The Spirit’s Presence in Creation As We Wait For God’s Future (Dec 2012)

By Matt Dabbs

By Liz Jakimow

The Spirit is present in a Creation that suffers, hopes and participates. Creation suffers in its imperfect state, waiting for the future that God has planned for it. Yet Creation also hopes, looking towards a time when everything receives full communion with God. The Spirit’s presence in Creation brings that future to the present. Creation is also participatory. It does not passively wait, but participates in what God is already doing. Therefore, Christians not only wait and hope for God’s transformation, but help to transform the world now.

This earth has not yet reached the future which God has planned for it. Romans 8:21-22 tells us that Creation is groaning and that it will be liberated. We might understand from this that Creation is groaning because it longs for that liberation and full communion with God. It groans because it has not yet achieved the full communion with God for which it was made. It is the Spirit’s presence in Creation that shows us that the way the earth is now is not the way it was meant to be, nor the way it will stay. As it waits for what God has planned for it, Creation suffers in its less-than-perfect state. The Spirit who dwells in Creation suffers with it.

Without the presence of the Spirit, this suffering, groaning and yearning may turn to despair. To see injustice and suffering in our world, and to long for a time when those injustices and sufferings end, without the expectation that anything will ever change, would only bring anguish. However, if we recognize that it is the Spirit in creation that makes us imagine a different reality, then we see we do have reason to hope. Only a cruel and malicious God would make us dream of a better world and then withhold that world. If it is God’s Spirit that makes us yearn for something, then we must believe that our loving and compassionate God will one day give us what we yearn for. We do not despair of the way the world is, but imagine how it might be different and hope for that different world.

The Christian faith is grounded in hope. God’s activity in the world is not static and fixed, but dynamic and creative. God is continually doing new things and has new things in store for us. These new things are not just to happen some time in the future, but are happening now. Unlike dualism, which sees a split between Heaven and Earth, between the present and the future, the Christian faith found in the New Testament sees Heaven and Earth interacting, with the present moving towards God’s future and the future somehow being present now. The Spirit shows us that future, but also brings that future to the present. The Spirit shows us not only that the world will be transformed, but also that it is being transformed.

As the promise and presence of future transformation, the Spirit shows us that God’s plan is not just for heaven, but that he also has plans for earth. That includes not just human beings, but all of Creation, all things on heaven and on earth (Colossians 1:20). It is this transformation that Jesus is referring to when he talks about the Kingdom of God. When Jesus spoke about the Kingdom of God, he was speaking both about something that was beginning now and about something that would happen in a much fuller way in the future.

The hope that Christians have is not passive but interactive. We do not just wait for God to effect a transformation, but we actively work for that transformation ourselves. Indeed, if we see the Spirit as not just dwelling in Creation, but transforming it and interacting with it, then Creation will necessarily be involved in what the Spirit is doing. For Christians, then, who believe they should do God’s will, to hope in a God who is at work in the world and has a future in store for it, should motivate us to be part of that work. Christians labour and strive because they have put their hope in the living God (1 Timothy 4:10) and they are to show diligence so that what they hope for may be realized (Hebrews 6:11).

The Spirit’s presence then enables us not just to see and hope for a different world, but to work towards that different world. If the Spirit helps us to see injustice and suffering, and to realize this was not the way the world is meant to be, then it will also helps us to stop that injustice and suffering in the present. If we believe this world is static and unchanging, then we are more likely to accept it as it is. On the other hand, if we can imagine a better world, and believe that world is coming, then we will want to see that transformation happening now. When Dr Martin Luther King Jr said he had a dream*, it was not something he wanted to just fantasise about. He intended to work towards the realisation of that dream. When we cry out for justice, we acknowledge that there should be justice. This acknowledgement brings with it the realisation that we must work for God’s justice ourselves.

The Spirit shows us then that what we do in this earth matters. It will not just disappear and become inconsequential, but will be used in God’s transformation. The knowledge that the Spirit is groaning with each creature should also give us compassion for everything on earth. Likewise, the knowledge that this world is being transformed should lead us to care for this world now. And the knowledge that this world will be transformed shows us that the compassion and care we have for this earth has eternal significance.

Of course, we will never achieve complete justice or bring about the full transformation of this earth by ourselves. Complete justice will only occur when the Kingdom of God is here in its fullness. Human beings cannot achieve it, only God can. However, the knowledge that justice is coming motivates us to work for that justice now. We know that the full transformation of this world will only come through God, but we also realise that we can participate in what God is doing. God graciously involves us in what he is doing. And it is God’s that empowers us to do the work that God wants us to do.

The Spirit’s presence will not always make our lives comfortable or easy. While it points towards a future perfect state of the world, it leaves us dissatisfied with this world as it now is. While it shows us that God will transform the world, it encourages us to work for that transformation now. However, the Spirit’s presence in the suffering, hoping and participatory world also shows us a God who cares about his Creation, has a future in store for it and involves that Creation in what he is doing. While that may not make us comfortable, it should give us inspiration, joy and hope as we work for the transformation that is happening now and will be consummated in the future.

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*King Jr, Martin Luther. “I Have a Dream,” Address Delivered at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” The Estate of Martin Luther King, Jr.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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