I marvel at how the word of God talks about the experience, hope, and aspiration of the creation. My reflection on Creation Care and Christianity develops from Paul’s statements on creation in Romans 8:18–22.
The Experience of Creation: A Cosmic Problem and Cosmic Groaning
For the creation was subjected to futility (v. 20)
The creation is in the bondage of corruption (v. 21)
For we know that the whole creation groans and labours with birth pangs together until now (v. 22)
Paul writes in the epistle to the Romans about the current situation of the creation. The creation is subjugated to futility (v. 20), and it is in bondage to corruption (v. 21). The term “futility” refers to the state of being without use or value. It means an object that does not function as it was designed. The term “corruption” is rendered as the phrase “bondage to decay.” The meaning is that the current condition of creation exhibits the ugly and destructive faces always seen in enslavement and oppression. The combination of these phrases communicates an awful, futile, desperate, and inescapable state of affairs in the creation.
Paul states the whole creation groans and suffers together (v.22). The original words used here refer to agonising or lamenting together. It is not a single voice, but multiple voices crying out in one accord. The groan or cry of nature started when human beings corrupted themselves and all creation as described in Genesis 3. The following chapter of Genesis narrates how the blood of Abel cried out from the earth so the Lord decreed that the land would no longer provide fertility for Cain (Gen 4:12); barrenness being one form of nature’s cry. The whole world of nature sighs for release from its prolonged agony. The voice of the earth can be ignored, but it cannot be silenced.
Who is responsible for this cosmic problem and groaning? When God created everything, He said, “It isgood” (emphasis added). Who made that good earth “corrupted” and “futile”? The Jewish tradition answers this question. Paul and his audience were well aware that it was Adam’s sin that brought harm and the domination of evil powers to all creation. The causative factor behind creation’s problem is nothing but the so-called crown of creation—the human being. We are the problem makers—us, ourselves. For our selfish and profligate interests, we exploit and pollute the creation. Instead of stewards of the earth, we have become killers of the environment. We tend to re-direct God’s laws of nature into our vested interests and profits. We try to fix the issue with modern technologies, but bring more disasters to the creation—turning fertile land into pesticide-polluted land, good air into poisonous air, the pure water of rivers and streams into garbage dumps. However, Paul explains that a hope of redemption awaiting the creation.
Cosmic Aspiration and Hope: Glorious Liberty
Creation eagerly awaits (v. 19)
God subjected creation in hope (v.20)
Delivered into glorious liberty (v. 21)
I wonder how Paul, who was busy travelling to different lands to share the gospel, had time to listen to, and understand, the cosmic groaning of creation. In Romans 8 Paul transmutes the experience of the creation, giving a positive dimension to its groaning and pain by seeing the ultimate end of the birth pangs as a release into a new creation. As Paul wrote—God subjugated creation with hope.
The word “hope” used here is an expectation of good that is closely linked with trust. This expectation is also a yearning in which the element of patient waiting is emphasised. This hope is naturally directed to God. It is confidence in God’s protection and help. If hope is fixed on God, it embraces three elements at once—expectation of the future, trust, and patience of waiting. Then,the hope of the whole creation is not in forgetting their present sufferings nor based upon a void and uncertain future. But it is a hope fixed upon God while patiently waiting for God’s protection and restoration. It is a hope for cosmic renewal, hope for glory, and hope of reversal.
The Christian hope rests on the divine act of salvation accomplished in Christ who commenced the end times. In this new era, His approach to creation was sacramental. The whole of creation was, for him, a symbol and a sacrament of the kingdom of God. The lilies of the field, the birds of the air, the sheepfold, the vineyard, the fig tree, the sunshine, the rainfall, the wind, and the stormare symbols and parables of the kingdom of God. Thus, in one sense, these end times were inaugurated with stories of nature and creation which must be continued as such.
Present Mutual Responsibility
Paul, and his letter to the Romans (8:19–22), speak to us in the twenty-first century church. They give us a divine understanding of creation, of hope, and of action. We may imbibe responsible participation of the whole creation as it ‘painfully’ waits upon the Lord. We can deliberately reduce the pain of the creation by understanding our responsibility.
The pain-filled voices of creation express an expectation of redemption from the present chaos. It is the right time for us to bring the cosmic cry to the church, to the public. We tend to hide our face towards environmental issues by claiming that we are waiting for the world yet to come. We imbibe the understanding that this earth is kept for fire. Whatever may be, it is the time to recognise the creation is also a member of this community of end times. The whole creation is a sahayathri (co-traveller) with the people of God who are suffering in this time and age.
Being human, we need to take responsibility to help the creation. We should not continue trampling over nature; rather, let our spirituality be in touch with nature. Let the church gather under the trees in the fresh air and with fellow creatures of the air, land, and waters. Let our preaching not hinder the flow of the gentle breeze. Let our service also extend to nature. Let us hold our hands together in planting greenery. As a redeemed community, our deeds should not harm the fellow traveller (the creation) before the culmination of redemption.
Let me conclude my short reflection with a poem, Biribi wo soro (there is something in the heavens), by an African Christian writer, Mercy Amba Oduyoye.
The whole body is sick, from top to toe
The whole people groan
And so does the earth
The heavens scream out against pollution
And so God weeps
We know it
There is something in the heavens
God, let it reach us
It is our prayer, O Lord, to give us a heart for hearing the agony of the tiny things on the earth. May we also have vision for the sustainability and preservation of the whole creation as you do. Finally, let us, with the whole creation, long for your coming!!!