|Text: Romans 8:18-23
What we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will give us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, everything on earth was subjected to God's curse. All creation anticipates the day when it will join God's children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And even we Christians, although we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, also groan to be released from pain and suffering. We, too, wait anxiously for that day when God will give us our full rights as his children, including the new bodies he has promised us. (New Living Translation**)
(after the Bali bombings)
We can hardly imagine what it must have been like when the bombs exploded in Bali. Survivors described the horror, the fear that filled them as they tried to escape, the heroism as one maimed person helped another to escape the inferno, their grief when they learned that best friends and family members didnít make it to safety. One moment these young people were celebrating, having fun and enjoying their holiday, and the next moment all hell broke loose. It seems that many just disappeared with the blast.
Our TVs and newspapers have told us how poorly prepared the local hospitals and medical staff were for the extreme injuries that the blast caused. We have witnessed in our lounge rooms the grief and anguish of loved ones, especially those whose family member is listed as missing. We have heard the stories about the morgue and the horrifying task of trying to identify bodies that are no longer recognisable.
Just over twelve months ago, we watched in horror as planes loaded with people crashed into the World Trade Centre in New York. We watched the buildings collapse and witnessed the loss of life and the impact that all this had on the lives of so many people. The United States is a long way from Australia, but nevertheless we were stunned. And now Bali, right on the doorstep of our country Ė a holiday place where people go to get away from the pressures and troubles of the rest of the world.
How is it possible that people can be filled with so much evil that they can wipe out so many lives? How is it possible that so many young people - innocent holiday makers - totally unaware of any of the religious or political motives behind such a terrible act - be suddenly wiped out? There is something terribly wrong here. The human race has got it all wrong, and I include us in that. Just as we have wept with those who have shed tears the last few days, so also God has shed tears over his creation that has gone so wrong. How distressed God must be to see what people are doing to other people with such devastation and cruelty.
As I think of these things, I canít help
but be reminded of St Paulís words to the Romans, "All of creation
groans with pain, like the pain of childbirth" (Rom 8:22).
Creation groans because of the pain that pollution causes; it wasnít meant to be exploited and used to satisfy the greedy needs of humanity.
Creation groans under the pain of drought Ė where the ground becomes hard and barren unable to produce crops and pastures.
Creation groans under the pain of fire, flood and earthquake Ė we know so well here in Australia how fire can so easily destroy and leave blackened everything that is beautiful.
Creation groans when the oppressed cry out Ė children are left orphans, people are left homeless, the poor live on the streets, religious, ethnic prejudice and hatred destroy relationships, families are torn apart through marriage breakdown, and children are left confused and hurting.
Creation groans as cancer takes from us those we love, even the young; as viruses, disease, and old age ravage our bodies.
Creation groans as it soaks up the blood of so many people. Throughout human history, from the time when the blood of Adamís son Abel soaked the earth, to the events of recent times, creation has groaned under the weight of so much hatred and violence.
All creation groans because of the severe weight it bears. It groans because of all the pain that is inflicted on it. Right now, it is groaning under the weight of so much human sorrow. All creation groans and waits. It is waiting for the day when "creation will be set free from its slavery to decay" (Rom 8:21). The present groaning of creation is not permanent. It will be recreated, made new Ė the effect of sin will be done away and creation will stand again in the glory that God had planned for it.
The Bible tells us that God has given us a guarantee that there will come a time when he will make everything new. The proof that God has not given up on this world and all of us who contribute so much to the groaning of God's creation is the sending of his Son into the world to heal, to forgive, and to offer hope.
He sent us the Holy Spirit to keep on working in us and helping us to trust God when the events of this world all point to the fact that God doesnít care about his creation anymore. The Spirit keeps on pointing us back to the promises of God. He states clearly that, even in the face of so much wickedness, he is in control and his love for us never wavers. The Spirit of God gives the peace that arises from trust in God, even though creation groans under the weight of so much pain and chaos.
With the events of the past week, it has been said again and again that we never know just when or where this kind of thing will happen again. We have suddenly felt very vulnerable. Life is very fragile and can end at any moment. We have been reminded through this whole incident that we donít have to be old for death to come. It may come when we least expect it; suddenly we too could be caught up in some kind of fatal event and our life, or that of a loved one, could abruptly come to an end. All creation, especially humanity, groans under this kind of vulnerability, frailty and fear.
It is just at those times when terror strikes our hearts that the Spirit of God assures us that God's presence is very real and that nothing can separate us from his love. When we are feeling especially defenceless and helpless, the Spirit of God helps us to trust God and his love for us. When we canít pray; when we canít find the words to express what is happening; when all we can do is groan with the rest of creation; the Spirit takes our prayers to God who looks into our hearts and sees precisely what we need (Rom 8:26-27).
The events on the normally peacefully and fun loving island of Bali have shaken us. The groaning of all creation has been so deafening this week Ė the groans of those who are suffering excruciating pain, the groans from those who are looking for missing relatives and friends, the groans of those who hear of the death of someone close; the groans of all of us who have watched the horror on TV, felt the pain, and questioned how such a thing could happen.
But in spite of all that has happened, we trust God. In his hands, he holds his creation and he holds us. There is hope. There is hope for this groaning planet. The Bible promises that there will come a time when all groaning will cease. God will wipe away all tears from our eyes. There will be no more death, no more grief or crying or pain. He will make all things new. (Rev 21:4,5). Even the groaning that comes as a result of illness and old age will cease. Our bodies will be raised to new life; they will be beautiful, strong and immortal (1 Cor 15:43).
Until that day and while creation keeps on groaning, we are to be messengers of hope to the hurting Ė the loving hand that cares, the bearers of forgiveness and compassion, the shoulder for someone to lean on, the pray-ers for peace, for an end to hatred, for a stop to all violence and evil. We pray that God would use us in whatever way necessary to remind others that in all our groaning there is one who promises to walk beside us and go in front of us and be there for us.
That is the only way we can survive the turmoil of our world. The answer to all of this is the love of God as we know it in Jesus. He experienced cruelty, vulnerability, pain, suffering, and groaned with and for all creation. But he rose from the dead. He promises "new life". He gives hope. He demonstrates love and gives us his Spirit to help those who are groaning. Trusting God, we can face the future. "What we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will give us later" (Rom 8:18).
** Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Tyndale House Publishers © 1996
© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
20th October, 2002