Monday, March 14, 2011
Suffering and Pregnancy
Picture by Tim Pirfält at http://www.creationswap.com/media/1233
As we have seen in previous posts, suffering is an integral part of our decision to follow Jesus Christ. In talking about suffering, we’ve noticed what motivates Christians to take this step and subject themselves to persecution and even death. But there’s a side to this that begs the question…why?
This question goes beyond motivation, because we know that since Jesus was rejected by the world and suffered and died on the cross that the Christian’s motivation is to follow Jesus. The answer to the why, though, is quite simply because of sin.
In discussing sin and suffering, have you ever considered what our sin has done beyond the obvious? We know, or should know, that sin caused us to be separated and at enmity with God. It wasn’t until we accepted what Jesus did on the cross for us were we restored and brought back into a right relationship with God. But what about the rest of creation?
You do know that your sin affects others, don’t you? You should understand that you’re not an island and are not isolated from the world. Our sin has consequences that run deep. Obviously, the one who sins is the offender and the one who will reap what he sows. Fortunately, the bigger issue of seeking and receiving forgiveness and God’s mercy is already taken care of by Jesus. However, there are also others who are affected, the offended party (parties.) The sinner often needs to humble himself and ask for forgiveness from the one he offended. Or quite possibly, make restoration for any damage or loss that occurred.
Those consequences are significant in their own right. But how has our sin affected the rest of creation? What?!? What do I mean by that you ask? The simplest way to discuss this is to look at two passages in Romans.
14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.
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.
It is interesting to note that not only did the rest of creation do nothing to bring about the sin problem, but it was subjected to it unwillingly. Before the fall of man, creation was in perfect harmony with God. In fact, God looked at His whole creation at one point and said it was very good (Genesis 1:31).
So when man sinned, what happened? The consequences ran deep and started a chain of events that culminated with Jesus dying on the cross to take care of the problem that man created. It didn’t exactly end there, though, did it? Otherwise, the world wouldn’t look like it does today.
Now there’s another set of events occurring that one day will restore things back into perfect order. During this time period known as the “last days,” God is orchestrating those events to bring about His plan of salvation that ultimately will bring Him glory. This is what Paul is talking about in Romans 8:18-30.
The picture that Paul presents is one of childbirth. In relating to suffering for Christ, Paul identifies this experience to a woman in pregnancy. As a woman nears the time of giving birth, she goes through some difficult and painful experiences herself. But as most mothers know, this experience can be excruciating at times, but when the child finally arrives and is delivered it is also the most rewarding.
So with that in mind, consider what Paul is saying here in this text:
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 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.
Look at the language Paul uses. In verse 18, he compares the Christians’ present sufferings like a mother expecting a child. And like a mother waiting for that amazing day when her baby will be born, Christians also look forward to the glory that will be revealed in them.
Here’s the interesting part. Creation waits in eager anticipation for the children of God to be revealed too! Just as much as Christians look forward to the day when God’s glory will be revealed in them, so does creation. This describes something called glorification, which in the most basic sense is “[the] ultimate and complete conformity to the image of Christ Jesus.”
Think about that. Creation waits in eager anticipation. For something that wasn’t even guilty of the sin itself, and being subjected to frustration as verse 20 says, it’s amazing that creation is excited for us. But it’s also to its benefit because, in verse 21, “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage.”
For reasons that may go beyond human comprehension, God’s design was to keep creation intricately linked with the human condition. When sin entered the picture, both man and creation were affected. In the same way, when glorification is realized, both are brought into freedom.
To reiterate his point, Paul describes the childbirth experience in more detail in the following verses. He talks about how creation has been groaning. If you think about it, that actually makes sense. Look at the world and how it’s going through much pain and anguish. It’s excruciating. And Paul also says Christians groan inwardly as we await for our adoption. If you notice, the process of our adoption is much like the childbirth experience. This probably speaks to the same suffering we’ve been talking about before. But could it be something else too? It’s difficult to explain, but as a Christian, don’t you long for that day to be with the Lord? Aren’t some days painful, and all you want is for this experience to be over and to be with Jesus?
This long period of time, the days, months, and years leading up to that moment is what Paul is talking about when he says, “For in this hope we were saved.” A mother hopes when she’s pregnant, doesn’t she? Sure she does. But you say that the evidence is right there so it can’t really be hope. No, not really. She doesn’t have the baby yet, but she hopes in anticipation for that day when she will hold her child in her arms.
So, too, the Christian hopes. The Christian looks forward to that day with the same hope that mother had. With the mother, there’s a clear indication that she’s pregnant, right? So, too, with the Christian, there’s clear indication of the hope that we have with the evidence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Aren’t you just awestruck at the comparisons? If a mother is pregnant, her hope surely isn’t in vain. Obviously, there are complications in the real world sense. But typically, when a mother is pregnant and her belly is way out there, she doesn’t think, “Oh, I hope there’s a baby in there!” No! For her, it’s a certainty. I think what Paul is saying here is that if you have the Holy Spirit, the Christian should not wonder, “Oh, I hope that I’m really God’s and that I’ll go to be with Him one day.” No! Just like the mother, the Christian should look at his hope as a real certainty.
Does that excite you? If not, it should. Because what would be better than to go home to be with Jesus! And in the process receive this wonderful gift of finally being conformed into the image of our Savior Jesus Christ! But like Paul says, “…if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” Of course, let’s wait for it patiently. But I hope you’re excited about it too. I am!