and it is full of danger, disease and death.
Look at verse 20 it says that the “creation was subjected to frustration”
This word means: emptiness, futility, meaninglessness
So the “nothing-ism” believers are right?
Yes and no…apart from the gospel, yes…all is meaningless.
Sun rises, sun sets…we eat, we get hungry…we live, we die
Sounds like Ecclesiastes…meaningless, everything meaningless.
But because of the gospel…no, this is not the case.
The meaninglessness that people often experience now as they try to live their lives without God…is one of the markers pointing us to God.
All of creation “groans” longing for what the future holds.
- We groan inwardly: The world is not as it should be. We are not as we should be.
-There is a gap between what will be and what is.
This groaning is a normal part of our existence now…again, not gripping…but longing.
We get sad, we can get discouraged, we can become depressed
We can struggle to keep hope, we can struggle in any manner of ways.
We have a hope that is sure…but meanwhile “we groan” with hope that is not yet fulfilled.
Its why whenever a longing is fulfilled in this life…it is a joy, but is a passing joy, a temporary one.
Like a satisfying meal that doesn’t permanently cure you of hunger…the hunger returns, over and over.
So our lives now will never fully deliver what we hope they will…our hope is ultimately future based…in him.
This fact should not lead to despair…it should keep us from putting all or most of our hopes in what cannot ultimately deliver.
When we demand that experiences, jobs, people…fulfill our deepest hopes we can become demanding, desperate people.
Always thinking the next thing will “do it” for us…demanding that others deliver life to us.
We end up sucking life out of relationships…because we demand they can do for us what they were not meant to do for us…what only God can do.
Larry Crabb said that many marriages are “two ticks and no dog”…two people desperate to get life from one another.
When two people get their lives from God and live attempting to give their lives to each other…they both experience life at its best.
When we know that our ultimate hopes are going to be fully and finally fulfilled in God…then we are positioned to love people…without demanding they give what they cannot give.
- The Spirit prays for us with groans that words cannot express.
Somehow the Holy Spirit is praying for us, interceding for us.
He is helping us when we do not even know what to pray.
Its great to pray specifically and in detail…but its not something we should worry about as if we might miss a detail and God will say…”gotcha! Didn’t think of that one did you?”
He is Abba, not a cosmic trickster…or prayer accountant.
There are times when we don’t know for sure…”Am I to pray for strength to endure or a way out of the trouble or both?”
The good news is we don’t have to be that smart
26 “We don’t know what we ought to pray for , but…
27 “The Spirit intercedes for the saints with groans that words cannot express, in accordance with God’s will.”
The Spirit does know what to say on our behalf…God the Spirit prays to God the Father for us children.
Doesn’t mean we don’t have to pray, it just means we can be unsure of what is happening in our lives or what needs to happen…and still be confident in God bringing about his purposes.
More on this in verse 28.
Balance here in this passage:
- 23… we groan inwardly as we wait eagerly
Groan (hope not yet fulfilled)
We cannot become apathetic and call it patient.
We cannot become demanding and call it passion.
Patience…waits actively, moving forward, doing what is next…faithfulness.
Passion…empowers patience and makes it compelling…we are waiting but we are not demanding.
Passion is not…
“God you must do this now…hurry up.”
“God you must do this differently…your plan for me is unacceptable.”
That is demanding.
We do not live apathetic or demanding lives…we must live lives of passionate patience.
And our confidence in God is what allows this to be becoming true for us.
- Our Confidence is in God
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
One of the most famous verses in the Bible…Romans 8:28.
Also possibly one of the most misused verses.
Lost job: “Don’t worry, you will get a better one…Romans 8:28”
This is not a promise of “no matter what happens, God is ultimately going to give you some temporal good you desire.”
This is a call for confidence in God’s ultimate good purposes in the face of the troubles we will experience.
Paul knows that suffering can seem to indicate that God is not good or his purposes are not to be trusted…maybe he is not really in control.
So he gives us this statement of fact…we know…in all things God works for the good.
The ultimate good is God’s glory and he is glorified when we live as Christ did and attain the glory he has destined for us.
8:28 does not promise that every difficult experience will lead to some temporal good in this life…the “good” may not be in this life at all.
We may be taken from a well-paying job and never have another one like it.
Of course material blessings may be included in the good of Romans 8:28.
But that is not the point…the point is that.
Nothing will touch our lives that is not under the control and direction of our Abba.
He cannot plan the end and not plan the means…his good purposes will be accomplished…so he will work in all things for those good purposes.
We can live with this kind of confidence.
Again, not demanding…”Okay, God…you promised…where is the good in this, hurry up…show me.”
Disillusionment follows when we believe that God has promised something he hasn’t and then becoming dismayed when he doesn’t do what he didn’t say he would do.
But Terry, life can get rough…How do I know all that comes my way will turn into ultimate good?
If I have been called according to his purpose, then in all of my life I can be sure of God’s good purposes…he has irrevocably called me to them when he called me to himself.
Paul gives us our reason for confidence in our call to God’s purposes.
Those God foreknew, he predestined, those he predestined, he called, those he called, he justified, those he justified, he also glorified.
All this past, present, and future is given as if it were all an accomplished fact.
Only God can make good on a promise about the future.
We can make promises…but we cannot control the outcomes…there are many things that can stop us from keeping a promise.
There is nothing that can stop God…So Paul can say “we know” in all things God works for the good.
There is much debate about the roles of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility in all this.
We will talk more of this when we get to chapter 9.
All arguments aside…this passage is primarily about assurance of our future in the light of a present that involves “groaning”.
Our hope starts and ends with God.
Those God calls are justified (saved) and those who he saves he glorifies (this is what happens after our lives are over)
But notice that he speaks of “glorifies” as a present rather than a future reality.
He is not confused when he speaks of our final state as if it were already a present fact.
He does this because he is so confident of God’s ability to keep us…it is a future hope, that is in effect…a done deal.
And this future hope is so sure that we can know now that in all things God is working for the good…He cannot plan the end and not plan the means.