The Groaning Of Creation
Creation’s Present State

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 37a 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).

It was an ordinary Sabbath evening. We just got home from evening service. But as soon as we opened the door, we noticed something lying on the floor.

It was a fish. It was one of the scats that my son and I caught in Bintan two years ago. It was baby when we brought it home. But it is now almost 6 inches in diameter. It was a beautiful fish. It must have been very strong to be able to leap out of the aquarium. But now it was lying very still. Its’ glassy eyes stared at me as I examined it. But there was no life. It was dead.

For a moment as I looked at the lifeless fish, I felt like Jonah when he “had pity on the gourd” (Jon 3:10). This fish was a beauty to behold when it was swimming gracefully. But now it is dead. I felt a twinge of pity. But quickly, I was reminded that it must be so today. We live in an imperfect world. Nothing we have today is permanent.

The school of scats in my tank would die one by one. One day they would all be dead.

I think about creation as a whole. Scientists tell us that one day everything on earth will be destroyed. The Sun will either get too cold and everything will freeze. Or it will get too hot and everything will burn up. Or so they say. This is why there is so much interest in Mars exploration. It is thought by some scientists that perhaps if the Sun gets too hot, then our descendants can migrate to Mars. This is the thinking of man.

But is this what the Scripture teaches?

Yes, Scripture confirms that everything today must die and decay. Nothing that we have today is permanent. If you have a fish tank, sooner or later every fish and plant in it will die. That notwithstanding, the Scripture does not have the negative view of creation that scientist have.

It teaches us, rather that the death and decay of this present day indicates that a day is coming when everything will be restored. It is such a restoration that the apostle Paul has in mind in our text (v. 19-22).

Creation may be divided into three parts. There is man created in the image of God. Then there is the angelic world—which comprises elect and reprobate angels. Then there are irrational members of this world, which we commonly call nature, viz. the stars, the sun, the moon, the earth itself, the mountains, the rivers, the seas, the trees, the plants, the animals, the insects, the birds, the fishes, etc.

So the three parts of Creation are: man, angels and nature.

By the term ‘creature’ in verse 19, the apostle Paul is referring to nature. Nature is the environment in which man dwells. As the waters, the rocks, the drift wood, the plants and the snails constitute the environment in which the fishes in my aquarium dwelt in. So all the members of nature constitute the environment in which man dwells in. It is the home or habitat for man to live in.

What kind of life do we have in this habitat? We noted in our previous study that the children of God will suffer in this present life. We will suffer not only on account of sin in us, and in the world. We will suffer for the sake of Christ.

But we also noted that the “sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom 8:18).

This means, essentially, that the best is yet to be. Things are getting better. One day everything will be perfect for us. Many things trouble us today: both inside and outside of us.

Inside us is sin. Outside us is sin. But outside us is also a fallen Creation. Yes, a fallen Creation adds to our suffering too. For even if we remove sin completely, we still cannot dwell in glory as long as Creation is the state that it is in today. It is this fallen creation that Paul is now turning his attention to in verse 19.

Let us consider Paul’s discussion of the subject under three heads: (1) The Present Condition of the Creature; (2) The ‘Longing’ of the Creature; and (3) The ‘Hope’ of the Creature.

First, then, let us consider what is the…

1. The Present Condition
of the Creature

What is the present condition of creation? Paul says, it is “subject to vanity” (v. 20) and it is under the “bondage of corruption” (v. 21).

What does He mean?

To understand what he means, it is essential for us to return to the time when Creation first fell.

God had created the world as a pristine paradise for man to dwell in. Everything was perfect. Adam was appointed to tend the Garden of Eden. We can be sure he enjoyed the work. There was no frustration, danger, or anything which might hurt him. He did not get sunburn although he was not wearing anything. He was never too cold. He did not suffer hunger or thirst. Everything was just perfect.

But God commanded Adam not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil which was in the midst of the garden.

Tragically, Adam disobeyed. He and his wife took a bite each of the fruit. They fell into sin. And as Adam was the father of all mankind, all mankind descending from him by natural generation sinned in him and fell with him.

Man no longer deserved to dwell in paradise. They would be driven out of the Garden of Eden. But before God drove them out, He pronounced a curse on nature, or on what Paul calls, ‘creature’ (or Creation) in our text. God told Adam (v. 17):

“Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; 18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; 19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground…” (Gen 3:17-19).

Notice how the ground is cursed for Adam’s sake. The ground which represented all Creation apart from the angelic realm is cursed because of Adam.

Creation upon the earth, apart from Adam, is irrational and amoral. It has not rebelled against God. God is not punishing Creation. But Creation is made for man to dwell in, and man has sinned against God. So man must suffer the consequence of his sin. Creation is cursed so that man may suffer the consequence of his sin.

Because creation is cursed, it is subject to vanity.

20 For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope,

The word ‘vanity’ speaks of a purposeless existence. It is like steam arising out of the kettle. It appears for a while, and then it disappears. It contributes nothing to the environment. It had, as it were, a brief and purposeless existence. In that sense, it has a vain existence.

Creation was originally designed to serve as the home of man created in the image of God. It was the dwelling place for man to live, to glorify and enjoy God in. But man has fallen into sin. Man is not longer glorifying God within and with Creation. Creation cannot accomplish its original purpose!

Creation was designed to be a holy temple for God’s worship and praise. But it has become a brothel for spiritual prostitution. It has become subject to vanity.

It did not become subject to vanity by choice. It is not even its fault that it has to be so subjected to vanity. It is the fault of man.

But Creation is subject to vanity not by the power of man, but by the power of God. This is what Paul is saying. Creation shares God’s curse that has fallen on man because of his sin.

Therefore, it is not only subject to vanity (in that it can no longer accomplish its purpose), but it is held under bondage of corruption.

For since it has to be “delivered from the bondage of corruption (v. 21) it must be held under the bondage of corruption today.

All creation is held under bondage to corruption. Every living thing today will decay and die. There is nothing alive that does not die. There is nothing dead that does not break down.

If you ever keep plants, you know that they will die. If you ever keep fishes, you know they die. Even the seemingly everlasting trees will die. Walk out in the streets, and you will see dried and decaying leaves. You may see some trees that are barren and dead. You may even see an animal or two that have been crushed by a car.

Death and decay is everywhere. Things are not as perfect as we wish them to be.

Many scientists are trying very hard to produce hardier trees, hardier plants, hardier mice, hardier fishes. But they can never conquer death. Indeed many other scientists are fighting a losing battle against the threat of extinction to many kinds of animals. One recent study indicates that 25% of all mammal species existing today are threatened with extinction, and so is 11% of birds, 20% of reptiles, 25% of amphibians and 34% of fish.

It is unlikely that the trend will be reversed. All creation is held under bondage of corruption.

Creation is, as it were, suffering. It is a passive sufferer. Like a child who suffers because his father smokes, so creation suffers because of the sin of man.

This is something that we must reckon with. Death and decay are not just natural processes. They came about because of man’s sin.

The next time you look at a dead tree, do not just admire its photogenic beauty, but remember that it is dead because of sin—not because it sinned, but because man sinned.

Because man sinned, all creation is “subject to vanity” (v. 20) and it is under the “bondage of corruption” (v. 21).

But remember that a better day is coming. All creation, according to Paul, is longing for the better day.

…to be Continued Next Issue

—JJ Lim