For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. – Romans 8:18-22 ESV
Suffering and glory. You can’t have one without the other. Jesus Himself had to suffer and die before He could experience the miracle of the resurrection and His restoration to His rightful place at His Father’s side in heaven. Just hours before His death, Jesus told the disciples, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified” (John 12:23 ESV). His choice of words is interesting, because what He said next made it clear that He was talking about both His death. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24 ESV). Jesus’ suffering would result in not only His ultimate glorification, but the salvation of many who would place their faith in Him.
Our future glorification is what makes it possible for us to endure any suffering we encounter in this life. And we see suffering all around us. Even the creation itself suffers as a result of sin. “For the creation was subjected to futility…” The Greek word Paul uses to describe the condition of the created world is mataiotēs and it refers to a state of meaninglessness, lack of purpose, and dissatisfaction. Even the natural world is plagued with a sense of purposelessness and even perverseness. It is not operating as God had intended. And yet, Paul describes creation as “groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” It longs for something better – not in a literal sense – but through its own seemingly self-destructive existence. It has been subjected to futility – by God Himself. Think about it. Earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis, droughts, floods – even the cycles of the seasons speak of the relentless futility of this present existence. The constant cycle of birth, life and death seen in the creative order speaks of the purposeless of life apart from God. But Paul tells us there is hope. There is a glorification to some. Even the creation itself will one day be recreated by God. It will be restored to its original glorified, pre-sin state. Paul would have us remember that “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21 ESV).
Peter speaks of the day when this will all take place. “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:10 ESV). And what should our response be to this news? Peter tells us. “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:11-13 ESV). We are to live lives of holiness and godliness as we wait, with our eyes fixed on what is to come.
The apostle, John, was given the privilege of seeing this future event and he included the vision of what he saw in his Book of the Revelation. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:1-2 ESV). And John gives us the reason behind this remaking of the creation. “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelation 21:3 ESV). God will remove all sin and any residual influences of its existence. For Him to dwell with man, all sin must be removed. The fallen creation must be remade. And when God recreates creation, He will make His dwelling place among man, just as it was in the beginning. Not only that, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4 ESV).
We are to live with our hope set on the glorification to come – our own glorification and the glorification of God’s creation. At the present time, we live surrounded by daily reminders of the futility and meaningless of life apart from God. Even the creative order reminds us that there is something wrong with the world in which we live. We witness sickness, disease, acts of inhumanity and violence. We watch as those we love suffer and die. We each experience the effects of aging. We cry, we mourn, and suffer both physical and emotional pain. But there is hope. There is a glory to come. God is not done. This is not all there is. Like Paul, we must learn to say and believe that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”