Chapter 4

Is there a way out of this awful struggle?

Yes, our hope in the life to come. When we face troubles and trials, frustration and discuouragement seem to follow effortlessly in their wake. We trust God, but we wonder why life is so full of pain. Of course when we are not in the middle of it, we know the answer, we can wax eloquent about a broken world full fo sinful and selfish people, a world that doesn’t know it is broken. But when suffering taps on our window, when it forces itself into our lives, univited and unwanted and we have to face it, our answers don’t always change the way we see it.

Even though we don’t abandon our faith, suffering may rob us of the deep inner peace we have in Jesus. During such times we need to breathe in the life in Romans 8:18–25, where Paul portrayed the created world as in eager anticipation and then as in the throes of childbirth.

We look forward to a recreated world. Paul was optimistic in pain and persecution because he looked for the magnificent eternity that awaits God’s children: “Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay” (8:18–21).

After declaring that our present pain is almost nothing compared to our eternal reward, Paul personified the created world as waiting “on tiptoe,” (as J. B. Phillips phrased it) for the day when humanity will finally and fully be God’s children. Personifying nature, Paul said creation didn’t choose to be the way it is, marked by disaster, cruelty, and suffering. It is that way because of God’s judgment. As hard as it may be to accept, let alone understand, nature can be a rod of discipline for sinful people.

But God is moving all of history toward a day when ugliness is eradicated. This will occur in close connection with our glorification as the creatures God created to be vice-regents over the earth. Francis Schaeffer, in his classic book on the Christian view of ecology, Pollution and the Death of Man, encourages us to take up a long-neglected responsibility as a result of this promised restoration:

Biblical Christianity has a real answer to the ecological crisis. It offers a balanced and healthy attitude to nature, arising from the truth of its creation by God; it offers the hope here and now of substantial healing in nature of some of the results of the Fall, arising from the truth of redemption in Christ . . . . A Christian-based science and technology should consciously try to see nature substantially healed, while waiting for the future complete healing at Christ’s return.

Paul depicted the natural world as knowing what scientists are beginning to realize. Many former agnostics say that the earth and the life on it look less and less like the products of blind chance. The astounding complexities of the universe uncovered in the disciplines of physics and biology point to a design that, by all appearances, had human life in view from the very beginning. This view, called “the anthropic principle,” is new to many. But we know it from the Bible, and we eagerly anticipate the time when God will restore the original glory of the creation (acts 3:19–21).

We anticipate our new bodies. Still speaking in terms of universal suffering in the present, Paul portrayed a universe and a redeemed people in the throes of childbirth:

We know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved (romans 8:22–24).

The created world is groaning as if in childbirth because it will give birth to the new heavens and earth promised to us by God.

Our own groans mix with those of creation as we await new bodies. We wait with great expectation, already have been given a “foretaste of future glory” —a hint of what awaits us.

All these wonderful truths, when believed and understood as much as we can, will change our attitude toward suffering. We who have learned to say “Abba, Father” know that he has designed us for glory, and that suffering is a way of preparing us for this end. Having tasted his goodness, we look forward with a hope characterized in Scripture as “eager expectation.”