The Groaning of Creation
Creation’s Longing

In a Brief Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 37b of 83

19 For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. 20 For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, 21 Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Romans 8:19-22).

[In the first part of our exposition of this text, we saw how the creature, i.e.,  nature or all of irrational creation issubject to vanity” (v. 20) and it is under the “bondage of corruption” (v. 21) because of the Fall of man. In this second instalment, we will consider how creation is, as it were, longing for better days when it will be renewed.

2. The ‘Longing’ of
the Creature

Creation is longing with an earnest expectation:

19 For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.

Paul is painting a picture. It is a picture of every irrational member of creation stretching out their necks. They do so because they are seized with great anxiety and are looking with suspense and desire for the day of the manifestation of the sons of God.

Can you imagine the picture Paul is painting? If you ever go to the zoo, go to the enclosure where the meerkats are kept. You know what they meerkats are don’t you? They look like elongated rats.

As you approach the enclosure, you will see them standing up one by one and starring at you with earnest expectation. Perhaps they are hoping you would give them a cookie.

But now imagine all the animals, insects and the trees and flowers and the sun, the moon, the stars, mountains and hills. Imagine that they are all doing the same. This is what the apostle Paul is painting. The whole creation as one body is stretching out its neck waiting in expectation.

But not only is it doing so.

It is also groaning and travailing in pain.

22 For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.

This is really a repetition of what Paul has said. But he is painting a different picture so that the truth will be etched in our memories!

The whole of creation is now seen as a woman about to give birth. She is groaning and travailing in birth pangs. She has been groaning in pain since  the Fall of Adam until this day.

This groaning, we must remember is not a literal groaning. Paul speaks of three groaning. In this verse, he speaks about the groaning of creation; from verses 23-25, he would speak about the groaning of the sons of God; and then from verses 26-27, he would speak about the groaning of the Holy Spirit.

At no point is he talking about literal groaning that can be heard. He is talking about sympathy and expectation. The groaning and travailing of creation is not a groaning of death. It will not issue in death. It will issue in new birth. It will issue in a renewed creation. The groaning is a groaning of expectation, not of resignation.

But remember that the creation that groans is irrational. It does not know what is going on. Paul is not saying that it has feelings. Rather, he is trying to impress upon our minds that the present state of things is not permanent.

Today, there are deaths, decay, vulnerabilities, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, floods, hurricanes, droughts, forest fires, Ebola, SARS, bird flu, cholera outbreaks, and many such things.

These things mar the dwelling place of man. But the imperfection speaks of better things to come. The best is yet to come. As the imperfection of the caterpillar speaks of better things to come, so the imperfection of creation today speaks of better things to come.

All creation, in this imperfect state, as it were, is hoping for the better things to come. This is why Paul says that God has subjected it in hope (v. 20). Like the meerkats hoping to receive a cookie, all creation is hoping for something. And because it is in pain while waiting, it is groaning.

But what is it specifically groaning and hoping for?

…to be Continued Next Issue

—JJ Lim