“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. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” – Romans 8:20-23
This is not the way it’s supposed to be. I take this adage as a colloquial expression of the doctrine of sin which affects even creation itself. During Hurricane Irma, I often thought about this language of groaning found in Romans 8 -- the whole creation is groaning as if in the pains of childbirth. It seems to me that hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes all represent the groans of creation longing for full redemption. The picture Paul paints of creation is that of a mother in childbirth who simply cannot wait any longer to see her beloved son or daughter. Yet for now, all of creation lives in the “already/not yet” tension – already tasting redemption but not yet receiving the fullness of the New Creation.
How should Christians and the church react to these groans of creation?
N.T. Wright pens these words: “Where should the church be at such a time? Sitting smugly on the sidelines, knowing it’s got the answers? No, says Paul: we ourselves groan too, because we too long for renewal, for final liberation. And where is God in all this? Sitting up in heaven wishing we could get our act together? No, says Paul (8:26-27): God is groaning too, present within the church at the place where the world is in pain. God the Spirit groans within us, calling us in prayer to God the Father.
The Christian vocation is to be in prayer, in the Spirit, at the place where the world is in pain, and as we embrace that vocation, we discover it to be the way of following Christ, shaped according to his messianic vocation to the cross, with arms outstretched, holding on simultaneously to the pain of the world and the love of God.” (The Challenge of Jesus, 189-90)
This seems to me very wise counsel for us to remember when we see (or experience first-hand!) the pain and suffering in our world. We hold on tightly to both the pain of the world and the love of God. We do not look away from the pain and suffering of the world as if taking “the happy pill” of escapism. That is the not the way of the cross. Yet neither do we doubt the love of God in the midst of the storm. The surprising truth of the cross is that it reveals the love of God like never before.
For it is only when we hold the pain of the world close to our hearts and at the same time reach out for the love of God in the midst of our suffering are we following the narrow way of the cross.
This was my first rodeo riding out a Hurricane here in Florida. (I feel duly welcomed now!) Many people in our state and our community are hurting; many more have spent a very long week without power or water.
Each situation is distinct, and each person experienced the storm in different ways. Yet, what I personally found most encouraging is that I often found myself thinking: If I have to experience Hurricane Irma, I’m glad that I get to do it with the people of Trinity Wellsprings Church. I saw (and heard about) so many of our Covenant Partners helping widows and elderly folks put up hurricane shutters. I saw the encouraging words spoken back and forth on Facebook. I know many prayers were being lifted up to the throne of grace for protection for our world, our state, our communities, and our church buildings.
Whatever your experience of Hurricane Irma, I hope we can all say with the hymn writer Thomas Chisholm (1866-1960) these words:
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!
Grateful to have ridden the hurricane out with an amazing community of faith,
Pastor Jason Carter