March 11, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Romans 8:19-23
For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children 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 freedom and glory 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. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.
The suffering of nature—what Paul refers to as creation—is the result of sin: of human’s not caring for creation as God intended. All creation suffers along with God’s image-bearing human children. The good news is that God’s redemptive plan includes not only bringing his image-bearing children into freedom and glory, liberating us from our bondage to sin, but also God liberating all of creation.
There is a scene near the start of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings in which the hero Frodo Baggins is trying to decide whether or not to accept the difficult task that has seemingly fallen to him—a task that will require great sacrifice on his part. Speaking of the land where he lives, Frodo says, “I should like to save the Shire, if I could—though there have been times when I thought the inhabitants too stupid and dull for words.”
When I first read this passage as a teenager some forty-five years ago, I was excitedly moving through the story as fast as I could. I suspect that when I read the line “I should like to save the Shire,” I was thinking primarily about Frodo saving the other Hobbits who lived in the Shire with him: his friends, family, neighbors, and even those he didn’t know. But years later reading again the words Tolkien put in Frodo’s mouth, it’s clear he means something more than just saving the inhabitants of the Shire. He means the Shire as a whole: its forests, rivers, meadows, hills, farmlands, and countryside as well as his fellow inhabitants.
In Romans 8, Paul gets at something similar about God’s saving work. When Paul describes God’s redemptive plan, he speaks not only of God bringing us humans, his image-bearing children, into freedom and glory, liberating us from our bondage to sin, but also of God liberating all of creation. The promise is that all creation—or we might say, all of nature—will be restored and rescued.
In yesterday’s devotion, we looked at how God gave authority to humankind to care for creation. We were supposed to care for it in a loving, nurturing way that brings blessing. We were to practice a shamar sort of caring akin to the caring we desire from God and which Aaron was supposed to proclaim as blessing over the people of Israel.
Imagine lending your house (or perhaps your car) to a friend. In doing this, you have allowed that friend a certain authority over that house while they are in it. You may hope the house is a blessing to them. You also hope they are a blessing to your house: that they take good care of it. Of course, the moment you give them that freedom, it’s possible that they might abuse it. If they betray your trust and use your house (or car) in a way it isn’t intended, not only might they suffer (for example by driving your car recklessly), and your relationship with them will be harmed, but the house (or car) will also suffer negative consequences. You have, in a sense, subjected your house to their authority, and how they use that authority impacts the house.
This is what Paul is pointing out in Romans 8 with respect to the authority over nature that God has entrusted to his image-bearing humans: Adam and Eve and all of their descendants (which includes me and anybody reading this devotion). But in giving that authority to humans to care for creation, God also allowed for our disobedience. And as Paul notes in Romans, our human sin not only resulted in our separation from God and all the resulting suffering that meant for us, but also resulted in the suffering of creation.
It isn’t difficult for me to think of examples. I still remember hiking to a remote lake in Alaska with my brother many years ago and finding a ptarmigan snarled up in somebody’s discarded fishing line, injured, struggling, and fearful. Thankfully, my brother was able to release that bird and it ran off into the brush traumatized but hopefully able to recover. Yet I must acknowledge at times I have carelessly discarded trash, or for convenience purchased items generating more trash than needed. We might also think of seabirds and marine mammals caught in oil spills, of polar bears drowning or starving because polar ice caps have shrunk, of the extinction of entire species as a result of habitat loss, or of the suffering caused to myriad creations from human pollution. I even think of climate change, and the suffering it is causing (and will continue to cause) to humans as well as non-human creation. Although I’ve heard some claim it is arrogant to think that human behaviors could have changed the climate of the entire earth and caused the groaning of all creation, Romans 8:19-23 suggests to me that this is precisely the sort of thing I should expect: all of creation suffering because of human actions.
Although Paul is writing about a future redemption, there are implications for how I live today. I regularly pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. How do I live that out? Knowing that this suffering of creation is a result of human sin—of humans not caring for creation in the way God intended—I should also consider the impact of my own actions on creation. I should seek to care for the created world in a way that honors the Creator, and honors the mandate God gave to his human children to care for the world in a way that brings about its blessing and not its suffering.
The hopeful news for me in Romans 8 is that God’s promised redemption includes not only liberation for humankind, but liberation for all of creation. God’s plan is a restored, renewed earth. With Paul, I can look forward to that day when God’s redemptive plan will come to completion: God will bring an end to the suffering of his children (including me and those I love), and an end to the groaning and suffering of creation.
Repeating yesterday’s prompt for reflection, ponder several ways in which your actions in this coming week could have the impact of blessing creation. How do your daily choices and lifestyle choices impact God’s created world? You might consider what you eat, where it comes from, and how it is packaged.
Consider some of the ideas that came to mind in the reflection above, and you might also pray and ask God how you can be a better caretaker of the world He has created, in a way that honors Him and honors the authority He has given to you.
Lord, the groaning and suffering of creation is evident around us. I see the groaning of my fellow humans who have suffered from war in Ukraine, an earthquake in Turkey and Syria, or from illness and disease and loss. I see the suffering from broken families and broken relationships and violence. I also see how human sin has caused suffering in the rest of your creation. It is amazing, then, that you still love us, and that there is still beauty in the world. Yet you do love us with a love beyond our measuring, and we can still see your handiwork in stars and trees and in the playing and frolicking of the leviathan. And so even as we confess our failures to care for each other and for your world, we also praise you for your love and forgiveness and for the hope we hold in your redemptive plan. Amen.
Banner image by Bibhash Banerjee on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project’s online commentary. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Eagerly Awaiting Bodily Redemption for Ourselves and God’s Creation (Romans 8:18–30).
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Matthew Dickerson’s books include works of spiritual theology and Christian apologetics as well as historical fiction, fantasy literature, explorations of the writings of C.S.Lewis and J.R.R.Tolkien, and books about trout fishing, fly fishing, rivers, and ecology. His recent books include: Disciple Making in a Culture of Power, Comfort, and Fear and The Voices of Rivers: Reflections on Places Wild and Almost Wild. He was a 2017 artist-in-residence at Glacier National Park. He lives in Vermont with his wife, dog, and cat, not far from three married sons, and is an active member of Memorial Baptist Church. Matthew is also a professor of computer science at Middlebury College in Vermont.
Thank you Matthew! I really enjoyed this devotional. Very timely for me. Grateful for your insight. 🙏❤️🙏
Kind regards, Dick
Thanks, Dick. It’s timely for me, also. Not sure which I needed more, the exhortation or the hopeful promise. Both, I’m sure. Glad that you found it helpful.