For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope – Romans 8:20
In my last post, I spoke about Paul’s statement in Romans about the ordering of creation by God who subjected creation to an order of futility. I connected this with the events in Genesis 3. Starting in verse 14, a section commonly mislabeled, “curses”, God subjects the serpent, Eve, Adam and all creation to futility ending in death. The post was heavy on the futility and more than a little short on hope. What is the hope of which this passage speaks?
I made a point in my previous article about the repeated word “groan” in the passage. Groan is the response to the futility from Creation (v22), us (v23) and the Comforter (26). There is another phrase repeated three times in the section. It is the phrase of Hope: eagerly wait. See it highlighted here. For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God. … Not only this, but we ourselves also, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with endurance. (Romans 8:19-25) Following the phrase also points to the consummation of this Hope. The Creation eagerly waits the Revelation of the sons of God (v19); we eagerly wait the Redemption of our bodies (v23). It thus follows that the Revelation of the sons of God coincides with the redemption of our bodies which happens at the Resurrection. The passage refines this further: though we have the Spirit which testifies with our spirit that we are sons of God (v16), the hope of this Revelation is not yet fulfilled – or we would no longer have the hope but the Revelation of the new order (v24) – but we wait with endurance (v25)
As I said in the previous article, I think the concept of Futility as The Order of Creation is important. I read a story of a Pastor who visited a church member in the hospital. The discouraged man said “I don’t understand. Why is this happening to me?” The Pastor replied “It’s because you’re old.” Subjected to futility is a biblical answer. The Bible says we are subject to the discipline of the Lord (Hebrews 12:4-11) and this passage moves from talking about futility into the promise that all things – the things which make up futility – work together for good, but by ignoring the subjection to futility Christians often fall into some this=that specificity of crime and punishment over every daily and calamitous event. The futility in creation’s order is not so specific (especially to our decidedly non-omniscient point of view) but is, in fact, the nature of things. The Order is in response to the introduction of sin but to try to seek out “this is because of that” specificity for futility is not only (hehe) futile but is often wrong and cruel.
I would like to look at another passage, But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. – (Lamentations 3:21-25) Now here is a narrowing of focus. Lamentations is very specifically in a context of God’s Wrath and the punishment of sin and rebellion. This is a very famous and popular passage. Its context is after two and a half chapters of laments, prayers, confessions of sin and with another two and a half chapters to go, Jeremiah proclaims his hope and he proclaims the mercies of God. This is his “eager expectation”: it is the mercies and faithfulness of God which are eternal, Jeremiah’s affliction and wanderings, the wormwood and the gall (Lamentations 3:19) are temporary.
The biblical idea of Hope is a broad one (hardly to be covered in this short article), ultimately focusing us in dependence on the object of our hope. It is one of the three which abide (1 Corinthians 13:13). The passage in Romans presents Hope to inspire our endurance in this time of futility. We can see that our God is the one who subjected creation to this futility but it’s not the final word. There will be a future Revelation for which not only we but all creation waits. Eagerly. God’s plan is steadfast, as the Lamentation passage reminds us, and will be accomplished with faithfulness.