The glory welling up with us is the future of creation, and it is the future of the entire creation. This is a much neglected passage, perhaps because the view from here is so stupefying. We don’t quite know how to take it in – but that is all right because the Spirit will help us.
“For the earnest expectation of the creature waiters for the manifestation of the sons of God…” (Romans 8:19-27)
Summary of the Text
The creation, everything that was made, is earnestly looking forward to something. That something is the manifestation (the unveiling, lit. the apocalypse) of the sons of God (v. 19). Remember, we have just defined the sons of God as those who are being led to put the old ways to death (vv. 13-14) and who hear the testimony of the Spirit to their hearts (v. 16). When these sons come into their own, the creation will see what it is longing for.
Th reason the creation longs for this is that it will signal the end of creation’s distress. The creation was not willingly subjected to vanity (v. 20), but God did it, intending from the beginning that this futility would look up in hope (v. 20). When that hope arrives, the creation will be delivered from its current bondage, and will share in the liberty of these newly manifested children of God (v. 21). Note Paul’s striking image here – the whole creation is in labor (v. 22). Not only does the mother long to deliver, the baby longs to be born (v. 23). We also groan, and Paul lets us know here what the day of “manifestation” is. It is our final adoption as sons, meaning the redemption of our body (v. 23). He is talking about the coming day of resurrection, the last day.
The creation was subjected to vanity in hope (v. 19). We were saved in hope (v. 24). But it would’t be hope if you could see it, right? Not seeing it enables us to cultivate patience in the groaning (v. 25). Because we can’t see, we can hope. But because we can’t see, the Spirit has to help us in our infirmity (v. 26). We don’t know what to pray for, because this is a baby that has never been born before. So the Spirit groans along with us (v. 26), and His groans are deeper than words. In the meantime, Jesus searches our hearts and He also knows the mind of the Spirit. He is the one who prays for us constantly, and this means that everything is lining up (v. 27).
A Few Oddities
Paul says a few strange things in passing here. The creation was made “subject to vanity” (v.20). The creation is currently struggling under the “bondage of corruption” (v. 21). The whole creation groans and travails (v. 22). But when you couple all this with the false ideas of perfection, you could get the idea that any entropy at all is a sign of the fall. So we should ask (and answer) a few questions about the unfallen Adam. Could he have shuffled a deck of cards before the Fall, or would he have kept coming up with one royal flush after another? Did the leaves of the forest floor of Eden (were there leaves on the forest floor?) form perfect geometric patterns? When Adam ate the fruit he was allowed to eat, did that fruit get digested? In other words, the fact that the creation groans with longing now does not mean that it was made out of stainless steel before. That is not perfection. That was not the world God declared to be so good.
Never forget that this section of Romans is part of a larger, sustained argument. We need to be reminded of this because there are some memorable phrases here that tend to get quoted out of their context (“all things work together,” “the Spirit groans,” etc.). Paul is here driving toward the eschaton, the day of resurrection. That is the subject. The creation groans, looking forward to that manifestation. We share in that groaning, longing for the same thing. And the Spirit shares in our groaning, meaning that He is straining toward the same end. What is that end? It is the apocalypse of the sons of God; it is glorious liberty; it is our final adoption, the redemption of our body. This is the central meaning of predestinationn for Paul (Eph. 1:5), and the famous predestination in the next section. We are predestined to be conformed, and we groan in the direction of that predestination. Those who truly affirm predestination groan. This is not a denial of a more general foreordination; it rather depends on it. But they are not the same.
So the creation groans toward something. We groan toward that same thing. The Spirit sees us struggling and so He enters in as well. And our great High Priest looks down on the whole thing, lifts it up to God, with His intercession and amen (look ahead to v. 34).
The Apocalypse and Day of Delivery
The entire created order is heavily pregnant with power and glory, and you sons and daughters of God are the baby. This means history is driven before the Holy Spirit of God, and the entire point of the whole narrative is to reveal the Church for who it is – the bride of Christ.
History is pregnant, and there can be no thought of an abortion, however much the devil would love to bring one about. Of course, we know that our abortion culture is murderous, and it is. Blood does pollute the land. But there is something else going on here. The abortion culture that believes itself to be so powerful is actually a desperate and pathetic form of wishful thinking. AS early as Genesis, we knew that the seed of the woman would be born, and He would crush the serpent’s head. And we know now that the sons of God will be revealed in all their glory. This is not some horror flick, where some chthonic monster will be born into the world. No, it will be power, light, glory, and radiance. And when we gaze into that resurrected radiance, we will see… one another.