In the grand scheme of things, life for most modern Americans is very comfortable: we are in decent health, we have enough food and shelter, and we generally enjoy a very high quality of life. Even so we know things are not all right. Many other people do not have as comfortable of lives as we do. Many suffer from health problems, poverty, oppression, and violence. People suffer all kinds of pain. Even the most comfortable of Americans faces the prospect of death in the future. From where comes these difficulties, this “dis-ease” in the creation?
For the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now (Romans 8:20-22).
Paul is discussing the hope of the Christian and the creation: the glory which will come to the sons of God in the resurrection (Romans 8:17-18, 23-25). Yet only when we come to grips with the present difficulties and sufferings of this creation can we truly hope for the glory which God will give to those who love Him. In Romans 8:20-22 Paul spoke of how the creation was subjected to vanity (or futility), subjected to the bondage of corruption and wishes to be set free.
At what point was the creation made subject to vanity and bound unto corruption? At what other point could it have been other than the fall of man? In Genesis 1:31 God declared His creation to be very good. Yet by the end of Genesis 3 the ground has been cursed because of Adam and Eve’s sin, and man will return to the dust in death (Genesis 3:17-19). Solomon the Preacher lamented the vanity of life because all die (Ecclesiastes 2:12-23). In Romans 5:12-18 Paul had described that death entered the world through the sin of Adam and had spread to all mankind. Paul does not mean that all have inherited Adam’s sin; he means we have all inherited the consequences of Adam’s sin. In 1 Corinthians 15:51-58 Paul explained the hope of the resurrection as the mortal putting on immortality and the corruptible putting on incorruption.
From these passages we can understand what Paul is saying in Romans 8:20-22. God made a good creation; all was well, without defect or fault. When Adam and Eve sinned, death and its companions corruption and futility entered the world. The good creation was now corrupted by the consequences of sin.
The presence of corruption and futility in the creation because of sin and death can help us to make sense of why many things happen as they do. Infants and children sometimes suffer and die, not because they have sinned, but because they are suffering from the consequences of sin’s presence in the world. Natural disasters and corrosive processes all exist because as evidence of the futility and corruption in the creation. People suffer from physical, mental, and emotional disabilities, not necessarily because they sinned or their parents sinned (cf. John 9:2-3), but on account of the corruption in the creation influencing the most fundamental aspects of our nature. We should therefore not be surprised to know people whose desires are misplaced; “faulty wiring” is more evidence of corruption of the perfect creation God made.
Many people look upon the world and all of its corruption and wonder how a good God could have made it; nevertheless, when we understand the depth of the corruption and futility of the creation on account of sin and death, we could equally wonder how it is possible that we can find good and lovely things within it, or that anything “works” at all! Humanity may not be totally depraved, but human depravity is real enough, and we have all been corrupted by sin in our thinking, feelings, and behaviors (Romans 1:18-32, 3:10-23)!
We must not despair. The creation has been subjected to futility and corruption because sin and death has entered the world. Yet thanks be to God that in Christ we have a hope foreign to the world, the hope of resurrection, that we will be set free from the bondage of corruption and obtain the eternal weight of glory which God wants to give to His people. Yes, the world is in “dis-ease”; in Christ we can find true satisfaction and true hope through His death and resurrection. Let us serve the Lord Jesus and obtain the resurrection of life!
Ethan R. Longhenry