Have you ever wondered why the world has to be like this? God created this world, knowing it would get so messed up. He knew evil would happen. He knew suffering would happen. He knew rebellion and sin would happen. He even knew death would take place. And yet God still created. Romans 8:18-39 gives us a few hints that help us deal with why this world is the way it is. The fact is that there is more to the story than pain and suffering. The fact is, this world is not as God intended it to be. Just because God created mankind who would turn to sin and suffering instead of life and relationship with God does not mean God intended this world to be such a harsh place.
We see the way God intended the world to be in two places in scripture and the hints of how God intended it to be in between those two places. The first place is the Garden of Eden. Life was perfect. There was no suffering. There was no heartache. There were no earthquakes that killed millions or tornadoes to kill Adam’s offspring. The only one there to kill Adam’s offspring were Adam’s offspring. The perfect creation and intention of God was distorted. The image bearers rebelled against their creator in favor of something sinister and deathly and deceiving. And we know the rest of the story. The second place is in God’s Kingdom at the return of Christ. Revelation depicts a second Eden-like existence where God’s people dwell in perfect harmony with each other and with God. There is a river, the trees of Eden are back on the scene and we will walk and talk with God at the end of time just as they did at the beginning. The third place we catch a hint of how God intended the world to be and this point in time stands between the other two. The coming of Christ gave us glimpses of life as it was intended to be. Christ was on a mission to restore humanity back into proper relationship with God. In doing so we set things right. He gave sight to the blind, cleansed lepers, healed legs that couldn’t walk and even raised the dead. What is more, he forgave sins and offered himself as a ransom for us all. All of these things are restorative work that brought others and now bring us back into proper relationship with God.
In the first half of Romans 8 Paul lays out the work of Christ and the work of the Spirit to make us the children of God. And with that sonship comes an inheritance (8:14-17). But notice what happened with God’s “one and only” Son. He suffered before he received his glory so we, as God’s children, also expect to first share in Christ’s sufferings prior to sharing in his glory and the inheritance that awaits God’s children (8:17). In light of these things Paul writes, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.” From there Paul talks about the creation itself and how not just God’s children, but the creation itself, will be “liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” (8:21). Now that is an interesting verse if there ever was one. Creation itself will be liberated from the decay it was facing. That is God’s intention. God’s intention was not the decay itself. God’s intention was not that the world would be manipulated and mutilated and made into something it was never intended to be…just as God’s intention was never that his children would undergo that either…God’s intention was that both his children and the creation itself would full live. Because the creation, through sin and corruption, was mutilated into something else it had to be redeemed. Just as God’s people were made in his image but corrupted and mutilated through sin into something not intended by God also needed redemption. God WILL accomplish his intention in us and in the creation. In order to do so, both had to be redeemed/liberated. So God did not intend sin and death. In fact, God was willing to pay whatever price it took to put those things to rest and make things as He intended from the beginning.
If we can chase a rabbit for a moment we could ask, “How does this jive with what is written in 2 Peter 3:10-13?” which reads,
“But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.”
This passage seems to indicate that what we see here and now will no longer be and that it will be completely annihilated. It would seem difficult to find a way to keep this consistent with what Paul is telling us in Romans 8, that the creation “will be liberated and brought into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom 8:21)? The context of 2 Peter 3 is that false teachers will be destroyed but that God’s children have something to look forward to. It may be that 2 Peter 3 is not so much a technical scientific explanation of exactly how the end times will occur but is more making the point to motivate God’s people to continue to live a godly and holy life in light of the acts of judgment to come upon the earth (symbolic of the evil doers and false teachers on the earth). We have typically been more informed by 2 Peter 3 on what will happen to the earth than we have let Romans 8 inform us on what is to happen. Even 2 Peter 3 says there will be a “new earth.”
In 8:22 Paul compares what the whole creation (I think that would include mankind as evidenced by 8:23) is going through is a lot like childbirth. It is painful but temporary and the result is new life. Childbirth is not intended to end with a death of the one who is going in labor and based on what Paul is telling us here, neither is that the case of the earth. We often skip over 8:23 – that God is going to redeem our bodies. We could spend a lot of time on that verse but I will just say it appears to me that in the kingdom, with our redeemed bodies, we will be hugable, touchable, and physical but obviously different and better – free from corruption and death and sin and the desires of the flesh (Rom 7). In 8:24-25 Paul tells his readers that these are important things to consider because in doing so we put our hope in the right place and it allows us to patiently endure the sufferings and trials that we presently must endure.
I am pretty certain that Romans 8:26-27 ties in with 8:18-23…we are suffering and that suffering produces an inward groaning that God hears and the Spirit takes up our groaning and wordless prayers (8:26) of suffering and lays them before God’s throne in a way that will benefit us and in line with God’s will. So we have Christ doing everything in his power to see us through, the Spirit interceding for us, God searching our hearts, and no condemnation…God is working in all these things for our good (8:28). Because of that we, again, can endure our present trials and suffering. Notice God is not waiting until the parousia to work for our good…God is doing it here and now. Some of the things God has done for our good are listed in 8:29-30 (predestined, called, justified, and glorified).
Beginning in verse 28 and continuing through the end of the chapter, Paul enters into what is probably one of the top 3 most encouraging chapters of scripture. The point is, If God has gone to such great lengths on our behalf…”who can be against us?” (8:31). If God has already been at work for our good…if God has already reconciled…if God has already justified…if God has already predestined, called, justified, and is now at work glorifying us…can anything stand in His way? There is no power big enough in all creation to undo what God is at work doing because God created everything and he is using everything under his power to leverage us into our proper, glorified and gracefully attained position as his children.
Only God can pull the plug on the plan and He certainly has no intention of doing so.