Romans 8:19-22 “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”
You can see that the word ‘creation’ occurs four times in our text and that it is described as a frustrated creation, and a groaning creation, and an eagerly waiting creation, and a free and liberated creation. How it encourages the Christian to look around our beautiful world once again and say, “My heavenly Father made all this.” But also the passage gives us a rational for floods and tsunamis and sickness and the horrible deaths of almost every single animal. I am sure that the Christian’s greatest need is to see afresh the grandeur of God and his creation. We would get a true perspective on our troubles if we could set them beside God and his creation. We would paraphrase Paul’s words in the previous text; “My troubles are not worth comparing to the glory of God and his creation.” Our need is to be gripped by who God is and what God has done. Let us begin with this.
- GOD MADE THE WHOLE CREATION.
Back of all, above all, before all is the God of Genesis. First in our thoughts; first in rank and station and power is the God of the Bible – before whom we float like specks of dust on his eternal vision. He is the Almighty One, the self-existent One, the One who gives being to everything else, all things existing by him and through him and for him, the only one worthy to receive glory and power and honour. He has created all things and for his honour and delight they were created.
Every soul is God’s and exists by his pleasure, God being who and what he is, and we being who and what we are. The only thinkable relation between us is one of sovereign lordship on his part and total submission on ours. We owe God every honour that we have in our power to give him. Our everlasting grief will lie in giving him anything less. Throughout this brief lifetime of ours we Christians will make it our duty to bring every thought into captivity to him, and conform our whole being to his purity. We shall spend our moments and our days freely exalting this living God. We will give him his proper place over us.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” With these words the Scriptures begin. God is both the subject and the author of all that follows. He is responsible for everything, both seen and unseen. These ten words in Genesis chapter one and verse one, translating just seven Hebrew words, are a kind of formal introduction to the work of creation. The sentence tells us four things
i] It was in the beginning that the uncreated God created. When everything else began God was already there. Time and space and dimensions and matter all commenced, but God had no commencement. He was the unbegun one; the unoriginated one. Everything else of which we’ve had any experience had a beginning. There is nothing that exists that did not have an origin; all things can be traced back to the first words of the Bible. This is the ultimate explanation of the beginning of everything, of all creatures great and small. The Creator, however, is different from every other kind of being. He never began. We can compare him to nothing at all. He is sui generis, and in the beginning he gave to everything else form and substance, structure and life. So our world’s history had a starting point. In other words, its history is linear not cyclical. This first verse of the Bible is saying, “The beginning of time and space and matter came about in this way, God created the heavens and the earth.” And if it had a beginning will it not also have an ending?
We are told nothing about the origin of our God. The child asks, “If God made us who made God?” and he smiles at himself for being smart, but nothing at all created God. The living God is without beginning or end of days; he is from eternity to eternity. He himself had no cause; he has no birthday, and he has no external life-support system; he is self-sufficient. You notice that there is no family tree, no divine genealogies, spelled out in the first chapter of Genesis. “Of course not,” you mutter. That would be unthinkable to you because you either have a Christian biblical mind or because of an earlier grace in our nation, but that was not the case with the cultures and civilizations surrounding Israel. Their gods went back and back, not to a beginning but to perpetual relationships. There were lengthy family trees of gods and goddesses, with feuds and power struggles. Gods stole the wives and daughters of other gods, and begat yet other gods, but it was not like this with the God of the Bible. He is the simple and eternal self-existent one, before everything else there was God alone, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He was the God who had made men in his image and likeness; he spoke to the patriarchs and redeemed the fathers from Egypt. He became their Father and Saviour; he would send them a Messiah. This was the God who in the beginning acted and made everything, the Lord of Israel who at a specific time was solely responsible for creating the whole universe.
ii] God was solely responsible for creating. God devised it and its entire engineering was his alone. Both the plan and the accomplishment of the universe was his. There was nothing and nobody else making any suggestions to him, let alone helping him. There was God alone purposing, designing and finally firing the starting pistol and the human race within God’s creation began. That was it. God said to Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the world?” Job was absent as were we all. God did it because he chose to do it. The common name for God is Elohim, and it is the masculine plural form of the Hebrew el, and it means ‘strength’, and ‘might.’ Although the noun ‘God’ is plural in the original language the verb ‘created’ is singular. So right from the beginning there is the suggestion that there is more than singularity in God. There is ‘withness’ in the Godhead. We flood Genesis chapter one with the light of John chapter one, where the first three verses echo our text and amplify it in this way, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made,” while in Genesis 1:2 we are told, “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” Here is the God who spea
ks in verse 26 and says, “Let us make man in our image.” The Father, the Word, and the Spirit are solely responsible for creating all things. Here is a personal God; one who speaks, and loves, and is compassionate, one who has never known loneliness. He is the one who makes himself known to men and women like this, “I am the God of Abraham.” The God of human beings. He responds to those who trust in him. It matters completely. Yes this God created the heavens and the earth. Whenever this word ‘created’ is found in the Bible then you will notice several remarkable features;
a] It is used only of producing something new. That is why it is used so sparingly, even in the story of creation. In fact, it occurs only three times in Genesis 1, referring to the primary act of creation (1:1), the creation of conscious life (1:21), and the creation of man (1:27). It is also used in the summary statement in Genesis 2:4, “These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created.” This verse marks the boundary of God’s creative activity. He creates only sparingly, and with the creation of man his creativity ceases.
b] God himself is the one creating; he is always the subject preceding the verb ‘create’, in every single case. The word is never used of an action of men. Man cannot create; this is an incommunicable attribute of God. The reason for that is that God alone can create out of nothing. Out of nothing comes nothing, but when God acts in the beginning, addressing this nothingness, the vast heavens and the earth are born. Someone has said that God stepped from behind the curtain of nowhere, and stood on the platform of nothing, and spoke a universe into existence. Man (as God’s image) is a maker, but his making is only a pale shadow of the creativity of God.
c] Again, the word ‘create’ is never used with any reference to the materials used. We are never told that God created with such and such materials. It is as if the materials were irrelevant. When man ‘creates’, he is always restricted by the medium in which he works, be it stone or bronze or paint or words or sounds. But God was completely uninhibited, creating with total freedom and spontaneity, and giving perfect expression to the idea in his own mind. Let us press on . . . as we have said that God was solely responsible for creation.
iii] Every single atom in the cosmos was created by God. There was nothing at all before Genesis chapter one verse one except God. Is the anti-creationist view of the origin of the universe credible in any shape or form? “In the beginning was chance plus a speck . . .” – that is their creed. Yet consequently we do not have chance controlling life like the fall of lottery balls; we find we live in a world of order and consistency and interdependence and beauty. We affirm that in the beginning there was nothing whatsoever save for the living God. We can’t imagine nothingness, the absence of a millionth of a proton . . . . simply nothing whatsoever. A proton is an infinitesimal part of an atom. A proton is so small that in the dot on top of the letter ‘i’ on your hymnbook could be gathered something like five hundred thousand million protons – just in that dot. The anti-creationist believes that eternally there existed a speck, maybe of a billionth of a proton. They refer to it as a ‘singularity,’ and they say that in the beginning that singularity was all there was. There was no space, no darkness, no dimensions. There was no time. There was just this speck in the beginning, and then one day it exploded, so they claim, in a big bang and that bang made the universe. In that speck was Mozart, and Einstein, and Hitler, and Leonardo da Vinci, and Shakespeare, and Jesus and me and you. In that speck was love and patience and forgiveness and hatred. In the beginning was the speck, and today Wales is worshipping that speck.
The Bible says that in the beginning there was nothing whatsoever. There was God alone, and everything that man has discovered, all that is known, and all that is yet unknown, was made by acts of the living, speaking God. No speck is eternal; no speck was there in the beginning, and every subsequent speck there is was made by God. Today there is not a rogue proton in the entire universe that can pipe up and claim, “I at least was not made by God.” The Lord God made them all. The Bible has no word for ‘universe’ or ‘cosmos’ it simply talks of, “the heavens and the earth” and that embraces all there is everywhere whether you go out and out and out, or down and down and down, or in and in and in. Outer space as well as all that’s in this world, everything in heaven itself and everything on, under and above the earth was created by God.
iv] This world was the special focus of God’s creation. That is what these opening words of the Bible grammatically are emphasizing, that in the beginning God created the heavens but especially the earth. That is the meaning of Genesis one, verse one. We have all been made aware that our earth, considered in terms of size, is an average sized planet encircling the sun. The earth is dwarfed by the size of four of the other planets, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, which are all gas giants. Neptune is in fact 318 times bigger than planet Earth, and yet it is not Neptune but the Earth that is the focus of God’s attention. Then consider our Sun which is a part of great galaxy of similar suns, and this galaxy is called, of course, the Milky Way. Nobody knows how many stars or suns there are in the Milky Way; estimates range from sixty billion to perhaps four hundred billion stars in the Milky Way. The Hubble telescope has so far detected 80 billion other galaxies in the universe. So it is not a hyperbole to compare the number of planets in the universe to the number of grains of sand on the seashore. Yet Genesis chapter one and verse one says that in the beginning God created the heavens and that especially he created the earth. God has given man a geo-centric view of reality. God’s interest was focused on our world and its inhabitants, the men and women whom he made in his own image. The rest of Genesis chapter one and the remainder of the Bible concentrates on this unique planet of ours. There is no evidence that there are other living people in the whole universe, and Scripture looks at the rest of the cosmos as the back cloth to ourselves who inhabit a divinely created world which has been planned, and tested, and spoken to and visited by God’s angels and by God the Son.
Such a geo-centric view of reality is deplored by many non-Christian intellectuals today. Carl Sagan, the most famous American astronomer who resolutely opposed the Christian view of creation, was interviewed on the US TV programme Dateline by Ted Koppel. That interview was to be only a few days before Sagan’s death, though Sagan wasn’t aware that he had less than a week to live. Koppel asked him if he had any closing remarks, any words of wisdom he would like to share with the people of the earth and this is what he said; “We live on a hunk of rock and metal that circles a humdrum star that is one of 400 billion other stars that make up the Mi
lky Way galaxy which is one of billions of other galaxies which make up the universe which may be one of a very large number, perhaps an infinite number, of other universes. That is a perspective on human life and our culture that is well worth pondering.” Those were his closing despairing words saying, “We are virtually nothings.” They are saying something like this,
We came from nowhere.
We are going nowhere.
There is no purpose in anything that we see around us.
‘Life’ is meaningless.
Humans are not special in any sense.
How different is the perspective of Genesis chapter one.
There is a Creator.
Mankind has a Maker.
God designed the universe with the world at its heart.
He especially made the earth amongst all the billions of stars in the cosmos.
Humans are very special, made in his image.
Our Maker is not silent but speaks to us by his servants and his Son.
When you believe that then you have a very different outlook on life. You say that the lives of men and women count in the sight of God their Creator and Judge, and they had better know him and do his will. So our world is being confronted by two opposing world views.
If you are searching for a reason for your existence – and you should – and the explanation for mankind’s incredible achievements, his spirit of self sacrifice and creativity, and also why the world is in the state in which it’s in, then you must read the opening chapters of Genesis. The New Testament is fascinated with the book of Genesis. It refers to it about 200 times and half of those references are to the first eleven chapters of Genesis. The Lord Jesus Christ quoted or referred to each of the first seven chapters of Genesis.
So the Bible begins with these inexhaustible ten words, the most widely read words in all literature. If you really believe that they are truth then I think you will have little difficulty in believing the rest of God’s word. These words are the end of atheism; “God was in the beginning,” they affirm. They deny the polytheism of Hinduism and its many gods. There is one God alone. They refute the pantheism of the new age movement which makes everything we see to be god. They blow to pieces the theory of dualism, that there are two gods, one good and one evil, at war with one another. These words challenge humanism because they enthrone God as King of the universe not man. This God of Genesis One is the living God, and so let us worship and adore him; let us make it our chief end to glorify him and enjoy him for ever.
- THE WHOLE CREATION IS WAITING IN EAGER EXPECTATION FOR THE SONS OF GOD TO BE REVEALED.
What is this eagerly expectant creation that Paul is referring to in the 19th verse? How much of created reality is included? Let us start by deleting some of the creation that cannot be referred to here. For example, Paul is not referring to the angels as waiting in eager expectation because they are not subject to vanity and corruption. Again, when he uses the word ‘creation’ Paul is not referring to the demons because they are not longing for the children of God. Again, Paul is not referring to us Christians, the children of God, because Paul distinguishes us from the creation in verses 9, 21 and 23. Again, mankind in general is not being referred to because Paul says that the creation was subjected to frustration not by its own choice (v.20) and we know that mankind from the time of our father Adam has indeed voluntarily chosen vanity and frustration. Again, unbelieving sinners cannot be included as those who are in the posture of eagerly waiting because they are not men and women longing for and expecting the sons of God to be revealed.
So all rational creatures, angels and men, are not included in what Paul refers here as the ‘creation’ and so he must be referring to the material heavens and the earth. In other words, the ‘creation’ in these verses refers to the land and the oceans and the sky. The ‘creation’ refers to the living things, animals, birds, fish, lizards, insects. The ‘creation’ is referring to all the vegetable world, the trees and the grass, the flowers and the fruit, to all things bright and beautiful. Paul follows the Old Testament writers and personifies the world we see all around us, and he describes it as longing; it is frustrated, it is hoping for deliverance and freedom. You remember that in the Old Testament the psalmist turns to this world around us and addresses it saying, “Worship the LORD in the splendour of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth” (Ps. 96:8). Again he says, “Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Ps.98:7). And the prophet Isaiah speaks of the end of the world and he says, “the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands” (Isa. 55:12).
So we are being told that the world is waiting for a day, at the end of the age, when there will be a transformation of all the visible world around us that God made. It is going to share in the glory that one day is to be revealed; and the coming of Christ will also pervasively affect the physical world about and above and beneath us. Nature raw in tooth and claw will be so no more. All the creation will be glorified together with Christ when the body of Christ, his church is manifested and glorified in the great coming day. The sky and earth, the rock strata, the deserts, the snowfields, the seas, the living things, the grass and the trees are all eagerly expecting this future day.
- THE WHOLE CREATION HAS BEEN SUBJECTED TO FRUSTRATION.
We are told this in the 20th verse. Two events took place in past history which affected the whole creation. The first was the rebellion of our first parents and the second was the subsequent judgment that came upon the earth. When man listened to his own instincts and did what the serpent told him to do then the judgment of death came upon Adam and Eve. Then God cursed the ground for what man had done: “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I
commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it,’ Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you,” (Gen. 3:17&18).
What this means is that the ground is cursed by God with respect to man, not in and of itself, and the effects of this curse are felt by man. Man cannot live without the ground; he is earthed into the ground. Almost everything he eats eventually comes from the ground, and so life itself is frustrating for man, his crops fail from the early frost or the absence of rain, or new viruses and mildews all attack his produce and his work is fruitless. The ground does not deny man its produce, but his eating is with much sorrow. He is not working any longer in a friendly earth where tilling the soil and keeping the garden is a delight. Now all has changed. This is a cursed earth and work is a labour and a burden. There is sweat and toil and tears and much disappointment. It is as if he were standing on enemy soil. The original harmony is gone. God has subjected the earth to ‘vanity,’ or the word is ‘emptiness,’ and absence of fulfilment. You spend all your years working on your farm and you have some bad harvests, and the market drops out of your product. You cannot sell what you produce, and just as you reach retirement age you grow seriously ill and you slowly pass away. Without God it is all vanity. God has subjected rebel mankind which has rejected him to frustration because by their own choice they have defied him but by his choice he has judged them. The only one who has hope for the future is God because he will send the cosmic Redeemer.
- THE WHOLE CREATION ITSELF IS NOW GROANING.
That is what he tells us in the 21st verse; “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” You understand that these are not the groans of defeat, or the groans of despair. They are not meaningless groans. No. They are like pangs of child birth, the final gasps and pushes of a mother giving birth to her child. A new life is coming! It will soon be here! A new creation! A new heavens and earth! The Messianic age is coming. The Lord Jesus spoke about it when he rehearsed the frustrations of this age, the false teachers, the wars, the famines, the earthquakes in this creation – all the evidences of the curse. Jesus gave a word of hope to his disciples when he described them as “the beginning of birth-pains” (Matt. 24:8). The groans are the first birth-pangs of the new age.
Paul says that our groaning for our own falls, and for our unconverted families, and the weak state of the church, and our sighs for our neighbours and our town and our land “right up to the present time” – these groans are symptoms of the new life that is going to emerge one day in the lifting of the curse, the regeneration of the world, the resurrection of the body and a new heavens and a new earth. It will not come without the groaning birth pangs of the creation.
- THE WHOLE CREATION WILL ITSELF BE LIBERATED.
This is the Christian hope: “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (v.21). The frustration will not be eternal. The groanings will not be eternal. God is going to do two things, firstly, the creation will be liberated from the bondage to decay that we see all around us. What we see in the world today is conception, birth and growth, that this is followed by decline, decay, death and decomposition. The refuse lorries come around every week without fail to pick up all our decaying, decomposing detritus. To whom do they come? Every one of us. Not a single living thing can escape, not the longest living trees, not the mayfly and none of us. Dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return. You are in bondage to decay, to rotting in the grave. All of creation locked into this cycle of decay, but we will be liberated from that. “Listen, I tell you a mystery: . . . we will all be changed – in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’ ‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Cor. 15:51-57). So the bondage to decay will be changed at the appearing of Christ. We will know true and lasting liberty. Free at last from death and decay. Because he lives we shall live also.
The other thing that God will do is this, he will bring the creation “into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (v.21). The creation is going to share in our redemption. You know the pictures that describe this in the Old Testament, a desert freed from is barrenness and blossoming like a rose, the waste places freed from all their fearful dangers of ferocious animals – a child being able to put its hand into a scorpion’s den and freed from being stung, and the animals freed from their antagonism to one another and cohabiting peacefully; liberty coming to the creation; the regeneration of the material world around us, the renovation and transformation of nature, all of it redeemed and glorified because it is unthinkable that we will be glorified but will go on living in an unredeemed and groaning place.
You say that you don’t understand it. How can Snowdon and Plunlumon and the waters of Cardigan Bay and the forests and fields around us be suffering frustration today? I have been explaining to you that it is because they are all God’s creation, made by him, and sustained by him for one great end, that they are to his glory. They are falling short of glorifying God as long as man – who replenishes and subdues land and sea – is failing to give God glory in what he does in them and to them and on them. So the creation is pictured as being frustrated, waiting in groaning expectation for the coming of Christ, having strong yearnings for a blessed new birth crowned with sinless glories when the children of God are transformed. At that time the land, air and ocean will also be liberated from the curse, from the thorns and thistles, the acid soils and barrenness, the empty seas, the floods and storms. Divine splendour will clothe them all. All that will end when the sons of God will be revealed. The world is going to be saved, though some will be lost. Please don’t be lost. If God so loves the world that he will save the world at the cost of his own Son’s death, then hear and know this, that whoever believes in Jesus Christ will not perish, but with the world, be saved.
The first three chapters o
f the Bible describe the creation and the cosmic fall. The last three chapters of the Bible describe the cosmic freedom of glory, a divine splendour clothing the world again. A tree not of temptation but whose leaves are for healing the nations, a river whose waters refresh the world, and there is that great statement made in the third verse of the last chapter of the Bible, “There shall be no more curse.” The pilgrimage from the beginning of the Bible to the end is described in all the chapters in between in the story of the redemption of all things in Jesus Christ. Every believer in Christ – and all of us today – are somewhere on that journey from the one place to the other. Come with us! All of you come with us!
17th June 2012 GEOFF THOMAS