Lesson 5 – Reconciliation and the Whole Community
I want to begin with a quick outline of this section of 2 Corinthians. We will then work from there.
5:11-15 – in this section Paul defends his ministry and gives his reason for doing all that he does…and that is the love of Christ. Paul claims that he is controlled by the love of Christ because Christ dies for all (I believe meaning all of humanity) in order that all people live for God.
5:16-21 – here Paul states that he no longer views anyone from a human (meaning a fallen) perspective. Since all people have been made alive in Christ, they are new people; new creations. This is the heart of reconciliation. In Christ we are new people with a new relationship with God. Our task is to help all people know about this new relationship. We are forgiven so that we might live as God desires (the righteousness of God)
6:1-11 – Paul continues to defend his ministry and encourages people to believe what he preached about the grace of God. He does so with reminders not only of what Paul and his companions have suffered, but that they have done all that they have done out of kindness for others and have never given up hope regardless of what has happened to them.
So now let’s look at a couple of themes:
1. New Creation: the meta-narrative (larger story) of Judaism/Christianity is that creation is fallen and can’t get up. Creation, meaning everything from people to rocks, trees and animals, has been misshapen by sin. In human beings this is especially true where sin has distorted the image of God within all people. God however is not satisfied with this state of affairs. God wants to bring creation, all of it, back to its original state in Genesis; where everything and everyone lives and works together in harmony. In a sense, all things have their place. We can read about this in Romans 8:19-23:
19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 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. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”
God has a plan for restoration and that plan has been launched by Jesus Christ, in his life, death and resurrection. Paul is encouraging the Corinthians to “be” new creatures of the new creation. He does not want them returning to their old ways or even to the Law which cannot give life.
Part of the new creation is the concept of a new heaven and a new earth. Essentially this is descriptive of God’s overall plan to restore everything, including relationships to the way they ought to be. This phrase occurs not only in Isaiah 65:17-25, 66:22) but in the Book of Revelation (21:1). Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. This is the end game for God…everything is new.
2. Reconciliation: reconciliation is the result of God’s new creation in Jesus Christ. Not only have we been made new, our relationship with God has been made new as well. All of the things that once stood between us, especially sin, have been dealt with. We have been forgiven and set free. And because of this reconciliation with God we can be reconciled to one another. This is a critical understanding in Paul’s thought; that before we can be reconciled to one another we have to be reconciled to God. Our task then is to be ambassadors who share the story of how people can be reconciled to God and therefore to one another.
In our multi-religious world this can be challenging. Members of most religions believe that they are in alignment with God; Jews through the Torah, Muslims through the Quran and others through their own practices and sacred texts. It may be that our task is to build relationships and tell our story of reconciliation without criticizing their faith. It is interesting that Paul never went into any community with the message that the people were wrong in what they believed. He went in with the message of the love and grace of God in Jesus Christ.
3. Earth Care – the author spends a great deal of time writing about caring for creation. She links this to both the new creation and to reconciliation. I do not believe that there is any real connection here in terms of Paul’s original intent. That being said, everything the author says about caring for creation is worth considering. I would place this kind of discussion more in line with our role as stewards of God’s creation, coming out of Genesis and the Psalms.
Some thoughts about this issue:
1. We in the United States do consume far more than others around the world. While it would seem to be good for us to immediately all take on “simple” life-styles, the resulting economic devastation would be incalculable. I say this because there is a direct correlation between consumer spending in the United States and employment as well as GDP in both this nation and the rest of the world. We are the economic engine that keeps the world economy moving. One example of this is that during our last recession, a significant number of factories in China closed, throwing thousands of people out of work.
2. Our economy is based on the use of fossil fuels. While we would all like to see an immediate change in this reality (going to wind, solar, hydrogen) in order that we slow global warming, the resulting economic result would be either a recession or a depression. I say this because the cost of energy would not only soar, making all products much more expensive, but there would also be a lack of energy which would cause the closure factories…and then put people out of work.
3. Much of the developing world is still developing and not fully developed not because of our consumption patterns but because of corruption, cronyism, a lack of infrastructure and government structures that prevent new business from starting up and running successfully. There are websites where you can check and see the level of both corruption and difficulty of starting a business in various nations. Often the poorest nations have the highest ratings in both areas.
I make mention of all of this because caring for God’s creation is a complex subject. If we wish to make changes, which I believe we should, I think we need to think more broadly about what we want to change and how we can change it without destroying the world’s economy.