Spirituality as groaning
I have been arguing that going to heaven (either at death or at the end) is an inadequate way of expressing the Christian hope for the resurrection of the dead. Christ's resurrection was the first fruits, the model and ground and proof of a coming universal restoration, a renewal of all things. Having made a good universe (summed up in the phrase 'heaven(s) and earth'), God doesn't intend to abandon it. Perhaps the lengthiest expression of this theme is found in what is rightly the most famous chapter of the New Testament:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.Paul personifies the created order as a woman in labour pains, frustrated by bondage to decay, yearning and waiting and groaning - in pain, but hopeful. Each of the rich images he uses here could be explored at much greater length, but I'd like to briefly pick up the idea of groaning.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. - Romans 8.18-27
This groaning, an expression of 'eager longing', is the only activity available to the prisoner, to the woman bearing a child. The primary focus is on the imminent future, and the knowledge of the difference between now and then ironically serves to make the present pain simultaneously trivial and much worse.
Trivial, because in comparison to the glorious anticipated state, the sufferings of the 'now' pale into insignificance. When the child arrives, the sweat and tears have all been worth it (or so I am told...). At the first breath of freedom, the years in chains fade into a bad dream.
And yet - not yet. The night, though far gone, is not yet over. And so the inescapable failings of the present are exacerbated by the knowledge that they will not last. One must not become accustomed to them, to explain them as just the way things are. There is a possibility, a promise, of something different. Moltmann puts it like this:
[F]aith, wherever it develops into hope, causes not rest but unrest, not patience but impatience. It does not calm the unquiet heart, but is itself this unquiet heart in man. Those who hope in Christ can no longer put up with reality as it is, but begin to suffer under it, to contradict it. Peace with God means conflict with the world, for the goad of the promised future stabs inexorably into the flesh of every unfulfilled present. (more...)
- Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 7.And so it is not just creation that groans. We too, who have the first taste of freedom, in whom the Spirit has begun the miracle of making a heart of stone beat again, who with our first gasping breaths of new air cry "Abba, Father!", we too groan and yearn and cry and wait with eager longing for a world made new. Such groaning is part of spiritual maturity. The more we get a sense of the scope and sheer grace of God's intended liberation, the more fervently we strain against the present chains.
Indeed, this maturity is precisely spiritual, because the Spirit also groans with 'sighs too deep for words'. Our hope-filled discontentment is thus not only deeply in tune with the earth itself, it is also divine.
Series: I; II; IIa; III; IV; V; VI; VII; VIII; IX; X; XI; XII; XIII; XIV; XV; XVI.
For ten points, pick the city, which is the same as here and here.