Paul’s thesis in Romans 8:18-22 is that our present suffering is not even worth comparing to the glory to be revealed in the children of God. He uses “consider” (λογίζομαι) once again, the same word for Abraham being declared righteous in 4:8. The believer will certainly suffer, but they should not consider than suffering to be on a par with the glory which is to be revealed. Those who are in Christ have a certain hope in their future redemption.
“Present suffering” in 8:18 may also refer to the effect of Adam’s sin on all creation. Not only do humans suffer, but so too does all of creation. Creation itself was damaged by Adam’s sin, so creation is also looking forward to the redemption of the children of God (v. 19-22).
First, creation is eagerly longing for the revelation of God’s children. The noun translated “eagerly longing of creation” (ἀποκαραδοκία) is a very rare word which has the sense of “stretching the head forward” (TDNT 1:393). This noun is combined with the verb (ἀπεκδέχομαι, await eagerly), used for the eager expectation of the future resurrection (later in this passage, 8:23, 25; Phil 3:20; 1 Cor 1:7).There is an apocalyptic overtone in this verse. Paul is looking forward to the unveiling of the children of God in the coming resurrection.
Second, because of Adam’s rebellion, creation was subjected to futility. Looking back to the effect of sin on creation in Genesis 3, all creation is subjected against its will to worthlessness (ματαιότης). The word refers to frustration, or even frustrating purposelessness. “The basis of creation’s continuing enslavement to transitoriness and mortality is the fall of mankind” (EDNT 3:313–314).
This is the word the LXX uses in Ecclesiastes 1:2, vanity of vanities, the meaninglessness of life. Recent commentaries on Ecclesiastes use the word “absurd” rather that vanity. Because of sin, creation itself is pointless and absurd. In Ecclesiastes, this is demonstrated by the constant cycles of nature. There is a certain pointlessness to animal life, for example, which seems to exist to eat, sleep and mate.
Third, creation was put into bondage to decay. More than being pointless, creation suffers death as a result of the fall. The noun φθορά refers to decay of living things. The implication is that prior to the fall, creation was not in a state of decay; it functioned differently than it does today. More than this, creation is enslaved to decay, unable to free itself from the cycle of decay and death. We know that there is nothing in all of creation which does not die, rot or erode away to nothing given time.
Fourth, creation is groaning as in the pains of childbirth (v. 22). This vivid image may be drawn from apocalyptic literature (EDNT 3:311). The suffering of the world and the persecution of God’s people are sometimes described as “the birth pangs” of the new age (Isa 26:17; Micah 4:9; 4 Ezra 4:38-43)
Isaiah 26:17–18 (ESV) Like a pregnant woman who writhes and cries out in her pangs when she is near to giving birth, so were we because of you, O Lord; 18 we were pregnant, we writhed, but we have given birth to wind. We have accomplished no deliverance in the earth, and the inhabitants of the world have not fallen.
4 Ezra 4:38-43 Then I answered and said, “O sovereign Lord, but all of us also are full of ungodliness. 39 And it is perhaps on account of us that the time of threshing is delayed for the righteous—on account of the sins of those who dwell on earth.” 40 He answered me and said, “Go and ask a woman who is with child if, when her nine months have been completed, her womb can keep the child within her any longer.” 41 “No, my lord,” I said, “it cannot.” He said to me, “In Hades the chambers of the souls are like the womb. 42 For just as a woman who is in travail makes haste to escape the pangs of birth, so also do these places hasten to give back those things that were committed to them from the beginning. 43 Then the things that you desire to see will be disclosed to you.”
Jesus refers to the suffering facing his disciples prior to his return as a series of “birth pains” (Matt 24:8). These pains are not the end itself, but the suffering and pain expected before the new age is fully revealed. In the Olivet Discourse, this will include natural suffering (disasters, etc.) but also direct persecution on account of Jesus Christ.
Paul is in step with Second Temple Judaism by describing creation as utterly corrupted by sin. Many in the first century were also looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; 1 Enoch 45:4-4; Jubilees 4:26).
Throughout Romans there has been a present and future aspect of redemption. We are save, but not wholly glorified yet we have yet to come into our inheritance.” Does the present aspect of our redemption have any impact on creation? Evangelicals are quick to talk about redeeming people, but to the redeemed people have any responsibility toward creation?