Why Does “All Creation Groan” in Romans 8:19-22?

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).

Image result for groaning creationFirst, 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?

 

8 thoughts on “Why Does “All Creation Groan” in Romans 8:19-22?

  1. We our continually killing sin, and striving to live in the Spirit. The Holy Spirit restores our relationship with the Father. And ultimately we are to be restored to the original Adam, sinless and perfect before God. Adam was commanded by God to work the garden of Eden, and keep it (Genesis 2:15). This command came before the fall. Meaning, the perfect Adam was to take care of the garden and cultivate it. Now humans are broken, but those who are in Christ have been redeemed, and even though we have not yet been glorified, we ought to live as if we have been. By viewing ourselves as redeemed, we ought to understand our responsibly to creation. Just as Adam was told to work the garden and keep it, so also we ought to follow this command as believers made whole in Christ. Yes, redeemed people do have a responsibility to creation.

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  2. I believe that we, as believers of Christ, do have a responsibility towards creation. I do not believe that means being vegan is the holiest lifestyle (although veggies are the beggies), but I do believe that God wants us to take care of His creation. Many of Christ’s parables related to some aspect of gardening or farming. We are called to be good stewards, plus it’s always better to leave something better than it was before.

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  3. This whole concept of environmental issues is actually a concern we must have as Christians. We know that God created the heavens and the earth and made it good. We see in Genesis the world God created to work in perfect harmony and for specific purposes and roles. There is no doubt God respected and nourished nature. Although man came and we are a “step above” nature because of our made in His likeness and image. We still need to have a perspective of God’s original design and intentions. It took God 5 days to create nature, and one day for us. In the beginning God gave mankind the stewardship to cultivate and nourish nature, but the fall happened and everything was ingrained with decay (humans decay spiritually and physically, nature physically). We should respect nature and the ability it has to reveal God’s presence (Romans 1:20). In Moo, there is a great section about how Paul is more “green” then we think. We need to take care of nature in a respectful and realistic way.

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  4. In Genesis we read how God created the universe, every single thing (living or not) was created by Him and for Him. God’s creation was perfect and good, He was happy with it, but sin entered the world through Adam’s disobedience and curiosity. We now live in a corrupt world where the environment and humans are falling apart and getting worse. It is a sad reality, but as Christians I personally believe that we are called to take care of the earth we have been placed in. God created humans to be “above” the earth and to take care of it. Just because sin and evil entered and we were separated from God, that does not give us a way out or an excuse to not watch over the environment. In chapter 12, Moo states that: “Christians teach that human needs and wants take precedents over the good of the natural world” (Moo, 2881). The argument by Christian’s in Moo is that we have the right to exploit nature and the environment for our good. This thinking and way of living is pathetic. We have become so self centered and consumerism has completely taken over. Moo also argues that Paul was a lot greener than most people think. It would be wise to take Paul as an example and follow is direction. As Christians we need to be the ones to take the first step. We need to drop the bad attitudes and be the examples to both non Christians and Christians.

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  5. As Christians, I believe it is important for us to take care of God’s creation. It is falling apart because of human sin. Genesis 1:31 says, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” The word “everything” includes both humans and the earth that we live on. When God originally created the earth He declared it was good, but when humans fell, so did the earth. It is our fault that the earth is the way it is, so I feel as though we should take responsibility for what did and what we are currently doing to the earth and try to fix it. After all, God did save us even though we are broken ourselves and it is our fault that His once good creation is now broken and “groaning together in the pains of childbirth” (Romans 8:22). We should try to extend the same love to the planet that God mercifully gave to us.

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