“Kasemann’s insight–that Israel is paradigmatic for humankind in general–may yet have something to teach us, even if not exactly in the way he imagined. And when the church really turns to face this task [i.e. unveiling and embodying God’s righteousness to the world], as it must if it is to be true to its vocation, it will find (as Paul saw in 2 Corinthians particularly) that its role is Christ-shaped: to bear the pain and shame of the world in its own body, that the world may be healed…The church is called to do and be for the world what the Messiah was and did for Israel. All that has been said so far must therefore call into question a good deal that is done in and by the church in pursuit of its own security and self-importance. The church must find out the pain of the world, and must share it and bear it.
When that task is done, then Paul’s theology suggests that what we call ‘natural evil’ will also, finally, be undone. God’s covenant purpose was to choose a people in and through whom the world would be healed. That purpose, reaching its climax in the Messiah, is now to be worked out through his people. The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and come to share the liberty of the glory of the children of God; and in the meantime the Church is to share the groaning of the world in the faith that her own groanings are in turn shared by the Spirit. The Spirit thus accomplishes within the church what, mutatis mutandis, the Torah accomplished within Israel. Just as the sin and death of the world were concentrated, by means of Torah, on Israel, so now the pain and grief of the world is to be concentrated, by means of the Spirit, on the Christos, the family of the Messiah, so that it may be healed (Romans 8:18-30). This is the very antithesis of all Christian triumphalism or imperialism.
Paul thus offers in Romans…not only a theology of israel and her paradoxical fate and future, but also a theology of and for the world in its pain and longing for justice, and of and for the church in her vocation to share that pain and to work for that justice. It is a theology which, based on a clear view of the transcendent God now made known in and through Jesus of Nazareth and the Spirit, calls and drives the church towards the twin goals of mission and unity, that God may be all in all:
And though the last lights off the black West went,
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs–
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
(G. M. Hopkins, ‘God’s Grandeur’)
—N. T. Wright, The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology, pp. 256-57