Romans 8: Creation on Tippy-toes

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” – Romans 18:18-19

Paul has given us hope, an assured hope, that to endure any present suffering now is worthwhile because, in light of our future glory, all our pain will be seen as insignificant. Moreover, in glory we will see from a better perspective how all our pain and suffering was used and intended by God for our salvation and good.[1]  In fact, the future glory which we who are in Christ are destined to attain is so gloriously glorious that even the creation itself is eagerly longing to see it! It’s a fascinating move in Paul’s argument. He personifies creation and describes a scene where the whole of God’s created universe is standing on its tippy-toes, its head outstretched – much like a wife waiting for her beloved husband who’s just getting off an airplane after a year of serving overseas – and is looking for the first glimpse of God’s consummative glory.

Early Church Father, John Chrysostom, rightly says that “Paul’s discourse becomes more emphatic, and he personifies the creation in a way that the prophets do when they speak of the floods, clapping their hands and so on.”[2] Indeed, as Psalm 98 verses 7-9 seems to allude to, there is a sense where all creation is waiting for the final consummation of all history in the coming of the Lord. “Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it! Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth.”

Martin Luther astutely points out that Paul turns our attention away from looking at what the current creation situation is and instead asks us to consider what creation expects.[3]  In other words, we shouldn’t get bogged down in how bad our situation seems now but should rather cast our faith forward in anticipation to what we will be, since even the creation does this! “The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” Do you see how Paul is writing to change our perspective? Not only should we see our current sufferings from the perspective of our future glory, but we should also have the much broader perspective of the whole cosmos in view; there’s a lot more going on than just me, myself, and I suffering.

But I want you to notice as well that Paul doesn’t say that creation is waiting with eager longing for the revealing of the final glory. Nor does he say that the creation waits for the coming of the Son of God in glory. No, what does he say? “The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” We’ve already seen in the context who the sons of God are; it’s Christians. All those who are believers in Christ and have indwelling within them the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out to God in prayer, “Abba! Father!” Why is this an important distinction to make? Well, it’s because Paul knows that there’s an intimate relationship between mankind, the creation, and suffering.

We must remember that when God made the heavens and the earth, He crowned his creation underneath the rule of image bearers, vice-regents who would rule the created world on his behalf. And so, Adam and Eve, the first of God’s representatives, were charged to “have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth… fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion” (Genesis 1:26, 28). Which means, the care and future well-being of the world was placed under mankind’s care – we were to be conservationists, cultural creators within God’s good creation. Our obedience to God was not only an act of worship but it was also the maintenance of the world’s wellbeing. But sadly, the opposite happened.

Instead of ruling over the beasts of the field, Adam and Eve submitted to a serpent (albeit, one possessed by Satan). And in our disobedience, we brought into God’s creation disorder and disarray. Instead of conservation and cultivation we engendered chaos and corruption. Hence Paul can say in Romans 8 verses 20 and 21 that “the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” In other words, the state and position of God’s people is intimately linked to the state and condition of God’s world. When we fall, the world fell. But now, in Christ, when we attain glory, so will the world! And it is this the creation eagerly longs for; the final redemption of those sons of God charged to care for and rule over the rest of creation.

As it stands now, both Christians (the sons of God) and non-Christians look the same – we all suffer, we all get sick, and we all die. But there will come a time when that will not be true for believers, since in Christ there is eternal life (and for all those outside of Christ there is only eternal conscious death). And when that Day finally comes, what Paul refers to here as the “revealing of the sons of God”, then with it will come the final revealing of the new heavens and the new earth; the final shakedown when all sin and decay and corruption and evil and death is done away with (see 2 Peter 3:8-13).

The general scope and design of Paul’s words here is to foster within us a real hope, a confident expectation (con fide, Latin for “with faith”) for the sure and certain future of the Christian’s (and the World’s) final restoration! Hence, Octavius Winslow:

“From this state of vanity, and bondage of corruption, the believer is expecting and hoping to be delivered. His gesture is most expressive – it is that of earnest expectation. And are we not in truth earnest expectants? Would we live always here? Could we be content that this state of vanity should be our condition forever?  Ah, no! We expect a better and holier state than this. With outstretched neck we are looking for the sunny coast towards which we are voyaging. With earnest expectation we are watching for the signs of his approach, who will restore all things: ‘Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God, and our Saviour Jesus Christ.’ Hope, too, rises like the day-spring from on high in our souls. If we are in the bondage of corruption, we yet are ‘prisoners of hope.’ Not always shall we be thus fettered. Not for ever shall we look out from the bars of our prison, and exclaim, ‘Why are his chariot wheels so long in coming?’ Oh, no! hope, building upon the atoning work of Christ – hope, springing from his open grave – hope, beaming down from the throne in heaven… Prisoner of hope, lift up your head and rejoice for your redemption draweth nigh.”[4]

Stephen Unthank (MDiv, Capital Bible Seminary) serves at Greenbelt Baptist Church in Greenbelt, MD, just outside of Washington, DC.  He lives in Maryland with his wife, Maricel and their two children, Ambrose and Lilou.

 

 



[1] Thomas Schreiner, Romans: Second Edition (Baker Academic Press, 2018), p. 425

[2] John Chrysostom, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament volume 6, Romans (InterVarsity Press, 1998), p. 223

[3] Martin Luther, Commentary on Romans, translated by J. Theodore Mueller (Kregel Publications, 1976), p. 123

[4] Octavius Winslow, No Condemnation in Christ Jesus (The Banner of Truth Trust, 1991), p. 212-213

 

 

Stephen Unthank

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