Understanding Our Eternal Perspective on Suffering as Christians Romans 8 – Part 7
Romans 8:18-22 (NKJV)
From Suffering to Glory
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. 19 For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly (longingly) waits for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption (decay) into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.
Christ’s example sets the pattern for everyone. Christ experienced suffering while on earth, which is not a judge or good evaluation of whether the Father is pleased with Him. It is quite the opposite. The Father was very pleased with Him. We have to do the same. We have to wait to see the end of our story, you won’t see that until you are in the age with Christ and that’s the age Paul is speaking about when he says, you’re present sufferings can’t be compared to what’s in store for you in that age.
If you could look ahead to see what God has planned for you in the age to come, you would stop thinking about your problems right now. They would be absolutely meaningless to you. They would be fleeting, they would be trivial. In fact, they would seem like nothing compared to what’s coming. You might compare them to the relationship between the pain of childbirth and the joy of having a child for years. A few hours of discomfort can’t compare to years and years of joy a child can bring into a family.
You can’t lose that eternal perspective on suffering. Because if you do, in other words, if you become myopic and you let your eyes drop from eternal matters to earthly matters. If all you are thinking about is woe is me under some set of circumstances then its the beginning of the potential to let your appreciation of God’s love erode. You start to think less and less about that because you are too worried about yourself. If you’re having an especially bad day or week or year or season of life, it does not mean God has stopped loving you, it does not mean God stopped caring, or He stopped listening. There is something God is doing for your benefit. But for some reason, that benefit depends on your suffering. That benefit could only be achieved through your suffering. Because if it could have been achieved some other way God would have used that other way.
You’re not alone, because Paul says the entire Creation is in the same boat with you. In verses 19-22, Paul describes the suffering of the Creation. He’s speaking literally of the entire Universe, everything God created in the first week. In verse 19 Paul says that entire creation is eagerly longing for the arrival of that next age. Eagerly longing could be translated as eager anticipation, a desire or longing for the arrival of what is to come. And that is shared by all that is in creation. You might ask… How can something inanimate like a mountain or the oceans or a star, how can those things be longing for something? Well, first of all, Paul is not talking here of literally of a conscience longing, like consciousness necessarily. Rather, Paul’s referring to Creation’s situation under the curse that God pronounced back in Genesis 3 as a result of the sin of Adam. You know the story of Genesis 3 when God entered the Garden and finds what woman and man had done He pronounces a curse on the Earth which is referred to as Creation. That does not mean that the Creation is consciously aware of its fallen state, but it exists unnaturally, in an unnatural state. For example, it experiences death, disease, wearing down and corruption as a result of the curse. And none of that was by nature the way God intended His Creation to operate. The intended state of God’s design for Creation is quite a bit different than that. Eternal Perspective on Suffering
So when Paul says when the Creation has this longing, he is saying Creation itself recognizes it is not in its proper state. It’s broken, and it longs to be fixed. Paul says in verse 20 the creation was “subjected” to this futility. Now it is written in the passive tense which then obscures the actor. But we know who the actor is because there is only one actor who could subject Creation to this futility. This actor is God, of course. So this is the ultimate example of God allowing suffering, creating suffering. Because when someone tries to tell you that God isn’t responsible for suffering existing in the world, you need to remind them where the curse came from. And its the curse that brought death into existence, physical death. It’s the curse that brought disease into existence. It is the curse that brought everything that we ultimately trace back to that is misery for us. Obviously, the curse came as a result of Adam’s sin. But that doesn’t change the fact the Lord Himself stepped in at that point and determined that the world would now be subjected to a state of futility. You and I with it.
Paul says that the Creation didn’t accept the curse “willingly.” That it is not the result of anything the Creation itself did to deserve it. That is what it means when Paul says it did not subject to it willingly. He says the Creation didn’t do anything wrong, but nevertheless, it was subjected to the curse. Just as God’s children often find themselves under difficult circumstances that were no fault of their own. Nevertheless, you are in them. You are dealing with them. And God appointed them. Then Paul says that the world was subjected in this way, by God, in the hope that it would, one day, be set free from slavery. Do you see that before and after again? As you saw in Isaiah’s verse in the previous post? First the suffering then the freedom. First the bad thing, then the good thing. Paul’s referring to God’s ultimate plan of course. That is, when Adam sinned, he brought sin into the life of mankind. Left unchecked, Adam’s mistake would have doomed all mankind to live with sin, apart from God for eternity.
Even if God were to act to redeem mankind from that sin, as He did through Christ, we still would have sin in our corrupt bodies and these bodies would live forever. Because there was no source of death in the world at that point. God stepped in to provide an escape from the sin that Adam produced and the consequences of that sin. And in an ironic twist, the escape from that sin was the death and destruction of everything that was tainted. But in order to save us from that, God has a plan that takes us out of the world before that destruction. Eternal Perspective on Suffering
Therefore, God acted to correct the problem, His solution required pain and suffering first to lead to glory. This is why. God pronounces a curse on the Earth and all flesh came from the Earth. Before God could put an end to sin in the life of every believer, He needed to put an end to all sinful human flesh. He did this to set up an opportunity for those bodies to be replaced. He mandates their death so He can have an opportunity to replace them with something that was not tainted by sin. Likewise, the earth, itself being tainted by the presence of sin in it, it is under the same curse, the Earth itself one day will need to be replaced. So once more you see this before-and-after process. Initially, bad news, the world subjected to futility. Ultimately good news, the world is being done away with so it can be set free from that corruption.
Now, can you make the comparison to your own situation here? For example, Lazarus suffered before receiving his reward. Jesus suffered before He received His reward. Creation suffers for a time before its day of redemption. You too then will know, suffering for a time prior to the fullness of anticipating what you will receive in the kingdom to come. Remember the example of childbirth from an earlier point being made in relation to suffering? Paul alludes to this same analogy in verse 22. He says the world is suffering the pains of childbirth. It’s a reference to this theological principle, that God brings suffering first to lead to something of glory. He must deal with sin through a period of atonement and anxious longing, a delayed result, and fulfillment, so that He can ultimately bring the glory that is necessary.
So that just brings up a question. If there has to be a doing away with through bad things before I get the good things, why the delay? Why must I have a delayed experience of suffering before I can have the good thing at the end? The answer comes ultimately out of Hebrews 11. God has designed a plan of redemption so that no one will receive their glory that is promised, apart from the rest of those who are included in God’s plan. We all go into glory together, which means those who lived earlier in this age must wait for those who come later in this age. Creation itself must wait throughout this entire period of humanity’s being birthed and dying to allow all those who are appointed to have their opportunity. So the futility of the Creation must wait centuries. The early generations of God’s people must wait for the later generations of God’s people. Even on an individual basis, we must wait for a period of our own life so we have the opportunity to do the work that God has appointed for us. If nothing else, to reproduce the next generation. Nevermind any other ministry He might call us to as well. There is wait because there is a purpose in the waiting. There is an achievement of some kind God is at work doing. Or as Hebrews says:
Hebrews 11:39-40 (NKJV)
39 And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, 40 God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.
The saints of old never received what they have been promised, the writer says, not yet. Speaking of the things they were supposed to inherit in the kingdom. Why have they not received it yet? Because the writer says that God had something better for us, that is the saints of the New Testament. God has a plan to reveal His Son to us. To grant the earth for a time, an opportunity to know of this Messiah, to receive His salvation. So apart from us and that work, the Old Testament saints could not be made perfect early. They had to do their part and go to the grave and wait as they still do now. The writer of Hebrews goes on to chapter 12 and starts in verse 1 saying:
Hebrews 12:1 (NKJV)
The Race of Faith
12 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,
It says we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses… it’s a bit of play on words. A cloud refers to the fact they are all in spirit form, they haven’t received their bodies yet. They are still waiting because they don’t get them until we get them. They’re a cloud of witnesses waiting, but because they are up there waiting, they are waiting for us to finish this process, we have an obligation to serve as they served. To follow in their footsteps. That is the fundamental reason why suffering precedes glory. You must live in a sinful body before you can occupy a sinless one. You must live a life on a sinful earth before you have an opportunity to enter into the life in the kingdom. And we must all wait for the arrival of that kingdom because we will all spend the same amount of time there. It’s a thousand-year kingdom for everybody. Not just for Abraham, not just for us. The only way everyone gets the same time there is if everyone shows up there on the same day. It has to be done in that way according to God’s plan. No one gets there early.
Paul says this principle can be pictured through childbirth. The pain of childbirth was something God instituted when He responded to the sin of woman. But when God brought pain to childbirth, He was granting women a blessing of sorts, that is, carrying in their bodies an example of this theological principle that says we go through suffering for the sake of new life. For the glory that is to come we suffer a little while. All mothers are able to give a living example of God’s plan of redemption. As Christ had to suffer to make possible our spiritual birth and a life of glory, so women suffer to bring forth new life God made that a part of His Creation, but He instituted the suffering to bring the whole world to glory. So starting from the eternal perspective we need to understand what we are proud of is something God is doing in every aspect of creation and it is a necessary quality to God’s plan of redemption. For it’s the only way He can encompass everybody and everything into the final result.
Next, Paul moves on to discussing the meaning of suffering in our personal experience. What is in it for us.
“The author’s biblical interpretations and conclusions presented in this document rely on original teaching used by permission of Verse By Verse Ministry International (VBVMI). The author’s views may not represent the views of VBVMI, it’s Directors or staff. Original VBVMI teaching may be found at http://www.vbvmi.org.”
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