Living in an Out-post from Eden
Reading: Romans 8:18-27
Creation waits; creation was subjected to frustration; creation will be liberated into the freedom and glory of the children of God; creation groaning and in agony. Not only this, but we who have the firstfruits of the Spirit groan and wait. This enigmatic section of Scripture is often the “flyover country” of our Bibles – those places we read through as if we are looking down from cloud altitude rather than “drive through” country in which we see it up close and personal.
What do these expressions mean? How does creation wait or groan? We might say this text personifies creation, but even so we must still understand what is meant by the personification. It means something, even if it doesn’t mean creation literally waits and groans. So what does it mean? I can’t completely unravel the mystery, but if we examine some Old Testament texts we may have a better grasp of how Paul may have viewed some of these loaded phrases.
In the book of Joel we see just the opposite of groaning. It comes after a period of waiting.
21 Do not be afraid, land of Judah; be glad and rejoice. Surely the LORD has done great things! 22 Do not be afraid, you wild animals, for the pastures in the wilderness are becoming green. The trees are bearing their fruit; the fig tree and the vine yield their riches. 23 Be glad, people of Zion, rejoice in the LORD your God, for he has given you the autumn rains because he is faithful. He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before. (Joel 2:21-23)
Here the land, part of creation, is told not to be afraid but to be glad and rejoice. Gladness and rejoicing are certainly the opposite of groaning. Earlier in Joel, the cattle were moaning (Joel 1:18); now the animals are also told, “Do not be afraid,” as is the land. Why the change? Because previously the land was under judgment; now it is experiencing a season of God’s grace. This section describing the turn around, is followed by more familiar verses describing the pouring out of God’s Spirit on His sons and daughters (Joel 2:28-29).
So if the creation in the form of land and animals are to be glad and rejoice in the blessing of God, it seems the groaning, like that in Joel 1:18, is the effect of living in a world far from Eden – far from the presence of God himself. Groaning is the result of living in a world which is decaying under the burden of experiencing the fallenness of the fallen world and longing for the redemption of that world in a new creation.
Not only does creation groan, but we upon whom the Spirit has been poured out (Romans 8:23; Joel 2:28-29) groan inwardly. Why? Because we live in the already/not-yet. We have already been restored to God’s presence as if we are in Eden again, yet we are still on mission in an out-post from Eden1 living in a world still outside the place of full blessing. And we wait. We wait and we groan. We groan for the day when it will be Eden again.
I know, these verses are still mysterious. I haven’t cleared it all up. I may have even added mystery. However, I pray we see the glory of the hope to which we are called. And I pray that hope causes us to groan in expectation, groan in intercession, groan refusing to accept the fallenness of the fallen world as we cry out for redemption.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,
1This reference to Eden builds on our Sunday series in Genesis: Truth for Understanding Our World.