The Groaning of Creation
For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
Three times within ten verses, Romans 8 uses the unusual language of groaning. In today’s reflection, will focus on the first of these instances. Future reflections will examine the other two.
In Romans 8:22, “all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth.” The Greek original uses two verbs here: sustenazein, which means “to groan or sigh with” someone, and sunodinein, which means “to share in labor pains with” someone. Why is creation in such agony? Because it was “subjected to God’s curse” as a result of human sin (v. 20; see Gen. 3:16-19). Yet the groaning of creation is not a permanent condition. Like a woman experiencing pain in childbirth, the suffering of the present moment is permeated by the hope of something wonderful that is coming. In time, creation itself will be set free from “death and decay” (v. 21). When God’s new creation comes, the time of groaning will be over and the age of rejoicing will begin.
We see evidence of creation’s groaning all around us. When hurricanes devastate coastal cities or earthquakes destroy hospitals and schools, we witness the groaning of the natural world. We also long for the day when the brokenness of this world will be mended. Yet we don’t simply sit back and watch the unfolding of the cosmic drama. In fact, God has chosen us to participate in his work of renewing the cosmos. Thus, even as we watch the horrors of natural catastrophes, we also bring relief to their victims and seek to rebuild in a way that will protect people in the future. Our original stewardship over God’s perfect creation (Gen. 1:28-29) now involves partnership with God in mending the brokenness of the earth. Yet we do this, not with an audacity that assumes we can fix all that’s wrong with the world. Rather, we rely upon God’s power at work through us and labor in the hope of the full renewal of creation that’s yet to come.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: When have you experienced the “groaning” of this world? How are you partnering with God in the renewal of his creation?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, I can see the groaning of creation all around me, in floods and drought, in hurricanes and earthquakes, in famine and pollution, in pestilence and climate change. When the brokenness of the world hurts people, it’s easy to share in the groaning. Sometimes I wonder why you don’t move more quickly to fix things. Yet I must confess, Lord, that it’s easy for me just to sit back in my unhappiness with creation, rather than to join you in the process of mending it. Preserve me from shirking my duty as a steward of your creation. At the same time, Lord, keep me from an arrogance that fails to recognize that you alone can bring this broken world to complete wholeness.
Today I want to pray especially for those who have been victims of natural disasters. I think of many whose homes have been destroyed by recent hurricanes, earthquakes, ice storms, and wildfires. Help them, Lord. Grant them your peace. Continue to mobilize your people to reach out with tangible love to those who are suffering. Amen.