Who knows?

Ignorance – something we seem to share in significant measure… and when we put it in relationship to heaven’s knowledge and wisdom, our ignorance will be seen as more than a significant measure!

I like to know things. I like to do something that I know is world changing(!) but always have to come home to rest with ‘that day will reveal all’. I have pointed out that once we take away the artificial chapter divisions that are immediately preceding the amazing prophecy of fall of Jerusalem / the Temple is the widow who puts her two coins into the Temple treasury both releases Jesus to prophesy and is a major catalyst to bring the Temple down (probably coupled to Judas’ monetary contribution). The sight I did not have on the widow was that she did not do her act as something ‘prophetic’, as something full of knowledge (Steve Watters – thank you!).

Now a bit of a jump to Paul’s words in Rom. 8:28

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose (NRSV Updated edition… though not wholly happy with the translation this time!).

I like the NRSV because it tries to come at things without a bias, it should be more ‘evangelical’ in places, but also de-evangelicalises in parts where the language is more neutral… this time round it kind of goes back to the KJV(!!) with its ‘all things work together for good’ – a very fatalistic interpretation, so let’s correct that one first and bring it in line with most modern translations… God works all things together for good. Not ‘all things’ are what they should be, but we need to know that God is not passive. Craperoo at a personal, social and cosmic level exists… but God. what a place to start. God is involved in my life, my world and the world.

Let me (with all my expertise???) try a translation that might push a direction – and also one that might fit the wider context of the groan of creation just a little better (to those who want to follow along or simply be impressed the ‘original’ text as best we have it):

Οἴδαμεν δὲ ὅτι τοῖς ἀγαπῶσι τὸν θεὸν πάντα συνεργεῖ εἰς ἀγαθόν,
τοῖς κατὰ πρόθεσιν κλητοῖς οὖσιv.

We know that (a challenge to start – do I ‘know’ this) to those who love God (might be ‘with those who love God’) s/he works all things toward good (all things – normally used not of my personal circumstances but of the ‘all things’ of creation, probably indicating that God is working everything within the context of the whole of creation toward ‘good’… cf. to Genesis 1 – and saw that it was ‘good’), with those who are called according to [God’s] purpose.

Here we go… Creation and the redemption / restoration of creation is the ‘goal’ / eschaton we are headed toward, and in the same way as creation follows humanity (Genesis 1 – 3) so Paul indicates that now (fallen) creation is looking to those of God’s family for freedom, longing for the same freedom. In that context I think this verse sits… God’s purpose and focus is creation’s redemption, and the how is WITH those who are called. It is beyond FOR, and it is beyond my circumstances. It moves beyond the widow puts her two coins in the treasury and comes back home to find an incredible gift of 200 coins (a hundred fold) on her door step. Maybe… and we can declare ‘God looks after the widow’, or certainly we can declare that God has always instructed that we look after the widow… but it goes beyond the multiplication of coins to a process toward the good. The corrupt temple, with its exploitation through the ‘sacrificial’ system has to come down. [The Temple occupied approx 25% of the city; the many mansions / rooms in the place that was intended to be God’s house were mainly storehouses!] A process where God works with this (ignorant) woman toward good was unfolded. Ever since religion has sought to rebuild the temple… ever since we are provoked to both find the Presence of God and to take the Presence of God to the entire cosmos, to work with God so that the dwelling place for God might be in totality with the totality of humanity. If we align with that – with all our ignorance – then there is a release for God toward shifting all of creation toward what is truly ‘good’, a place of harmony, reconciliation. That can be at the personal level – many are ‘lost’ in the sense of not knowing who they are, are in conflict within themselves; at the relational level – many are ‘lost’ within their context… and of course at the cosmic level, and of course of course ‘lost’ in that they have never heard that ‘I/Thou’ question of ‘Martin where are you?’ the answer of which begins the journey with God.

All things might not line up for me so that I have the life I have always dreamed of (did Paul… ship wrecks, beatings, prison, despairing of life itself)… but in and through all the things where I respond so positively… and in the many areas where I do something that I think has no value (like the widow) makes a contribution to the future of this world. That great day will be beyond wonder – imagine the face of the dear widow that we read of (not to mention Judas’ face). I hope I have a few shocks too as I ask the question – but when did I visit you in prison, when did I give you a cup of cold water?

Who knows the value of our amazing contributions? But we know God works with us, with all our ignorance.

I am not elevating ‘ignorance’, I think we need simply to encourage one another to align with the future so that we might be included in those who God partners with – those who are called according to God’s purpose.

A positive – and challenging – translation

An old translation of Rom. 8:28 goes like this:

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

This can indicate a kind of fatalism and acceptance of ‘all things’ as being a positive and therefore to be a welcomed experience to passively submit to. A much better translation (such as NIV) indicates that God works all things, that the all things are not initiated by God but that as we experience all things, God is deeply involved with us, God being the redemptive God. So in the NIV we get:

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.

It is not simply a better translation theologically but also linguistically. God gets in the all things with us, and refuses to accept a setback as simply coming with an inevitable negative outcome. There is no sugar-coating of the setback but there is a personal commitment (God becoming the subject of the verb ‘work together’) so that at the very least the presence of the Living God is with us.

However, recently I have come across a further push with regard to the verse. This takes it further than simply at a personal level, but into the cosmic level of bringing the whole of creation to a fitting conclusion, to the liberty experienced by those who have been set free from the powers of this world. (A little technical) it is all to do with how the ‘dative’ cases of ‘those who love God’ and ‘those called according to God’s purpose’. It can be as we have it ‘for those…’, in other words for us. Or it can be translated as ‘with those…’ If the latter, and it is the context that suggests this as the actual words used could indicate either translation. So using the ‘with’ (known as the instrumental dative) translation we have:

Οἴδαμεν δὲ ὅτι τοῖς ἀγαπῶσι τὸν θεὸν πάντα συνεργεῖ εἰς ἀγαθόν, τοῖς κατὰ πρόθεσιν κλητοῖς οὖσιν.

Literally: We know that with those who love God all things s/he works into good, with those being called according to purpose. (So maybe something like:)

And we know that God works with those who love God toward what is good (for the whole of creation), [working with] those who have been called according to his purpose.

Maybe a little clumsy but the idea is that there is a partnership in the – wait for the big word – eschatological activity in the earth. Backing up in Romans, creation is in bondage in the same way that Israel was in bondage to the Pharoah of the day until they were set free. The ‘sons/daughters of God’ have found freedom, crying out with inarticulate sounds as the expression of freedom… but set free in order to be agents of freedom for creation. Christ as firstfruits of all creation releasing those who have responded to the freedom that comes through the resurrection to join with the groaning of creation, to engage the ‘all things’ that so often work to bring a yet further bondage… In partnership with God, and there is no hope without God, but in partnership with God, those who love God who are called according to God’s purpose line up alongside God… and even in the midst of all things something good is manifest. The future is not hopeless, creation is not doomed, humanity is not sentenced to nothing but bondage… freedom calls, and that freedom calls for partnership.

I think the shift of emphasis makes better sense of the chapter and remains as a challenge for us, but places redeemed humanity as the stewards of creation, as those who see the new creation and in seeing that come into partnership with heaven.