Groaning for Justice: The Theology of What is Happening
Meditate with me, if you will, on this passage from Romans 8 as it directly relates, I think, to the protests and riots we are now seeing.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the 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 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. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 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. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:18-25 (ESV)
When Paul writes “the glory that is to be revealed”, he is writing about the apocalypse. The apocalypse does not mean an end, as so many people presume. It means a revelation. We are headed toward a great revealing. The things unseen will become seen. Every day moves us closer to that revealing. We do not know the day, but we get closer each day, and all of creation groans for it. As part of creation — creatures created in the image of God, we groan for it most of all.
The people in the streets protesting don’t even know it, but their groans and cries for justice are part of it. When we first become aware as children, we begin to question things. We hear that voice that comes from our soul asking why we are here and what is our purpose and is there something better and why is this world so upended and undone and unjust and unfair.
The world calls back that there is no purpose, when we die the worms eat us, and the secret to happiness is the struggle to bring a heaven that does not really exist to an earth that does. The voice cries back that this is not true, but over time in many places and in many ways and with many people they stop listening to that voice and start listening to the world.
The world just co-opts true religion and twists it just as sin has twisted everything. The world knows of justice because the world is created by God. The world just twists it into power imbalances and the need for man-created justice. Systemic failures caused by sin because systemic failures caused by other sinners who in turn are the problem, not the sin.
Religion does not go away. It just looks different. Secularism takes on sacraments, liturgy, rite, and ritual. We are witnessing, in real time in the streets, the new woke religion settling on its orthodoxies and creeds. Abortion is a sacrament. “Black lives matter” is a liturgy and creed that must be repeated exactly or have heresy revealed. Protest is substituted for the church. Riots are revival.
Creation groans for justice and righteousness and those created in God’s imagine groan the loudest and bear the greatest burdens. Those who have hope, put their trust in the Creator who they know will return. Those who have given in to the voices of the world and abandon the Creator have abandoned hope because, as Paul says, “hope that is seen is not hope.” They put their trust in the people seen and the people seen are sinners just like them. So they agitate even more and twist the truth into the lie. They are impatient because they have no hope of something better and have taken it upon themselves to deliver heaven on earth. But internally, the groaning they feel is longing for real heaven on earth. It is coming.
The struggle for churches and Christians right now is we want to tell those groaning and those yearning for justice that they should adopt Christianity. “Our system,” we say, “is better, because we see no color. We see neither Jew nor Greek nor male nor female nor slave nor free.” We treat our faith as just an alternative morality. But it is hard to argue with a group of sinners that the system followed by other sinners is the better alternative.
Instead, Christians need to argue Jesus. The souls of those marching in the street like creation itself groan because they are moving closer to the apocalypse — the revelation. That groan is not because of a moral system upended, but because all the world can feel the return of the King approaching. We do not know when. There are no signs on the horizon. But we inwardly feel it.
Christians need to be preaching Jesus, not Christianity. We need to preach about the end and the return and the world made new. It is fantastical and supernatural and unbelievable for so many. But it is real and right and true and will give the hopeless hope. Instead of tearing down statues, they will build up faith in the unseen that will be revealed.
The world groans and cries out for justice. No protestor or rioter will get or give true justice. But if they will just listen again to that voice they heard as a child, they will hear the faint whisper again that there is something better coming — there is someone better coming. He will make all things new, deliver justice, and wipe away tears.
Tearing down statues will only give temporary catharsis — like a junkie getting a temporary fix. Christianity that only offers an alternative moral system is also only a temporary catharsis until a different system is pitched and seen and believed. But a Christianity that preaches with certainty a final day, an end to a struggle, and the return of a savior who rights every wrong is a Christianity that speaks through the wounds and hurt to a voice we all have that cries out knowing there is some purpose and something better and wonders how to get there.