Hoping while Groaning: The Sentiment & Sound of Creation

By Jillian Ross

As soon as the church bells chimed their invitation to worship on Sunday, my eyes welled up
with tears. The forlorn landscape on my street reflected the nation. Two doors down from me a
church parking lot lay bare. The street, oft strewn with church folks’ cars, lay bare. There was no
din of Christian fellowship. No greeters smiling at the doors. Instead, a loan bird flew by as the
church’s sole visitor. At the sight of the bird, I whispered that day’s New Testament reading: “all
creation groans” (Rom 8:23).

During this period of “containment” and “social distancing,” each of us can share eerie stories
that reinforce what we all know: things are not as they should be. Rather than calling this present
time, “the new normal;” I think it prudent for us Christians to call it what it is—travail. “Travail”
avoids the pessimistic undertones of a “new normal” and offers a hopeful substitute grounded in
Scripture. Paul in Romans 8:18-25 testifies of the correlation between hope and travail, with
hope serving as the passage’s keyword.

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be
revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be
revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of
the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to
decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth [travail
KJV] right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the
Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our
bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for
what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Paul’s overarching point is that our current suffering is insignificant compared to our ultimate
glory (v. 18). Now this is not to say that “suffering” lacks potency as Paul spells out in verses 20-
25. Rather that future glorification, namely the culmination of God’s will and ways, outstrips this
time of groaning and travail.

To support his point, Paul first shows how terrible things are on earth to contrast it with the
splendor of the future. “Our present sufferings” refer not only to persecution “but encompass the
whole gamut of suffering, including things such as illness, bereavement, hunger, financial
reverses, and death itself,” as Douglas Moo notes. Creation is exhibit A for suffering. Creation
has received a raw deal so to speak. When Adam sinned, God placed creation under a curse
(Rom 8:20; cf. Gen 3:17-18). Under the curse and due to human sinfulness, all creation is in
bondage. Creation has been enslaved and decaying from then to the present (Rom 8:21). The
pain of it leads creation to groan and experience the travail of birth (v. 22).

Sometimes we Americans do not perceive the horrors that creation faces because they is in and
out of the news (e.g., hurricanes, tornadoes) or far away (e.g., famine, wildfires). COVID-19 is
different, however. It is here and is the news. This new virus, whatever its origins, is a new virus;
and for that creation groans and travails. Creation has seen much and endured much.
Consequently, it longs with eager anticipation for the time when it will be freed. Interesting, it is
the “freedom and glory of the children of God” (v. 21) that marks their freedom. Paul does not
say “God’s freedom and glory.” Creation sets its hope in our resurrection (at ultimate
glorification) because then, and only then, can it join us as the new heavens and new earth, rid
forever of its decay. In other words, our glorification leads to the permanent freedom of creation.

But life is not so easy for us either, we, like creation, groan in suffering as we expectantly await
ultimate glorification. At that time our status as heirs of God will be realized and our bodies
redeemed (Rom 8:23-25; cf. 1 Corinthians 15). Like creation, we are to hope because our future
is beyond comparison.

The novel (new) coronavirus is powerful. It is global. It is lethal. It is painful to creation and
humans. Thus, we groan. But it is temporary (even if long lasting). Its potency is minor
compared to God’s power displayed at ultimate glorification. The coronavirus cannot transform
all plants, trees, marine life, insects, birds, reptiles, and mammals. God can. The coronavirus
cannot dictate the winds and the rains. God can. God can and will transform this world—not just
for a season but forever. The coronavirus can kill the body but not the soul. God will “redeem”
(8:23) and “give life to our mortal bodies” (8:11). Therefore, we have hope and can wait
expectantly with endurance for final glory (8:25).

While we are all groaning and hoping that the Coronavirus comes to a quick end, our ultimate
hope rests in God’s promise: the resurrection of our bodies and the consummation of new
heavens and new earth.

All Creatures of our God and King (by St. Francis of Assisi)

1 All creatures of our God and King,
lift up your voice and with us sing
alleluia, alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
thou silver moon with softer gleam,
O praise him, O praise him,
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

2 Thou rushing wind that art so strong,
ye clouds that sail in heav’n along,
O praise him, alleluia!
Thou rising morn, in praise rejoice,
ye lights of evening, find a voice,
O praise him, O praise him,
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia! …

4 And all ye men of tender heart,
forgiving others, take your part,
O sing ye, alleluia!
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
praise God and on him cast your care,
O praise him, O praise him,
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

5 Let all things their Creator bless,
and worship him in humbleness,
O praise him, alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
and praise the Spirit, three in one,
O praise him, O praise him,
alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!

Prayer Prompts for this week, by Laverne Smith