Thursday, August 01, 2013

In Hope

A recent exchange on Facebook:
Friend 1: "But what is Saturn for?" -[her daughter]
Friend 2: To scream His glory... perhaps among other things?
Sometimes I miss being involved in the kind of church/culture/family I grew up in.  This kind of conversation, and a community mindset that every conversation is also a theological conversation is something I don't have right now, and something that I dearly miss.

Today, I buried our goat Rosemary, who was the matriarch of the herd, and a very sweet, productive, and steady animal.  I'm not sure how old she was, since we got her from a family that Liz grew up with (who had taught her how to keep dairy goats).  Our herd became infected with coccidiosis, a particularly nasty gut parasite for goats and other cud-chewing animals.  It started with two of the kids, and spread.  Once we figured out what it was, we treated them for it, and did our best to keep them eating, hydrated, electrolyted*, and free of other parasites, but thus far it has reduced our herd from eight to four.

Digging a hole deep enough to bury a medium sized animal is a good time to think.  As I dug Rosemary's grave, I was pondering the question:
Lord, what is Rosemary's death for?
My mind thought of many things, but all of them ended up being a form of that same answer.  Of course in the end, everything is for God's glory, but perhaps this situation makes it a bit easier to see, since from an earthly "under the sun" perspective, it seems so senseless.  Rosemary's death did about as much direct good as Saturn had an effect on your daily commute.  Since the earthly purpose is unsatisfactory, we are more willing to look for divine purpose.

So, why do animals die?  In particular, why do the animals that serve us, that we love, have to die?

While I was digging, I was thinking about a passage of scripture in Romans 8:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly 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 also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it. - Romans 8:18-25
When we lose something that we love, we suffer, but the suffering that we endure in this life (and also all of the suffering of all of the creatures) is worth going through in order to achieve the final result that God has in mind.  Hence the analogy to childbirth.  This applies to our little situation, but it also applies on the grand scale.

When God created the world, including the animals, according to this passage, He made it subject to entropy.  Animals die.  Plants die.  Stars explode or burn out.  Left to its laws as we understand them, the universe will either collapse back in on itself, or (more likely) expand itself into a frozen waste.

And at every stage in its creation, God called it good.

Why would He do that?  According to this passage, the current order of the universe was chosen, not because it was a perfect idyllic place for Adam and his sinless intended progeny to live, but specifically because it was a broken order and needed to be fixed.  Mankind, too, was created as corruptible (though our corruption was our own doing).  God's audacious plan has a purpose for that, though.  He intends, through corrupted humanity, to flip the whole of creation from a corrupted state into one that cannot possibly be corrupted ever again:
Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord. - 1 Corinthians 15:51-58 (Emphasis mine.)
From the passage in Romans, the whole creation is waiting, in its entropic spiral, for the true consummation of our adoption as sons and daughters of God.  When that happens, the whole creation will become subject to a new order.  Where the old order steadily breaks down, the new order is ever-expanding and bursting at the seams with life.  Where the old order would lead one to despair, the new order inspires hopeful expectation.

The little pain of Rosemary's death makes me long for the day when God has designed to redeem the entire creation through those whom He has adopted as His children (including me!)

Both of these passages focus our attention on Christ, by whose sinless death we are cleansed from our sin and declared worthy to be God's children, and by whose resurrected life we will, with Him, bring glory and incorruptibility to this universe, just as it has been brought to us!  Both passages encourage us, in view of Christ's certain victory, to not be discouraged by the death, destruction, and futility we see now, but to take actions that are consistent with the expectation that the old order and its trappings will be swept away when Christ is revealed for who He is.

It brings to mind this hymn, which is one of my favorite hymns from growing up:
In hope we lift our wishful, longing eyes,
Waiting to see the Morning Star arise;
How bright, how gladsome will His advent be,
Before the Sun shines forth in majesty.

How will our eyes to see His face delight,
Whose love has cheered us through the darksome night!
How will our ears drink in His well-known voice,
Whose faintest whispers make our souls rejoice!

No stain within; no foes or snares around;
No jarring notes shall there discordant sound;
All pure without, all pure within the breast;
No thorns to wound, no toil to mar our rest.

If here on earth the thoughts of Jesus' love
Lift our poor hearts this weary world above;
If even here the taste of heavenly springs
So cheers the spirit, that the pilgrim sings;
What will the sunshine of His glory prove?
What the unmingled fullness of His love?
What hallelujahs will His presence raise?
What but one loud, eternal burst of praise?