Within the emerging movement there has been a much-needed shift from emphasizing future redemption to present redemption. It is mistaken to speak of this as a shift from “heaven” to “kingdom,” and by the latter think one can equate kingdom with earthly realities. As Jesus uses the term, kingdom is both a present and future reality. What about Paul? We now enter a text that also has been a favorite in the emerging movement.
I’ll get to that text, Romans 8:19, in just a moment. First, we need to observe that Paul’s theory of present redemption is what theologians call “eschatological.” That is, the present redemptive realities are actually the drawing in from the future into the present what is only fully a future redemptive reality. It is, in the words of my favorite seminary book, The Presence of the Future (by George Eldon Ladd).
The present sufferings we endure are not worth it! Worth what? Worth losing life over. Why? Because of the “glory that will revealed to/upon/unto us” (8:18).
Now the text that deserves more consideration than it has gotten: “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.”
Creation is here distinguishable from children of God (notice the last three words; they are not creation itself). This means that creation itself will be redeemed — not burned into elementary bits but purged by God’s holy presence. (See Revelation when you read 2 Peter 3.)
1. Creation was subjected to futility at the Fall (along with humans).
2. The freeing of humans in Christ anticipates the freeing of creation and begins to roll back the futility of creation.
3. Redemption is the putting of the whole world to rights, not just making right those who are in the Messiah.
CS Lewis’ Last Battle, where if my memory serves me right, trees clap, illustrates what Paul is peering into here: cosmic redemption, the whole world doing what the whole world was designed to do. Where each person and each blade of grass does what it was designed to do — and let’s mention here Tolkien’s great “Leaf by Niggle.” He painted leaves — that’s what he was designed to do. What we are designed to do will join hands with everything suddenly being caught up into an eschatological orgy of worshipful delight in God and one another.
Here’s Tom Wright’s comment: “And, if one dare put it like this, as God sent Jesus to rescue the human race, so God will send Jesus’ younger siblings, in the power of the Spirit, to rescue the whole creation order, to bring that justice and peace for which the whole creation yearns” (596). [Not sure how he knows we are the ones who redeem here, but I think his point is that we are called to be God’s blessing to the world and at that time we will be.]
Creation does not get glory, Wright argues. Rather, it finds its freedom when the children of God receive their glory.