In Romans chapter 8, Paul brings us to a thought that is never really repeated anywhere else in scripture. As Paul describes to his readers the gloriousness of our future, and how our present suffering will be nothing compared to its joy and beauty (Rom 8:18), he gives us a picture in this chapter that is very gripping. He tells us that not only are we groaning as we labor against the forces of sin and death…so too is the creation itself groaning in anticipation of what is to come (8:22).
Now, we should rightfully pause here and ask, “Why would the creation be groaning? After all, isn’t the world and everything in it going to be destroyed?” It is often thought by many that this will be the case. But if that were true, why would Paul say the creation is waiting in “eager anticipation” for the true Sons of God to be revealed (8:19)? If this was going to mean its destruction, “eager anticipation” would hardly seem to be an appropriate description. Who anticipates their own destruction? So it appears there must be another explanation for what will happen.
When you read this passage closely, it becomes clear that Paul has Genesis 1-3 in the back of his mind. Genesis 1-3, of course, tells us the story of the beginning of the world, and there are two very important elements to that story. The first was the task that God assigned to the man and woman: they were to be fruitful and multiply, and they were to rule over the earth. God’s intention was that man and woman were to be sovereign over the earth, always working in partnership with God. But the second element of the story tells us of man and woman’s disobedience. This caused God to put a curse on them that would eventually lead to their death, but if you remember how that story goes, as part of the curse that God places on Adam, he also placed a curse on the earth so that it would be toilsome and laborious to make the land productive. The earth has remained under a curse every since.
With that in mind, what Paul seems to be pointing towards here in Romans 8 is a grand reversal of that curse. Not only will human beings be freed from their curse, which has bound them over to sin, suffering and death, but so also will the creation be freed from its curse. No longer will the ground produce thorns and thistles, and be laborious to look after; at that time, the earth will be bountiful and productive, and human beings will once again take their place over it in the ways that they were always intended. But rather than ruin the earth as we do now in our sinful state, instead we will be God’s stewards in making it flourish, enjoying the goodness of our ever joyful and ever creative God!
This is a picture worth pausing over. Rather than the popular picture of heaven we often imagine, where we float on clouds playing harps with our angelic wings, instead we see an exciting picture of our human potential being brought out in the finest sort of way. There will be things to do! Experiences to have! Work to be done! But not the kind of work that is toilsome and tiring. Instead, it will be work invigorated with energy, joy, and most of all, love.
In our more reflective moments, we all recognize this is what we are groaning for. In our life now, even in its best moments, there is still an acknowledgement that something is missing…something is not quite complete. That longing we all experience is a desire for the Kingdom of God in all of its fullness. It is sometimes hard to recognize it as such, and therefore we go to any other thing to try to fill that void. But it is not to be found, at least not fully, until God makes it so in the resurrection. We are groaning for that day…but so is the creation. It too, longs to be free from its curse so that it can flourish under the rule of the redeemed children of God to be what God made it to be. This is what we have to look forward to in Christ.
In a world that is currently in turmoil at every side, don’t you long for that day?
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