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THEOLOGY > Sin > Man's Disobedience > Creation's Groan


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; because 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 (Rom. 8:20-22).

In these verses creation is personified, by which emphasis is given to the present condition of creation and to the salvation that is coming for creation. Two aspects are set forth: the present state which is one of “futility” and the coming state when creation “will be set free.” During the interim period creation “waits with eager longing” and “has been groaning,” anticipating and yeaning for the redemption that is ahead.

Subjected to Futility

The present state of creation is one of judgment and bondage, described and defined by the word “futility.” The Greek word is mataiotēs, a word appearing three times in the New Testament (Rom. 8:20; Eph. 4:17; II Pet. 2:18) and indicating “folly,” “vanity,” uselessness,” or “futility.” In Ephesians the reference is to the Gentiles who walk “in the futility of their minds,” which results in darkened understanding and alienation from the life of God; and in II Peter the reference is to false teachers who speak “loud boasts of folly” (“great swelling words of emptiness” in NKJV).

Mataiotēs is also used in the Septuagint to translate the Hebrew word that occurs 38 times in Ecclesiastes and is usually translated “vanity” in the English versions. Even the wise man, in anticipation of the Apostle, characterized everything as “vanity of vanities”; he said “all is vanity” (Eccles. 1:2).

The word causes the reader to reflect back on creation’s state at the time of its creation. After His week of work God determined that the state of creation was “good” (Gen. 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25), even “very good” (Gen. 1:31).  Creation could not have been better, for it was exactly the way God intended it to be. Creation was made for man, and God made a perfect creation (see: A Very Good Creation and The God of Creation).

Adam’s rebellion (see: Adam’s Rebellion) against God brought a subsequent curse pronounced by God upon creation. The curse was not the result of a sin, or flaw, in creation, but it came upon creation as an effect of Adam’s sin. This point is referenced by Paul when he affirms that “creation was subjected to futility”; that is, the state that came to be true of creation was placed upon creation by the Maker of creation. Creation was the passive recipient of the consequence of Adam’s sin—it was “subjected.” This was the doing of God, who is Sovereign over that which He has brought into existence (see: God is Sovereign). God can do with His creation what He pleases.

Paul adds that from the perspective of creation the subjection of creation in futility was “not willingly.” Again Paul is giving emphasis to the fact that the current state of creation was visited upon creation; to use personification, it was not creation’s desire nor wish. The lesson to be discerned is that when sin appears, there are consequences—judgment follows.

This present state of creation is a state of sin, a state characterized by folly, emptiness, uselessness, and vanity—a creation of “thorns and thistles” (Gen. 3:18). Creation is like the life of a depraved Gentile whose thinking is of no value (Eph. 4:17), or the words of a false teacher that are empty and full of folly (II Pet. 2:18). Because of the curse, creation is now an imperfect creation, characterized by decay and death. So the “futility” of creation means that in its present state creation is not what it was intended to be, and because of the current situation creation is deserving of judgment and is destined for judgment.

Against this perspective the believer can approach the fact of natural evil and seek an understanding of its origin and existence—natural evil is because of moral evil. The forces of nature are the forces of evil, not necessarily the forces of a personal evil, but the forces of the consequences of the evil that appeared in Eden. If Adam had not sinned there would be no thorns and thistles, and no destructive events in nature. The upheavals in nature occur and the destructive history of nature exists because the rebellion of Adam is a fact of history. The world is one of natural disasters: earthquakes tornadoes, volcanoes, floods, droughts, heat, and cold—all contributing to the miserable state of man’s existence. Natural calamities are really periodic judgments by God upon creation because of sin—the earth is subjected to futility.

Subjected in Hope

Though subjected in “futility” the creation is subjected “in hope.” To use different terminology, where sin and its consequences abound grace does much more abound. This is to affirm that evil will not triumph; the future is not according to sin but according to God and His salvation. Every knee will bow before the Seed of the woman.

In the prediction of the new heaven and the new earth, John states: “And there shall be no more curse” (Rev. 22:3). Thus, the last book of the Bible references the first book of the Bible; the curse pronounced on the first earth will be terminated when the new earth comes to be. Creation will “be set free from its bondage to corruption” (Rom. 8:21).

Despite the fact that the current creation is cursed, the point of Paul in Romans 8 is the eschatological theme. In the midst of “the sufferings of this present time” it must be remembered that they “are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18). The best is yet to be, not in time, but in eternity.

For this eschatological salvation creation “waits with eager longing,” and throughout its history “the whole creation has been groaning” (Rom. 8:22) like a woman ready and yearning to give birth and bring an end to her pain.

The One who subjected the creation in futility is the One who subjected it in hope. The salvation of creation is dependent on the Lord of creation who will initiate the consummation at His pleasing. The hope of creation and of the believer is in Him (see: All Things New and New Heaven and New Earth).

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