Subjected to Futility in Hope, Part 1
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly 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 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. 24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.
Last week we focused on the inheritance of the children of God in verse 17. If you have received Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and Treasure, then God has given to you the right to be called a child of God (John 1:12). And if we are children of God, Paul says, then we are "heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him."
We saw that our inheritance includes the world and all that is in it. And, best of all, we saw that it includes God himself for our everlasting joy. We also saw that our inheritance includes our own glorification. And this is not merely tacked on as a third benefit. It is the basis of our ability to enjoy the rest of the inheritance. If we stayed in our present condition physically and emotionally and spiritually, our capacity to enjoy the new heavens and the new earth and God himself would be pitiful. So God promises us not only an incomparable inheritance, but vast, new capacities to enjoy it forever. That is what it means to be glorified. We must have glorious capacities to enjoy infinite glory.
Finally, we saw that we will have to suffer with Christ in order to receive our inheritance with him. ". . . if we suffer with him in order that we might be glorified with him" (8:17). Now what we see today in verses 18ff is that this suffering is worth it. So these verses, 18-25, are meant to help us persevere in faith and not throw away our hope, but to stand firm with Christ in all the frustrations and hardships of life. Don't throw away your hope in Christ when you suffer, because it's worth it and will surely lead to glory. That's the point of these verses.
Verse 18 states the point: "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us." That's what Paul wants us to believe with all our hearts. And you need to believe it in your heart and not just your head, because when the sufferings come it will take a deep, deep conviction and hope not to throw in the towel. You will be tempted to say: "If this is the payoff for trusting Christ, I'm done." If that were not a real temptation, Paul would not write this paragraph. He is writing to help us not throw away our hope in Christ when the miseries and groanings of this present time are overwhelming.
So please listen carefully. If you have not suffered much, your time will come. And God has inspired this section of Scripture so that you will be ready and able to fight the fight of faith and not be conquered by despair or unbelief.
How then does Paul go about strengthening our faith and deepening our hope by these verses so that we won't be shaken by the suffering we must endure?
Our Suffering in a Global Context
He does something remarkable. He puts our suffering into a global context. I say this is remarkable because if we were looking for help with our suffering, that might not be the way we would go about getting relief or strength to endure it. But here we need to learn from God and not dictate to him. This is what we need to know about our suffering so that we can say with Paul: it's worth it. We can endure it.
There are three ways that Paul puts our suffering in a global context. Let's look at them one at a time. This is what we will do today, and then next week we will look at this same text with a view to the incomparable hope that he holds out to us six times in this text. But today let's see how Paul helps us with our sufferings by putting them in a global context.
1. The Whole Creation Groans
First, he shows us that all creation is involved in groaning, frustration, and corruption, and suffering. He says it three times in three different ways. Verse 22: "For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now." The "whole creation" is groaning. In other words, don't think that when you suffer it has to do only with you and your personal situation. You are part of a groaning that the whole creation experiences.
Verse 21: "The creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God." Notice: the creation is in slavery to corruption. Your groaning and your suffering in this world are part of a universal slavery to corruption. Your suffering is not merely personal. There is a much bigger explanation for it. It is part of something global. There is in the world of nature a decay, a ruin, a dissolution, a perishing. There's something out of order and harmful about it all. It's not just you. Beware of thinking of all your suffering as if it all has to do with something you did individually.
Verse 20: "For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope." Notice: it's the creation that is in the grip of futility. Not just mankind, and not just you.
So the first thing Paul does to put our suffering in a global context and give us perspective and help us endure our misery is to show us that all of nature is involved in this suffering that we must endure to inherit with Christ.
2. The Whole of History Is Included from the Fall to the Coming of Christ
Second, Paul shows us that all this suffering is historical and not just momentary. In other words, it not only grips all of nature, it grips all of our present history – what Paul calls in verse 18 "this present time": "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us."
You can see this historical dimension of our suffering in the time references throughout the paragraph. For example, verse 20: "For the creation was subjected to futility." There is a historical event in the past long ago. Then verse 21: "The creation itself will be set free." There's the end point of the suffering in the future. So between the distant past and the indefinite future, all of history is part of this suffering and groaning. So don't think that you or your family or your time are necessarily singled out for suffering. This groaning and corruption and futility have been in the world for all of history, and will be till Jesus comes again.
Or, we should say, "almost all" of history. Because the third way that Paul shows the global dimension of our groaning is to point to the fact that it had a beginning and that this beginning is not merely natural, but judicial.
Here's what I mean. Look at verse 20: "For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope." Here is the beginning of the futility and corruption and groaning of creation. What is he referring to? Don't miss this, because this is the most important point so far.
Paul is referring here to God's action is subjecting the creation to futility and groaning and corruption. How do we know it was God that he is referring to? How do we know it was not Adam by his sin, or Satan by his temptation of Adam and Eve? We know this because of the words "in hope" at the end of verse 20: "The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope." Adam did not subject the world to futility in hope. Adam had no plan for the revelation of the children of God in due time. Satan did not subject the world to futility in hope. Satan had no plan for the revelation of the children of God in due time.
The person referred to in verse 20 is God: "The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope," namely, God. In other words, Paul is talking about the same thing he referred to in Romans 5:12: "Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned." When Adam sinned, death and suffering and futility and groaning came into the world. Why? Because God said it would. Eat of this tree and you will die.
3. The Subjection to Futility Is Judicial, not just Natural
Which leads us to a massive and incredibly important truth: the futility and corruption and groaning of the creation are judicial, not just natural. They are a divine, judicial decree, not just a natural consequence of material events. God decreed the futility and corruption and groaning of the world in response to sin. It is a judicial act, not just a natural consequence.
The second law of thermal dynamics, sometimes called "entropy" – that the universe is running down, that it has a built-in tendency now to disorder – is not a natural quirk or accident. It is part of God's decree. Since the fall, futility is built into the universe.
It is amazing how many Christians are so desperate to remove God from the suffering in the world that they are willing to become "deists" in order to keep God out of the equation. A deist was a person who thought of the universe as created by God and then set apart like a clock to tick on its own with no divine interference. Everything was explained in terms of merely natural laws, not divine decrees.
The saints of God have not gotten comfort from that vision. It is not a biblical vision. The biblical vision is given in verse 20: "The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope." The miserable condition of the world today – its futility and corruption and groaning – are owing to the judicial decree of God in response to sin.
The Meaning of Misery: Sin Is Horrific
Therefore, the meaning of all the misery in the world is that sin is horrific. All natural evil is a statement about the horror of moral evil. If you see a suffering in the world that is unspeakably horrible, let it make you shudder at how unspeakably horrible sin is against an infinitely holy God. The meaning of futility and the meaning of corruption and the meaning of our groaning is that sin – falling short of the glory of God – is ghastly, hideous, repulsive beyond imagination.
Unless you have some sense of the infinite holiness of God and the unspeakable outrage of sin against this God, you will inevitably see the futility and suffering of the universe as an overreaction. But in fact the point of our miseries, our futility, our corruption, our groaning is to teach us the horror of sin. And the preciousness of redemption and hope.
So let me sum up what we have seen and then relate it to our personal suffering. Three ways Paul puts our sufferings in a global context.
- First, he shows that the futility and corruption and groaning of the world is a judicial decree of God, not just a fluke or a law of nature. God subjected the creation to futility.
- Second, he shows that this subjection includes all history from the fall to the coming of Christ. There is no period of history that escaped or will escape from this decree of futility. But it is temporary. It had a beginning (verse 20), and it will have an end (verse 21 – "the creation will be set free from his slavery to corruption").
- Third, he shows us that all creation, not just part of it, is involved in the futility. Verse 22: "The whole creation groans."
All of this global context Paul tells us because he wants to help us understand our situation and endure our sufferings with faith and hope. We will focus on the hope next week. But notice in closing the personal point of this global vision of suffering. Verse 23 brings it down out our personal situation. "And not only this [that is, not only does the whole creation groan], but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves." I stop there. I know the next phrases are full of hope.
I will glory in them next week. But let us be helped this week by the realism of Paul about our present situation. We too groan. Do you see the point now of the global vision? The point is that we are a part of it. Even we who have the down payment of our inheritance. Even we who have a sovereign God who works all things together for our good. Even we who are the bride of Christ. Even we for whom God gave his only begotten Son. Yes, even we groan under the curse of creation.
Don't Overly Personalize Your Suffering
In other words, don't overly personalize your suffering. Don't assume that this is some particular punishment or result of a particular sin. Search your heart in the time of pain. Let it make you serious and vigilant and humble. But don't add misery to misery that is not intended. The whole creation groans. It is a general divine decree on the whole world. And Paul's point is: even the precious children of God must suffer with Christ in it.
So let us humble ourselves and take our share of suffering with patience and hope. Because we consider with Paul that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed to us.