Romans 8:19-21 - Creation Looks for God’s Children
For creation waits with eager longing to see the revelation of who God’s children are. For the creation is subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him, who subjected it. But she has received hope, for creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and she will obtain the freedom and the glory which will also be given to the children of God.Rom. 8:19-21
In the Dutch Daily of December 6th (2007) was an article which said that in the past thirty years almost 80% of the jungle in Indonesia has been lost. Environmental organizations warn about a catastrophic climate change when the “Indonesian lungs of the world” collapse.
And then that second message. During the National Bird Count in The Netherlands in January of this year (2008), a remarkable large number of birds from South Europe were observed. In the paper this was reported as being a “very significant” fact.
A Groaning Creation
The apostle Paul writes in his letter to the congregation in Rome about a groaning creation (Rom. 8:22). And what he writes about this groaning creation has directly to do with the theme that the world is currently talking about: the expulsion of CO2 (coal dioxide) and the possibly connected warming of the climate. That shows clearly from the connections which the apostle makes.
Creation is subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him, who subjected it. And who is the “him” in this sentence? The Dutch translation of 1951 writes “Him”, with a capital H. Then it obviously points to God who has brought his judgment over creation.
But it is more obvious to think here of man. We are the reason for creation’s groaning.
After the Fall in sin, Adam heard (Gen. 3:17): “Cursed is the ground because of you”. And for Adam the battle has started against “thorns and thistles”. Diseases started to appear among the animals and the plants. Earthquakes and typhoons—all of this has come into the world with the curse which was pronounced over the earth.
Against her will the beautiful creation has been pulled along in the Fall of its people. With great reluctance the creation is dragged along ever further in the process of decline and suffering.
Man walks around in this groaning creation. He still has the command to act as a good steward and look after this earth. And what do we see happening? Nothing much good is shown with his stewardship.
With the unequal division of the prosperity in the world we see that many poor (countries) are getting into overexploitation. To survive, jungles are being burned, and the earth is being depleted through monoculture. For the extremely poor it is more important that their children have something to eat than that the pollution in the air is reduced.
Apart from this, there are the rich who shamelessly enrich themselves at the cost of a harmonious balance in nature. Huge sums of money are made by cutting down hardwood trees and other precious trees. One can imagine the consequences of this. See the message on cutting trees in the jungles of Indonesia.
The relationship between the sinful actions of people and the ramifications of that for creation comes strongly to the fore especially in the discussion about the environment.
This connection has already been pointed out by the prophet Hosea. In his prophesies he raves against the sinful lifestyle of God’s people. In Hosea 4:2 we read the following charge against the sinful people: “there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed”.
And then subsequently Hosea draws the following conclusion: “Therefore the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish, and also the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens, and even the fish of the sea are taken away.”
Because of the sins of the people, the groaning creation comes under even more pressure.
The apostle Paul uses in Romans 8:22 the image of a woman, groaning in childbirth pains. This is also how the groaning of creation is driven to its apex.
At the same time, the apostle with this image clearly indicates that there comes an end to the suffering and that a new life awaits us.
This hope is missing in various documentaries and films about cleaning up the environment and climate change. The message is that we must save ourselves. And when we do not watch what we are doing today, then within the foreseeable future this world is done.
There is no recognition of the promise that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).
When you can skate outside a little on a wintry day, it seems that all is not that bad in this world. Everything looks pristine. A clear blue sky, trees coated in hoarfrost, geese flying over in a V-formation.
It is God’s faithfulness to creation that there is still much to enjoy in creation. After the flood, the Lord made a covenant with all that lives on the earth. Creation remains precious in God’s sight. It is God’s restraining work that ensures that it will never go that far that the world will become a dry dessert-like plain. Also, the world will not drown by means of an enormous tsunami.
In Luke 17:26-30 we read about the time that Jesus will return; the people will be eating, drinking, and getting married. From this you do not get the impression that the earth has become a totally uninhabitable place.
And yet, this does not take away that creation does not glow anymore as God had intended it. Every year, series of plants and animals disappear from this earth. That means irreparable damage to God’s creation. Days after a destructive tornado goes over, the sun bursts through, but the people are devastated because of all the destruction. The area of Chernobyl looks lovely but has been destroyed by radiation.
Creation is Eagerly Looking Out
It is very peculiar that the apostle Paul writes about creation as if it is a person. Creation not only groans, but also eagerly looks out. And what is creation looking out for? For the moment that it becomes clear who God’s children are.
Why is creation so focused on that moment? Because creation is looking forward to new people who in a new way will look after (the new) creation. Creation is looking for different people.
And who are these people that creation is so eagerly looking forward to? The answer can be found in Romans 8:23. That is where the apostle writes: “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
Together with the believers in Rome, the apostle Paul longs for the moment that it will be made clear which people are God’s children. This is how creation and God’s children long for each other. They look forward to the new earth and life in the recovered creation.
And in the Meantime?
It has been suggested that, by definition, Christians have little interest in the environment.
And that is then explained by the fact that Christians look forward to the end of this world and this creation. Considering the coming renewal, a little more pollution cannot be all that bad!
This creation, after all, will be completely cleaned up at some point.
For this reason, some years ago, many people were afraid of the Christian president Ronald Reagan. Awaiting the final battle in Armageddon he could, easier than other world leaders, decide to use atomic weapons.
Scripture does not feed such an attitude. The LORD demands a careful treatment of His creation. The fact that creation groans under the curse of brokenness, does not change that.
We can read a clear and touching example in Deuteronomy 22:6-7:
“If you come across a bird's nest in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs and the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young. 7 You shall let the mother go, but the young you may take for yourself, that it may go well with you, and that you may live long.”
Just imagine! The Israelite is being promised a long life if he deals carefully with the birds.
Scripture therefore, does not speak at all of not having to care for creation anymore, because creation is under the curse anyway. It is and remains God’s creation with which we shall deal carefully. That also becomes evident from another example.
In Deuteronomy 20:19-20 we read the following instructions regarding waging war: “When you besiege a city for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an axe against them. You may eat from them, but you shall not cut them down. Are the trees in the field human, that they should be besieged by you? Only the trees that you know are not trees for food you may destroy and cut down, that you may build siege-works against the city that makes war with you, until it falls.”
On the one hand there is the reality that in this world wars are being waged and wars need materials. Also trees are needed. That is again the curse under which creation groans. At the same time this is not a license to just go ahead and randomly cut down trees, for fruit trees are to be saved.
These, and other parts of Scripture teach us to be careful when maintaining this creation that God has made. Taking care of the environment is not something that Christians should leave to others. A biblical care for the environment saves us at the same time from the trap that creation is being seen as divine in itself. We see that in Hinduism with its absolute ban to kill living creatures. In our society this (philosophy) comes out in various forms of vegetarianism and veganism.
Christian care in how we manage creation does not come from respect for the divinity of creation. This care is out of respect for the holy God who has created this world. To him we must give account as to how we used his creation. Also now that a curse rests on creation and creation itself groans as a woman who is about to give birth to a child.
The Trees are Looking At You
It is very special to read that creation longs for the moment that it becomes clear who God’s children are. Creation looks for different people, for people who will look after creation.
And when I wander through the woods today, it almost seems as if the trees look at me, questioningly. They seem to ask me: Do you belong to them to? Do you also belong to the children of God, do you also belong to the future inhabitants of the new earth?
Together with the trees, the flowers, and the animals I look forward to that great moment.
To the moment when there will be a definitive end of all suffering, and then the glory will be revealed to us.