Question: Is there a way out of this awful struggle?
Answer: Yes, if we find ultimate hope in the life to come.
When we face troubles and trials, it is sometimes hard to keep from being discouraged. We trust God, but we wonder about the why of all the pain we and others around us must endure. At such times we may not enjoy deep inner peace, even though we have not abandoned our faith. During those times we need to take in the truths proclaimed in Romans 8:18-25, where Paul portrayed the created world first as in eager anticipation and then in the throes of childbirth.
Paul was able to be a complete optimist in the midst of pain and persecution because he focused on the glorious eternity that awaits God’s children. He wrote:
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons 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 glorious freedom of the children of God (8:18-21).
After declaring that our present pain is almost nothing when the creation didn’t choose to be the way it is, so marked by disaster, cruelty, and suffering. It is the way it is because of God’s sentence of judgment that made nature a rod of discipline for sinful people. But God is planning a day when all such ugliness will be eradicated, and this great endtime event will occur in close connection with our glorification as the creatures God created to be His vice-regents over the earth.
Francis Schaeffer, in his book on the Christian view of ecology, Pollution And The Death Of Man, encourages us to take up a long-neglected responsibility as a result of this promised restoration: Biblical Christianity has a real answer to the ecological crisis.
It offers a balanced and healthy attitude to nature, arising from the truth of its creation by God; it offers the hope here and now of substantial healing in nature of some of the results of the Fall, arising from the truth of redemption in Christ….
A Christian-based science and technology should consciously try to see nature substantially healed, while waiting for the future complete healing at Christ’s return (p.81). Interestingly, Paul depicted the natural world as knowing what scientists are just now beginning to realize. Today, many former agnostics are saying that the earth and the life in it are looking less and less like the products of blind chance. The astounding complexities discovered in the disciplines of physics and biology point to an original design that, by all appearances, had human life in view from the very beginning. This understanding, which they call “the anthropic principle,” is new to them. But it is not new to us. We know it from the Bible, and we eagerly anticipate the time when God will restore the original glory of the creation (Acts 3:19-21).
We need to anticipate our new bodies. Still thinking in terms of universal suffering in the present, Paul portrayed a universe and a redeemed people in the throes of childbirth:
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth…. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved (8:22-24).
The created world is groaning as in childbirth because she will give birth to the new heavens and earth promised to us by God. We groan too as we wait for our new bodies, and we have good reason to wait with great expectation. We already have been given the “firstfruits of the Spirit.” The particular word Paul used here is a strong metaphor, going beyond the idea of a down payment. Like the firstfruits offering in Israel, it is a specimen of what will follow in the full harvest. It is a foretaste of what awaits us. That is why we can sing these lines from an old hymn written by Charles Butler:
Once heaven seemed a far-off place,
Till Jesus showed His smiling face;
Now it’s begun within my soul,
’Twill last while endless ages roll.
All of these wonderful truths, when understood and believed, will change our attitude toward suffering. We who have learned to say “Abba, Father” are assured that He has designed us for glory, and that suffering is a way of preparing us for this end. Having tasted His goodness, we look forward with a hope characterized in Scripture as “eager expectation.”