At the end of our previous study we studied the importance of the word “consider” in verse 18. It refers to a rational process by which a thinking person is able to figure something out. What Paul is thinking about is, as we would say, whether the Christian life is worth it. The Christian life is not easy. It involves rigorous self-denial, persecutions, and even some sufferings. Unbelievers, worldly people, seem to have it better. Why should we, too not live only for pleasure? What is to be gained by godliness?
As Paul “considers” this, it becomes perfectly evident to him why the Christian way is the only rational way – for two reasons. The first reason is the contrast between the short duration of our present sufferings and the timelessness of eternity. The second reason why the Christian life is “rational” lies in the contrast between the weight of our sufferings, which is light, and the weight of the glory yet to come. Paul does not deny that the earthly sufferings we experience are grievous. In 1 and 2 Corinthians he lists some of the tribulations he endured, and they were indeed heavy. But he says, weighty as they are, “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us.” Think it out he says. Put both on a scale. If you do, you will find that our present sufferings are really inconsequential if compared with the glory to come (2 Cor. 4:17).
The two arguments from verse 18 are alone adequate to prove Paul’s point: that the Christian life is eminently worth it. However Paul continues the argument into verse 19 and beyond. In fact verses 18-21 are all part of a long carefully sustained argument. The new element at this point is “the creation.” It’s important to get this reference straight, for with the word “creation” Paul is talking about the physical world of matter, plants, and animals. His argument is that nature is in a presently imperfect state, but that it is longing for the day of liberation. Paul is personifying nature, of course, but he does not mean that inanimate nature has personal feelings that correspond to ours. He means only that nature is not yet all that God has predestined it to be. It is waiting for its true fulfillment. And if nature is waiting, we should be willing to wait in hope, too, knowing that a glorious outcome is certain. This is the third reason why Christianity is worth it.
This view of creation is radically different from the worlds of course. In general the world either deifies the cosmos, virtually worshiping it as an ideal, or it regards the cosmos as gradually evolving towards perfection, accompanied by the human race, which is also so evolving. The Christian perspective, supplied by Scripture, is at this point far more balanced and mature than anything the blind and unbelieving world can devise.
The Christian doctrine of the cosmos has three parts. (1) This is God’s world. Everything in our passage presupposes this, not least the fact that the cosmos is called “creation.” That term presupposes a Creator, which is exactly what the Christian maintains, is the case. Even scientific evidence for the Big Bang alone tells us that. The only rational view of origins is that God made everything. (2) This world is not what it was created to be. The problems with the cosmos are not only those that the human race has inflicted on it, mostly destruction and pollution. The world has also been subjected to troubles as the result of God’s judgment on man, rendered at the time of the fall (Gen. 3:17-18). Nature had not sinned; Adam had. But nature was subjected to a downgrading because of him and thus entered into his judgment. It is this trouble, the result of God’s judgment on sin that Paul is particularly concerned with in Romans. He uses three words to describe it; frustration, bondage, and decay. (3) The world will one day be renewed. In spite of creation’s current frustration, bondage, and decay, the day is coming when the world will be renewed.
In Genesis 3 God came in judgment on Satan and on the woman and the man and the world they had known. But even as He pronounced a judgment upon Satan, God also gave a promise of a deliverer, saying, “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen. 3:15). This was a promise that Jesus would come one day to save all who would believe on Him, but it was also more than that. It was a promise that in Christ God would frustrate Satan, undo his destructive works, and once again bring a redeemed human race into a redeemed creation. The promise was that Paradise will be perfected and regained. Creation is waiting for that day, says Paul. And if it is, can we not wait in hopeful expectation, too? And be faithful children of God?
What Paul is suggesting to you, is a Christian perspective on this life, and that by adopting it, it will rearrange your values and change your approach to suffering and the disappointments of life. If you learn to reason as Paul does, you will experience the following: (1) You will not be surprised when things go wrong in this life. We live in a fallen environment. Your plans will misfire, you will often fail, others will destroy what you have spent long years and much toil to accomplish. This will be true even if you are a Christian and are trying to follow Jesus. But your successes are not what life is all about. What matters is your love for God and your faithfulness. (2)You will not place your ultimate hope in anything human beings can do to improve this world’s conditions. You will not delude yourself into thinking that the salvation of the world’s ills will be brought about by mere human efforts. You will feed the poor, but you will know that Jesus said, “The poor you will always have with you” (Matt. 26:11a). You will pray for your leaders, but you will know that they are but sinful men and women like yourself and that they will always disappoint you. (3) You will keep your eyes on Jesus. Where else can you look? All others are disappointing, and everything is crumbling about you. Only He is worthy of your trust. He has promised to return in His glory, and we know that when He does return and we see Him in His glory, we will be like Him (1 John 3:2). Moreover, when we are made like Him in His glory, the creation that is also straining forward to that day will become glorious too. No wonder the early Christians prayed, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
Romans 8:19-21 Reflection Questions:
In these verses, creation plays a key part in Paul’s words. Describe all the things that creation is experiencing and “doing” in verses 18-25.
What is it about the world that makes you “groan” in frustration, anger or desperation for something to change?
Paul repeats several key terms in verses 18-30, one of which is “groaning.” Who is groaning in these verses and why?