Wednesday, May 25, 2011

"Futility or Hope?" The Groaning of Creation.

I was chatting with a friend on the phone, discussing Romans…specifically Romans chapter 8; so my next words were, “Hold it, let’s see what Jimmy Dunn has to say.” So I looked up the passage in question from his “World Biblical Commentary” on Romans on my bookshelf (which, by-the-way I highly recommend!) Any way, I read the passage, and it of course raised more discussion…but we had to end the conversation.

Off the phone, I continued reading the section I had just started and came upon this quote I’d like to share.

This is what Dr. James D.G. Dunn has to say on Romans 8:20 by way of Ecclesiastes, and as most of his writing, is revelatory. He writes of the out-of-sortness of the created order [cf. Romans 8:17-30]:


By “futility” Paul probably has in mind the same sense of futility of life which found expression in Jewish thought most clearly in Ecclesiastes—that weariness and despair of spirit which cannot see beyond the stultifying repetitiveness of life, the endless cycle of decay and corruption, the worthlessness of a lifelong effort which may be swept away overnight by a storm or be parched to nothingness in a drought, the complete insignificance of the individual in the tides of time and the currents of human affairs—all indeed that, had man but realized it, was going to make it impossible for him to be “as god,” made it inevitable that he would become subservient to useless idols and mere things. Yet for Paul, of course, that is not, could not be the last word. The same character of creation-bound existence which causes some to despair, seen from another angel becomes a ground for hope. Looked at in terms of man’s vaunted independence from God the future for the world is bleak. But seen in terms of the creator’s purpose, the present state of affairs is not all there is to look forward to; the goal of the created order will be determined by God, not by the puny mind of man. As the suffering of believers becomes a ground of hope because it is experienced as the formation of character and renewal of the inner man…so the out-of-jointness for creation itself is testimony that is was not always intended to be thus. From the beginning the primal-time subjection to futility had the final-time fulfillment of God’s original purpose for man and his habitation in view. Even in its futility creation is still God’s.[into the explanation of v 21] The end God has in view for his creation is eschatological liberation, liberation for the slavery of corruption. (p.488)


James D.G. Dunn (1988) Word Biblical Commentary Volume 38a: Romans 1-8. Dallas, TX: Word Books, Publisher.

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