Somewhat belatedly here is the last post considering Romans 8:18-27. So far we have seen that the Christian should expect suffering but that this is achieving a glory- one second of which will extinguish a lifetime of suffering.
So, for the moment, everybody is groaning. Why? Because glory will be so good. Paul says that it will be so good that the whole of creation can’t wait for the day when the glory of Christians will be revealed. “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.” (v.19) For now creation- for all its magnificence- is not what it should be. As the old hymn puts it “Change and decay in all around I see.” All of this dates back to the Fall when God subjected creation to frustration. But He did so with the promise that it would not always be like that- with the hope that one day creation would be liberated from its bondage to decay and be brought into the freedom of the children of God.
What does this mean? Think back to the beginning. When God created the world the high point was humanity- beings made in His image. But of course when anything goes wrong at the top then inevitably it filters down. That’s what happened at the Fall. Human beings lost their glory as they rejected God. God caused the consequences of that to ripple down into all creation leading to decay. But the same principle applies to our final glorious state. A day is coming when a new humanity- a people redeemed by Jesus Christ and adopted as God’s children- will be revealed. This new humanity will be glorious- even better than Adam and Eve. The trickle down will again take place with the result that creation will be gloriously made new. It will no longer be subject to decay and destruction. Creation will share in the new life that we will enjoy when Jesus returns.
I wonder whether we have grasped the sheer scale of what God is going to do. We will be at the head of a whole new creation. That’s why the glory to be revealed in us is so much weightier than suffering now. It seems to me that we can talk a bit carelessly about our goal being to get to heaven one day. Of course there is some truth in it- our souls do go to heaven when we die. But the main goal is to rule with Jesus over a gloriously renewed creation. That’s the goal of Romans 8. Creation is not longing to be zapped into non-existence as we float to heaven. No- creation is longing to be renewed when the new humanity is revealed.
Just in passing- this is why Christians shouldn’t be obsessed with books like “100 places to go before you die.” And we certainly shouldn’t spend all our time and money on planning and paying for exotic holidays. There will be more than enough time to enjoy them in the new creation. And they will look better. And there won’t be tacky gift shops.
Creation will be renewed but in the meantime it groans as though in labour. It is in pain- but pain with hope. There will be new life at the end of the process. We share in that experience. According to v.23 we groan as we wait. We groan because. although we have so much as Christians, we don’t have it all yet. At one level we are children of God but that’s not visible yet. We live in bodies that are broken and so we wait- desperately at times- for the day when our bodies will be made new. We are in labour pains- excruciating at times (so I’m told) but knowing that there is a glorious end in sight.
We are people of hope. We don’t live for what we have now or see now: that’s not hope (v.25). We are realists- we realize there will always be a certain lack about life here and now. But that causes us to wait patiently for our future goal.
It seems to me that this is important at some many levels. Many of us will be aware of a nagging sense of discontent. The danger is that we will think there is something on earth that can end our groaning. Some of us will be tempted to moan about the church- if only it were better then I would be happy. That’s the path to cynicism or drifting away from the church. For those of us who are single the temptation can be to think that a spouse will end my groaning. The search for a partner can dominate our life. Those who get married will discover that the groaning continues. The temptation then is to think “If only my husband/wife were different then I would be satisfied…” That’s the path to a life of nagging or, worse, an affair.
A much better is to realize the truth that CS Lewis grasped:
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in the world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
The apostle Paul would agree. We groan with a longing that only the final redemption brought by Christ will satisfy.
But we don’t groan alone. Creation groans and we groan but, in addition, the Spirit groans according to v.26. During this time of waiting and groaning we can feel very weak, unable to continue and full of uncertainties. We face questions- What should I do? What should I pray for? And yet we remember that we are not alone. The Spirit himself intercedes for us. In some words this verse can be hard to understand but it is clearly intended to be an encouragement. The living God is not remote from this groaning world. He has drawn near in the person of Christ and has done so again in the person of His Spirit living within us. So when we reach the end of our resources and we are even struggling to pray we can have confidence that the Spirit is praying to God the Father. And of course we know that those prayers reach God for the God who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit. We must never forget that God understands the reality of life in a groaning world- for there is a sense in which He groans Himself.
This passage gives us a vital perspective. Our sufferings are the labour pains which will give birth to glory: a glory that will transcend all suffering. Let me make two applications.
Firstly, let me say something to those who are younger. Be careful about your dreams and ambitions. Most of us tend to dream of nice things here on earth. Let me be blunt. They probably won’t happen and, even if they do, they won’t fully satisfy. Beware letting your dreams become all consuming. Instead- be a person of hope who lives for the day when we will share in the glory of Christ.
Secondly, let me say something to those who are currently suffering. I know it is hard but, more importantly, God knows it is hard. The Spirit within you is crying out to God. And never forget that these are the labour pains- excruciating but they will produce glory. And that glory will be so magnificent, so complete, so satisfying that even a moment of it will extinguish the tears of the present day. And praise God we won’t enjoy it for just a moment. Eternal joy. Eternal satisfaction. Eternal glory. That is what will be ours through Christ.