Romans 8:18–25. Lesson 14. God, Nature
and the Sons of God.
Key Notes: Creation subjected to futility. Teleology positive and negative. Passivity of creation. When we are restored, creation will be restored. We wait.
Romans 8 gives us an important perspective on Nature." Nature" floods our minds with images of woods, mountains, wild animals, summer and winter. We think of the power of nature in the sun, of flood, tornado and hurricane, earthquake and drought. On a smaller scale, we see the beauty of flowers and birds, the marvelous workings of the human body, and the evidence of God’s providence in the annual cycle of plants, and animals. But we cannot ignore harmful animals, insects, and viruses.
God in nature is “Mother Nature” to some. To others He is the Great Watch-maker who made the world, wound it up, and then left it to run on the natural laws He had made. Isaac Newton, a devout Christian, is considered the father of this idea, which has back-fired. The watch appears to work very well by itself and needs no winding. God is now no longer necessary in the Cosmos, and has become the absentee watch-maker. If we cannot explain natural phenomena, we call them miracles. But as science comes to explain more and more of nature, lightning and earthquakes, human intelligence and physical healing, the arena of miracles gets smaller and God is found only in the phenomena that are still unexplained—He is “God in the gaps."--and disappearing.
Christians believe that there is purpose and therefore design in nature--call it "teleology". We exalt God as Nature’s Designer. We are becoming acquainted with the awesome details that made life on this planet possible, like the properties of water, the ideal concentration of oxygen in the atmosphere, and the mean planetary temperature near 50°. We are amazed by the cascade of enzymes in the blood-clotting system, and tiny molecular motors like the little tail ( flagellum) that propels a bacterium. Our God controls gravitation and electromagnetism, the strong force and the weak force in the atom. "In Him all things hold together." (Col. 1:17). To us, it is Christ who is the Creator (Jn. 1:3). He is not “God of the Gaps,” but God everywhere present and active in nature. But we have to explain why the creation is corrupted.
It is revealed to us in Romans 8 that God built negative teleology into the system. Paul offers us unique insights into nature in Romans 8, a treatment unlike anything else in Scripture.
8:18 “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
Paul may not be thinking of persecution, but of wounds and pains, unfulfilled longings, the emotional stresses of daily living. He may be thinking of the wicked machinations of the Caesars. Or of crippled children, unemployed workers and dying old people. Life is suffering.
8:19 " The creation waits with eager longing"—literally at attention, with heads up.
Paul objectifies the creation, focusing on the biological world, rather than the universe as a whole. He leads us to think that the whole of created life has a mind--waiting and longing. Lewis Thomas ("Lives of a Cell") had the idea that the colonial insects--ants, bees and termites-- behave as if they had a collective mind. Today, the "biosphere" is in the news: the hole in the ozone layer, the pH of ocean water, global warming, fracking and earthquakes, and the disappearance of amphibians are all causes of concern--all part of a rapidly accelerating series of changes in the creation--agonizing.
8:20 "For the creation was subjected to futility", by God, as a temporary measure.
"Subjected to futility" is a compact way of describing results of the Fall in Gen. 3. After God cursed the Serpent, He condemned Adam to hard labor. As a farmer, he would have to grub trees, bust sod, dig out stones, pull weeds and fight off the bugs to earn his bread. He will wear out and die. Labor at times will be so hard that the average life-expectancy would fall to about 40 years, a life hardly long enough to raise a family. Hear the groaning of Lamach, the father of Noah: "Out of the ground which the Lord has cursed, this one shall bring us relief from work and the toil of our hands." Gen.5:29
8:21 "The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God." The creation will be made over.
8:22 "We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now."
The creation groans. Elephants moan over their dead. The rabbit screams when caught by the hawk. The frog croaks when swallowed by the snake. Women cry out in childbirth. Old men despair. Babies cry. The biosphere shudders.
8:23 "We ourselves...groan inwardly, waiting for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies." It is something we hope for and cannot see --can hardly imagine. We wait in hope, patience and faith.
The creation as a whole is the focus, a focus we do not often find in Scripture. Paul makes five statements about it.
The creation is waiting in eager anticipation of a future reconstruction.
2. It was altered after creation and defects were put into it.
3. The creation will be freed from futility and decay.
4. It will enjoy a part in the resurrection of the believers.
5. The creation is groaning as if in childbirth.
“The creation will enjoy the glorious freedom of the children of God.” We do not speak much of freedom except in politics, but it was an important concept in Paul’s teaching. We are being freed and will be completely free from:
* God's judgment. Rom. 8:1–3
* The clutch of sin. Rom. 6:2-
* Deception. Rom. 7:11
* The Law. Rom. 8:2-
* Weakness and fear, disability and death. Rom. 8:21–28
We may think of the climax of salvation as our future resurrection and perfect body, but God includes the whole creation in His great work and links us to it. In this passage, the creation is passive, waiting, subject, groaning in travail. But we think of nature as active and often against us. We speak of conquering nature, as if it were an opposing force. We harness nuclear energy; we dam the rivers, drain the swamps and raise the levees. UV radiation, mosquitoes, arsenic in our drinking water, tornadoes and weeds—these are hostile forces. We have to defend ourselves against nature. Indeed God’s mandate to mankind was to subdue the earth and have dominion over the animals. Gen. 1:28
But, the creation is passive before God, responding rather than acting.
“These all look to Thee, to give them their food in due season. When You give it to them, they gather it up; when You open Your hand, they are filled with good things. When You hide Your face, they are dismayed; when You take away their breath, they die and return to the dust.” Psa.104:27–29
And there is also a linkage between the spiritual life of a society and the dysfunction of the natural world. This linkage began in Eden, when God said,
“Because you have…eaten of the tree of which I commanded you. 'You shall not eat of it', cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread.” Gen. 3:17–19
Deut. 28 prophesies God’s blessing on land, cattle and people who follow His commands. It even more strongly warns of God’s curse on land, cattle and people when His people disobeyed. It happened that way. Four centuries later Hosea said:
“There is no faithfulness or kindness and no knowledge of God in the land…
therefore the land mourns and all who dwell in it languish, and also the beasts
of the field and the birds of the air; and even the fish of the sea are taken away.” Hos. 4:1–3
We can see the destructive effect of human behaviors on the environment. War creates the worst havoc in the environment. Over-fishing, toxin-dumping, and destructive mining practices are other examples of sin at work. Subduing God’s earth is not destroying the earth.
For us, the key phrase is "subjected to futility". The creation was made perfect. Genesis 1 says God made it and it was "good" (6 times) and "very good" when Adam was created. But God introduced imperfection into it after the Fall. (Gen.3:14–19). The evolutionist sees only the imperfections and therefore denies intelligent design. Christians emphasize the design and, in reaction, tend to ignore the imperfections.
Darwinian evolutionists have abandoned the idea of God altogether. The Designer is rejected by the evidence of destructive processes in nature. "Nature red of fang and claw." Because there are parasites, the predatory food chain, deadly viruses like HIV and rabies, cancer and babies sick from congenital anomalies, kudzu and cobras, a benevolent God appears to them impossible. What answer does the Christian offer?
We reply that the creation was subjected to futility--call it "dysteleology", or better, "negative teleology". That is the curse God put on man and the earth after the Fall. (Gen. 3). Darwin did not take this into account when he said he could not believe that a good God would allow a wasp to lay its eggs in the body of a caterpillar or allow a bird (the shrike) to kill other birds for no apparent reason. To him dysteleology suggested the absence of a creator.
"Darwin's great contribution was the final demolition of the idea that nature is the product of intelligent design. How so? While any thoroughgoing naturalism might render God superfluous, the ..."dysteleological' character of Darwinian naturalism subverts and supplants the very possibility of God. Mother nature is heartless--even vicious--and boundlessly stupid."
"Darwin did two things: he showed that evolution was a fact contradicting scriptural legends of creation and that its cause, natural selection, was automatic, with no room for divine guidance or design. Furthermore, if there had been design it must have been very maleficent to cause all the suffering and pain that befall animals and man." (from "Evolutionary Accounts of Altruism & the Problem of Goodness by Design." J.P. Schloss, p. 237 in Mere Creation. W.A. Dembski , Edit. IVP,’98.)
So the evolutionists see part of the problem, nature "subject to futility," but they allow it to dominate. It is true that the "food chain" leads to the early death of many creatures. It is true that the tubercle bacillus has a wax coat that enables it to survive inside the macrophage that should kill it and it can emerge decades later to kill the host. It is true that the HIV virus targets the CD4 lymphocyte, the key cell to protect the host, causing immune paralysis and death. These are examples of "negative teleology"--negative design--examples of futility God built into biology. We are wise to realize both the positive and negative designs that are evident in nature.
But good design is also evident everywhere. The skies are full of mystery and beauty. The sun, moon and stars are like a great clock, telling time with astonishing precision. The conditions making life possible on this little blue planet are statistically off the charts. The eye is a camera, a marvel of design, projecting reality on our brains with amazing accuracy. The probability of its neural networks assembled by chance is absurd. The human hand, looking like a bunch of sticks, is breath-taking in its dexterity and subtlety. Human beings with brilliant minds are doing marvels everywhere we look--Olympic athletes, symphony orchestras, architects, and electronics designers.
The Bible teaches us that God, although He introduced futility into the creation, loves his creation and cares for it. Job listens while God talks to him about food for the lion and the raven, the life-cycle of mountain goat, the habitat of the wild donkey, the silly and speedy ostrich, the power of the horse and the soaring flight of the hawk. God describes at length the awesome rhinoceros, and the water-monster, the dreaded crocodile. (Job 38–40)
God cares for the earth and the solar system. Psalm 104 spells it out. He provides food for the animals and ecologic niches for birds and rodents such as the badger. Even the day-night cycle are important for the animals and humans. Someday He will make it all perfect again. Nature is also portrayed as rejoicing in God’s victory.
“Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice, and let them say among the
nations, “the Lord reigns”! Let the sea roar and all that fills it; let the field exult
and everything in it. Then shall the trees of the wood sing for joy before the Lord, for He comes to judge the earth.” (Psa. 96:10–13; also I Chron. 16:31–33; Psa. 98:7–9;)
Nature will be restored when we are restored. Isaiah gives us the picture of a Coming World we have never seen. Four chapters in Isaiah (Isa. 11, 32, 35, 65) deserve to be read through.
“He shall not judge by what His eyes see, or decide by what His ears hear; but
with righteousness He shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and He shall smite the earth with the rod of His mouth and with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked. Righteousness shall be the girdle around His waist, and faithfulness the girdle around His loins.
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall feed, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The suckling child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They shall not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain; for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” (Isa.11:3–9)
“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus; it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.” (Isa. 35:1–2)
“Behold, a king will reign in righteousness, and princes will rule in justice. Each will be like a hiding place from the wind, a covert from the tempest, like streams of water in a dry place, like the shade of a great rock in a weary land.” (Isa. 32:1–2)
“And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust for ever.” (Isa. 32:17)
“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.” (Isa. 65:17)
But you may be groaning now. Wait with patience and hope and faith. And do what you can to remedy wrongs and make the earth better.