Suffering & Glory
The Christian is called to suffer. That is simply a truth that must not be ignored, for suffering shall come upon all who call upon the name of the Lord. But a while back I preached a sermon where I tried to help my congregation understand that though suffering is inevitable, it is not worthy to be compared to the coming glory to those who endure it. What follows are two arguments that Paul gives us in Romans 8:19-25 as to why the glory that is to come outweighs the suffering that is now.
Argument #1, The glory must be worth the suffering because creation longs for it (19-22). Notice the “for,” (not in the NIV) it means “for this reason.” But the question that should be raised in your minds is what reason. What is the argument that Paul will give us for embracing the insignificance of our suffering in comparison to the glory to come? He doesn’t say, “For we must suffer to earn the glory.” Nor does he say tell us to hang in there or keep on enduring. He also does not tell us exactly what that glory that is ours to come actually is. In fact, it is probably beyond our ability to really understand the glory. So, what Paul does is show us that it must be truly a glorious thing by showing how even all of creation longs for this revealing of the glory.
Notice how he puts it in verse 19. When Paul talks about creation here he is speaking of a specific aspect of creation. Let me explain: Creation could refer to everything created. Meaning, anything and everything that is not God Himself. But it is doubtful that this is what Paul is referring to here. The answer to this is found in noticing what this creation is doing and what has happened to this creation. It is eagerly waiting for our glory to be revealed. And it has been subjected, meaning innocently subjected, to futility. With those two points in mind we can then eliminate angels from this, because, though they look forward to the revelation of Christ and the glory to come, they are not subject to any futility. We can eliminate demons because they are guilty of their sin and rebellion against God and they do not look forward to the end of time, for then they shall enter into eternal judgment. The same for Satan himself. We can eliminate believers, because Paul makes a distinction between us and the ‘creation’ in vss. 19, 21, and 23. In fact we should eliminate mankind in general from this use of creation. Mankind is not eagerly awaiting the revelation of Christ, nor does mankind delight in the Lord and His glory. Therefore, we need to see creation here as referring to the nonrational creation. The animals, the trees, the clouds and water, the planets and stars, the dirt and the bugs.
So, what is this creation doing? It anxiously longs, it yearns for this revelation of glory that is to come. That word, “anxious,” is a word that literally means to ‘stretch the head forward.’ We have all seen this, it is most easily seen in children when they are straining to watch something. So here is creation, standing on tiptoe, craning its neck forward, seeking to capture a glimpse of the fulfillment of this long awaited promise. Paul, then, is personifying creation, making dirt and trees be like they can think and reason.
What is it that creation longs to see? The “revealing of the sons of God.” It looks to the day that is to come when we are all changed and made into the likeness of our Lord and Savior. For on that day the Father shall lift the curse from this creation and it shall finally have peace again. When is this to come? I believe that this is not speaking only of eternity, but of the earthly reign of Jesus Christ. That He shall come and He shall reign and there shall be justice and peace upon the whole of the world. This will then expand itself into eternity when the new heavens and the new earth are created and we enter into eternity where death and sin and Satan are all banished.
Now, consider verse 20 and notice the next ‘for.’ Again, the word “for” means “for this reason.” In other words, Paul now explains in verses 20-22 why it is that creation is longing for the revelation of us in our glory. First, when we are revealed in our glory then creation shall be relieved from its enslavement (20). That phrase, “was subjected to futility,” or as the NIV puts it better, “frustration,” describes the very real burden that Creation is under. Creation has been prevented from fulfilling its real purpose. This all came about through no fault of Creation. It was happily obeying the Lord until the sin of Adam. And at that point in time it became subjected, enslaved to a lesser ability of service. And for all these thousands of years it has been groaning and aching under the pressure and burden of OUR sin. Therefore, when a lion takes down its prey, there is a groaning. When an orca whale takes a seal, or a frog eats even a fly, creation groans. For this was not its purpose, rather, it was its curse.
Creation was designed by God to perfectly display His glory. But since the Fall, this has not happened. And there is a real sense of frustration in all of this. We can understand this ourselves as Christians. We know that we are called to glorify God in all ways, but so often we fall short. And there is a yearning and ache in our inability. But when this happened, when God subjected all of creation it was done “in hope.” (20c). There was the promise of the day that the Lord would redeem us. When the great enemy, Satan would be destroyed and that moment began to dawn upon creation the day when the Son of God became man.
Consider how He impacted Creation by His presence, when He entered creation and He walked upon His earth. Wherever He went creation leaped for joy. Bread would multiply. Water would become hard under his feet. Storms would obey His commands. Fish would give up gold coins. When He went to the Cross, creation wept with the earthquake and the great darkness. And then the great words of our Lord came forth, “it is finished.” And He gave up His spirit and died. And at that moment creation began to yearn all the more! For great enemy of sin was destroyed at that time. Imagine all the more how much creation began to hope when on the 3rd day He arose! And now, it waits, with a fervent expectation for the return of its Lord. For on that day we shall be changed and we too shall be revealed in our eternal glory with the Lord and creation shall finally be free!
Verses 21 and 22 pick up on this and develop it even more. Notice how verse 21 speaks to this freedom. At the time of Christ’s second coming Creation shall be set free from the decay that sin brought into its existence. It shall be brought back into the fulness of the glory that it was designed by God to fulfill. Now you think about that for a moment: Think of the most glorious thing in all of creation that you have even witnessed. Think of the fact that all of creation all day and night is constantly declaring the glory of God. And realize that this is not even to the level that it was designed. On that day, finally the shackles that it has been bound in are released and all of creation shall exult and pour forth the great praise and glory that it was always designed to do. Words escape me to describe this sufficiently. But it is the very point of Paul that this yearning of creation is a key piece of evidence that tells us that we should be looking forward to that day of our glory.
Verse 22 describes this in the terms of childbirth. And in doing so gives us all something we can grab hold of as we try to see the glories of what is to come, even though right now there are sufferings. There is a huge difference between the cries of pain in the emergency room of a hospital as compared to the maternity ward, isn’t there? As Calvin said it, these are not death pangs, but birth pangs. And oh what a difference that makes to the one suffering. And this is the groans that Creation finds itself in. It aches and hurts, yet there is hope, for in the end there shall be the birth of freedom and glory. And therefore it endures and continues to look to that day. And in the same way we are to be yearning and aching for that day, which leads us to the second and final argument that Paul makes.
Argument #2 to come…