The first human beings got on with life in perfect peace. Every day was like Sunday (unless you’re a minister, in which case, pick another day and keep it holy). It was like Sabbath, a day of rest. A bit of gardening (no weeding required), some name-calling: (“You’re a cow! Giraffe! We’ll call you a butterfly, I think”). Other gentle activities: Talking to friends. Sharing food. They took walks, talked to God, and reflected His character perfectly. These amazing image-bearers exercised their delegated authority in the spirit God had shown them and probably began exploring what ‘multiply’ meant. Peace, wellbeing, and harmony reigned. Shalom reigned. God reigned. Everything, humans included, functioned as intended.
And then, a niggling little voice somewhere in the long grass at the back of someone’s mind, suggesting that perhaps God’s order could be improved just a tiny bit by adding a very small improvement: Autonomy. Complete freedom to do whatever came to mind whenever it came to mind. Independence. Liberty!
And so, the image-bearers of God’s creation reached out for the fruit of autonomy. The moment they did, they realised there was no such thing as independence. The very act of creation had been putting things in relationship to each other, as God constructed the temple of creation in which He met with human beings. Heaven kissed earth here. No barriers, no division, no aging, just shalom. Now the very glue of inter-relationship that had held things together so perfectly, the right-being that had made things work so effortlessly was torn. Everything jarred and was out of kilter. If creation is not a material event but an event in which things are given their proper roles and put in relationships that work, it’s easy to understand why when God’s decrees about order are not respected, death enters the picture. A slow decay. An un-creation. A broken mirror. Unplugging from God, the source of life, is like unplugging creation at the mains. Pooff.
Thank God, despite our fatal decision to pull the plug, He doesn’t give up on us but keeps pouring love and life into creation to sustain it. God has a plan to redeem His us which we’ll explore over the next few days.
Nevertheless, as a result of the fall, everything now groans. Creation groans. Women in labour groan. Farmers groan as suddenly an orderly garden without weeds becomes a field of thorns, thistles, and toil. Things become heavy, work is tiring, people get old. Loneliness, illness, and grief make us groan. We groan when we can’t have what we crave for, and when we yearn for things we know we shouldn’t want in the first place. We groan when we realise, we got it wrong despite our best intentions. We groan as we realise our intentions weren’t that good after all, come to think of it. The Holy Spirit groans too within us as God continues His lifegiving work. Romans 8 v 26 says: In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. God’s rule is no longer an effortless Sunday walk in the park. There is opposition, strife, sin. Everything is out of joint and the glorious order of God’s reign is no longer full of shalom.
Allow me to return to the verse above for a moment – Romans 8 v 26. In the Greek, the word Paul uses for ‘intercede’ is a composite word made up of two parts: “for the benefit of someone” and “to align with”. We are used to hearing that the Holy Spirit is our Advocate, the one who comes alongside us. But the work of the Holy Spirit is also to act as a ‘connector’, restoring our lost relationship with God and bringing us back into alignment with His will for our benefit. You could say that the Holy Spirit works to plug us more securely back into God. One possible way of expressing the verse above is like this: In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our frail condition; for we are oblivious to what we ought to desire, but the Spirit Himself, groaning and straining in ways too baffling for words, seeks to bring us back into alignment with God’s purpose. The fall happened as Adam and Eve lost sight of what they ought to want, namely ‘God’s good, pleasing and perfect will’. As they opted for another solution that was really no solution at all, the perfect reflection of God’s image in them was shattered. Can it ever be restored? How?