Gentle natured Gregory, passed into eternity, aged 69, forgotten and alone in a cell of the women’s jail in Dade County, Miami. Married four times with six children he had once been a celebrity and successful paediatrician. But Gregory succumbed to alcoholism and his license to practice medicine was suspended. Haunted by self-doubt and unable to live in the shadow of his father, he had died known as Gloria in a women’s jail, in high heels, a transvestite. When he was just 19, Gregory’s father blamed him for his mother’s death from cancer and did not speak to him for ten years before killing himself in precisely the same way Gregory’s grandfather had done before him. In 1936, Gregory’s father wrote a short story, ‘The Capital of the World’ about a Spanish father who tried to be reconciled to his son who had run away from home to Madrid. Now remorseful, the father took out an advert in a national newspaper “Paco meet me at Hotel Montana noon Tuesday, all is forgiven, Papa.” Paco is a common name in Spain, and when the father goes to the square he finds eight hundred young men names Paco waiting for their fathers.
Gregory’s obituary appeared in the Times Newspaper because he was the youngest son of Ernest Hemingway. Ernest Hemmingway’s parents were regular churchgoers but detested their son’s amoral lifestyle. Eventually his mother refused to see him. One year, for his birthday, she mailed him a cake along with the gun his father had used to kill himself. Another year she wrote Ernest a letter explaining that a mother’s life was like a bank. “Every child that is born… enters the world with a large and prosperous bank account, seemingly inexhaustible.” The child, she continued, makes withdrawals but no deposits during the early years. Later, when the child grows up, it must replenish the supply he has drawn down. Hemingway’s mother then proceeded to spell out all the specific ways in which Ernest should be making “deposits to keep the account in good standing:” Things like flowers, fruit or sweets, a surreptitious paying of Mother’s bills, and above all a determination to “stop neglecting your duties to God and your Saviour, Jesus Christ.”[i]
Hemingway never got over his hatred for his mother or her saviour. And it seems his own children paid dearly for the lack of love and grace he experienced from his parents. How ironic that Ernest Hemingway, spurned by his religious parents, as messed up and confused as he was, an emotionally abused child, who in turn abused his own children, nevertheless, understood the gospel clearer than all of them, when he wrote, “Paco meet me at Hotel Montana noon Tuesday, all is forgiven, Papa.”
The tragedy is that many, many, Christians have a similarly defective view of what it means to be a child of God. If we have received the Lord Jesus as our Saviour then we are children of God. And as children of God we have certain rights and privileges which the Lord Jesus Christ won for us on Calvary when he defeated Satan. Four rights that brought us peace with God. Four rights bestowed by the Holy Spirit when we trust in Jesus Christ, experience God’s forgiveness, are born again and receive eternal life. We learn of those rights in Romans 8. What are they? Freedom from judgement, freedom from defeat. Freedom from discouragement. Freedom from fear.
Last week, following the Revised Common Lectionary, we discovered from Romans 8:1-11 our first two throne rights: freedom from judgement and freedom from obligation. This week, in Romans 8:12-25, we will consider our freedom from discouragement. Next week, when we explore Romans 8:26-39, we will consider our fourth throne right – freedom from fear.
3. Freedom from Discouragement – No Frustration
In these verses, God addresses the very real problem of pain and suffering. To help you remember its content, he uses the imagery of groaning – in fact he uses it 3 times.
3.1 Creation Groans
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (Romans 8:18-22)
Creation is subject to frustration (20a) – But creation will be liberated from bondage to decay (21a). The image used is one of a woman in childbirth. Yes there is pain, but the pain is necessary to deliver the child. And after the child is born, safe in the mother’s arms, the sense of relief and thankfulness shows that the pain was worth it. The reality is suffering is the normative experience of life on earth but we are told confidently it is nevertheless not worth comparing with what is to come.
God will renew his creation. Creation Groans.
3.2 God’s Children Groan
“Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (Romans 8:23-25)
Part of the suffering we endure now is due to the fact that we have only just begun to experience all that the Holy Spirit has in store for us. Pentecost, which we celebrate today, was only the beginning, a foretaste of what is still to come. Life may at times be frustrating and in those times, remember there is a better life to come in heaven, free of temptation, free of pain and free of suffering. Creation groans, believers groan, and, third, we are told,
3.3 The Holy Spirit Groans
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)
He groans because He identifies with us. He feels our frustration, just like a parent feels for its child when it sees it struggling. Indeed the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf when we don’t know what to pray for. So it doesn’t matter when you don’t know what to pray, or can’t find the words. God knows your heart. The Holy Spirit groans with you and for you. Creation groans. Believers groan, the Holy Spirit groans. For what purpose?
As we shall explore next week, in Romans 8:28-30, Paul writes,
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Romans 8:28-30)
Here is the process by which God accomplishes his will: He Foreknew, He predestined, He called, He justified, He glorified. All of salvation is God’s sovereign initiative from first to last – to make us like Jesus. That is his accomplished plan and therefore our assured destiny.
So far we have discovered three of our freedoms: Freedom from Judgement. Freedom from defeat. Freedom from discouragement. The fourth freedom? Next week we will explore Romans 8:26-39 and our fourth freedom – freedom from fear.
In John 8, Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
The truth will set you free. These four freedoms, found in Romans 8 remind us that the truth is God loves you unconditionally, unreservedly. The gospel, the good news, is that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by keeping rules or by our good deeds. Living as children of god by grace is to find our identity, find our ultimate worth as human beings, in the love of God, who knows exactly what we are like and yet loves us all the same, unconditionally. How can we not treat others with the same grace that God in Christ has shown us? How tragic that neither Gregory Hemingway nor his father Earnest appear to have found the grace they so desperately needed.
Let me ask you, have you? Have you received the gift of God’s grace? Have you found the grace of God overwhelming? Are you experiencing – indeed enjoying these four freedoms bought for you by Jesus Christ – Freedom from judgement. Freedom from defeat. Freedom from discouragement. Freedom from fear. Because before the creation of the world, you were planned for God’s pleasure. Have you realised you are more wicked than you ever imagined but more loved than you ever dreamed? Then respond today. There may not be a tomorrow.
In Christ God is saying to you today “meet me… all is forgiven, Papa.”
With grateful thanks to Warren Wiersbe for the outline of this sermon and the Walking Together Ministries for the Hemmingway illustration https://www.walkingtogetherministries.com/2015/08/17/exodus-2012/