No Separation: Assurance as a Future-Looking Reality
Our Present Sufferings. Paul speaks of “the sufferings of this present time,” not “the suffering.” He’s speaking of “the time” between Jesus’ resurrection and return. In the “present time” we experience “the sufferings” of persecution at the hands of the world and the devil. “Rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:13). Ministers experience “the sufferings” of being “jars of clay . . . afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; stuck down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor. 4:7–9). Added to these are all “the sufferings” we experience because Adam’s sin caused the world to be a fallen place: women’s suffering in childbirth and men’s suffering agony in the course of their work (Gen. 3:16–19). “The suffering” of a fallen world include hunger and loneliness, illness and disease, and the sorrow of death.
Our Future Glory. In contrast, Paul speaks of “the glory that is to be revealed to us.” He’s just said in Romans 8:17 that we’re united to Christ in His suffering and glory. What Jesus experienced as Son we, too, will experience as sons. Think of kids playing with modeling clay or Play-Doh. How do they know how to transform it into a whale, a tiger, or a person? They either have a picture in their minds or in front of them. Jesus is that picture, we’re the clay, and God is the molder. One day, the ultimate experience of fellowship with God will be “revealed” when He glorifies and “transform[s] our lowly bod[ies] to be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21). When Paul “consider[s] the[se] sufferings” in light of “glory,” he says they “are not worth comparing.” Our sufferings are earthly; God’s glory is eternal. Our sufferings are temporal; God’s glory is eternal. “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). Our sufferings are as light on a scale as a feather compared to an elephant, are as insignificant as a dot compared to extending lines with arrows on a number line.
Groaning For Glory (Rom. 8:19–27)
Creation’s Groan (Rom. 8:19–22). Paul illustrates that this age’s sufferings aren’t worth comparing with glory “because the creation waits with eager longing” (Rom. 8:19). The image is of someone lifting up their head, longing to see something on the horizon, as one might climb a hill in the morning to see the sunrise. What does creation long to see? “The revealing of the sons of God.” All creation waits for us to enter glorious, face-to-face fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Why is creation groaning? “For” or “because the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it” (Rom. 8:20). Something happened to change creation: it became “subjected to futility,” reflecting Genesis 3, where God cursed the ground to produce “thorns and thistles.” Creation no longer lives up to its promise. It’s become “vanity, vanity” (Eccl. 1:2). Everything seems pointless, meaningless, and futile. We know the frustration of not living up to our potential, but this is frustration on a cosmic scale. The creation was “subjected . . . not willingly” but passively; the active cause was “him who subjected it”: God.
He isn’t the author of futility, but He executed His curse because of Adam’s sin. Creation’s subjection is not God’s fault. Like a parent who makes terrible choices stunting the emotional, social, and spiritual growth of their children, so with Adam and all human beings who descend from him by ordinary generation. God, though, didn’t place a curse on creation for cursing’s sake; He did so “in hope” (Rom. 8:20). God placed in the DNA of creation itself this 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” (Rom. 8:21). Bondage now, freedom then; corruption now, renewal then; futility now, glory then. Paul summarizes in verse 22: “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” Paul switches the image and says creation is like an expectant mother in labor pains (Gen. 3:16). The pain is serious, but it will soon pass.
Paul isn’t adopting pagan mythology of “mother earth.” He’s personifying creation with human characteristics. Why? To encourage we who eagerly longing for sufferings to end so that we can enter glory face-to-face. Be encouraged; we’re not alone in longing for the renewal of creation. Everything around you is too. Every couple of months I go out into the front yard to trim my Phoenix robelinii. I find them an astounding example of hope and patience. I’m constantly cutting off branches, cleaning up dead ones, and removing messy flowers. But I hardly water or fertilize them. Yet, they’re taller and more lush than before, as if they are patiently enduring my neglect. What’s amazing is how the trees hidden under the shade of my neighbor’s roof and nestled in the back of my planter have grown toward the sun. Entire trunks contorting. Branches from one tree stretching out over those closer to the sunlight. All in the hope of light. In a similar way, creation is waiting for its renewal, patiently yet earnestly groaning for restoration.