"We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies." (Romans 8: 22-23)
In January, 1989, TIME magazine named earth "planet of the year" because of the abuse it has taken from mankind. We have hunted hundreds of animals into extinction. We have nearly destroyed the ozone layer, letting in deadly radiation from the sun. We have dumped tons of pollutants into the atmosphere and the oceans. We have destroyed the forests that cleanse the air, prevent erosion of the soil, and provide a home for millions of species of plants and animals.
There's only one way to describe it. Romans 8:22. "For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now."
Creation is groaning under the pain. But it is not just pain; it is pain with a purpose, like the pain of childbirth. As John Calvin put it, not death pangs, but birth pangs. The pain will have worthwhile end--it is going to culminate in glory. As the Old Testament prophets declared, the desert will blossom like a rose, the wolf and the lamb will feed together, the lion will eat straw like the ox, and nothing will hurt nor destroy in all God's holy mountain (Isaiah 65:25). The rivers will flow free and clear again (Stedman, 239).
If that is earth's destiny, it would seem sensible for us to begin preparing for that day by being responsible stewards of the earth today--protecting it, preserving it, and treating it with sensitivity and care.
So, creation groans. But someday it will be delivered from its bondage to corruption--the day when the sons of God enter into their glory.
Romans 8:23. "Not only that, but we also who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body."
We have the first fruits of the Spirit, the present ministry of the Spirit in our lives which is the pledge and foretaste of the magnificent blessings that shall be ours in the future, just as the first fruits of the harvest in the Old Testament were the pledge and foretaste of more to come in the future for them (Exodus 23:19; Deuteronomy 18:4). But that joyous prospect doesn't eliminate the present groans. Our spirits have been saved, but we still live in dying bodies. We still suffer the ravages of disease in our human bodies. We still grieve as we watch friends and loved ones die. And we long for the culmination of our adoption as God's sons--the day when our bodies themselves will be raised immortal and incorruptible, delivered from all pain and death--what Paul calls here "the redemption of our body" (that answers to "the glory which shall be revealed in us" in verse 18, and "the revealing of the sons of God" in verse 19).
Many of you have suffered painful and/or terminal illnesses and you can identify with what Paul is saying here. I have groaned in my spirit at the discomfort I have experienced. I have groaned in my spirit over the aggressive therapy the doctors have administered to my friends and family, which at times seems to be worse than the disease itself. I have groaned in my spirit when I have talked to patients whose disease was advanced and who were suffering severe pain. I have groaned in my spirit when I have talked with the bereaved survivors of patients who have passed away. I understand a little of what Paul was saying.
I'm thankful that there is more to my adoption into God's family than we have already experienced. And I am eagerly anticipating the day when our adoption will be culminated, when our bodies will be completely and finally liberated from the effects of sin and death. We will be free from pain. We will have a perfect body, with no weaknesses, blemishes or defects. We will have an exalted position our heavenly home near our precious Lord. All the riches of heaven will be ours to enjoy for eternity. That will be glory! Our groaning will turn to glory! What a wonderful hope! Amen!
With you on the journey
Rev. Bob Nolan
Assoc Pastor, Music & Healing Ministry - Woodridge Congregational Church, UCC
Chaplain & Director - The Chaplaincy Center