Between Groaning and Glory

Romans 8:18-27:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. [19] For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. [20] For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope [21] that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. [22] For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. [23] And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

This section of Paul’s letter to the Romans makes me wonder if there was some kind of natural disaster or worldwide plague that was going on when Paul wrote his letter to the Romans. Was something terrible happening so that people were asking what was going on? We’ll never know but there must be some reason that Paul talks about the creation being subjected to futility and being in bondage to corruption.

I know that during this current COVID-19 pandemic and the concerns about Climate Change people have been asking me what’s going on.

When unbelievers notice that the creation is groaning under some kind of catastrophe it goes into panic mode.  They do this because they believe that this world is all there is. They do not acknowledge God or the Bible or any kind of faith so they think that if things go wrong we are the ones who have to fix it. Lately, when it comes to Climate Change, we keep hearing that if we don’t act soon it may be our last chance to save the world.

Christians hear the creation groaning and say, “Yes, creation has been groaning for a long, long time. The groaning is a reminder of the sin that Adam and Eve brought into the world long, long ago. We can’t stop the groaning. The only one who can stop the groaning is the One who caused the groaning, namely, the Creator.”

This does not mean we don’t try to care for creation. No, we still care for creation just as we care for all of God’s good gifts.

In a sense, God had no choice but to subject the creation to futility. Imagine if Adam and Eve had sinned and God only punished them and not the creation. Imagine if humans were under God’s curse but not the creation, if the creation was not groaning but still as beautiful as it was when God created it. That would sure be strange. We humans would be struggling mightily while the creation would be pristine and perfect. This would not do so God subjected his beautiful creation to futility because of us.

But as believers we know that someday the creation will be set from from its futility. It will happen on the same day that we will be set free from our futility.

Professor David Schmitt points out that we are caught in the middle of God’s greater vision and work. We are caught between groans and glory.

Scripture teaches very clearly that there will come a day when the groaning will cease and all will be restored.

In Matthew 13 Jesus tells a parable known as the “Weeds and the Wheat”. In this parable God allows weeds to grow together with wheat right up until the end of the world. But at the end of time the weeds will be separated from the wheat. The weeds will be bundled up and sent to eternal fire and wheat will be gathered up into God’s eternal harvest. In other words, all evil will be destroyed and all good will be restored to perfection.

The word that Paul uses for this in his letter to the Romans is “revealed”: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. [19] For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.”

The concept behind revealing is that there is something that already exists but it is hidden. Then at the appropriate time what is hidden gets revealed.

It’s like on those television home makeover shows. We watch as the entire house is remodeled and made beautiful. The only thing left is for the new work to be revealed to the homeowners. Finally, they bring them in and reveal the new remodeling and the people are amazed.

Another way to illustrate this is with a seed. The essence of the plant is already in the seed. All that has to happen is for the seed to be planted and watered and the reality of what the seed is is revealed.

For us the work is all done. Jesus has come and completely redeemed us and made us holy. As Paul says in Ephesians 5:

“Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, [26] that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, [27] so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

In Christ we are completely cleansed and restored but that perfection has not yet been revealed.

Or as John puts it: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” (I John 3:1)

Someday the pure perfection and holiness we already have in Christ will be revealed. All sin and evil will be purged away. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

On that same day, creation will be liberated from its bondage to corruption. The world will be restored to its original perfect condition. That will be quite the sight to see. As I said at the beginning, when it comes to the fall into sin it would not make sense for God to punish humans but leave the rest of creation remain in perfection. The opposite is also true. It would not make sense for God to restore us humans and then leave the world in its rotten condition. No, when God restores us he will also restore creation.

On that same day too, all the weeds will be eliminated, all causes of sin and all law-breakers.

Paul probably does not mention the groaning of creation in his letter to the Romans without good reason. We just don’t know what the reason was. Unlike the unbelievers of this world we do not need to panic when we see evidence of the creation’s futility and its bondage to corruption. We are living in the time between groaning and glory. When our redemption and salvation are revealed so too will the creation be restored to its former glory.

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