Hope in Futility
March 14, 2012 § 1 Comment
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 decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:20, 21)
Why “futility”? It is futility because it—creation—cannot arrive at its desired end; it cannot fulfill its purpose. Instead of yielding fruit according to its design, it produces thorns. Weeds. Instead of a fruitful, effortless, joyous productivity, there is burdensome toil, and even then that does not guarantee fruit.
Yet God’s plan is to free creation at the close of history with the revealing of the children of God. And that glory will be so great, and the freedom will be so glorious, that we must recognize that whatever we presently suffer cannot be rightly put beside in comparison: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).
When Paul says that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us, he is making a value judgment; specifically, he is saying that the value of eternity with our Creator and Redeemer is far greater than the costly difficulties of this present world. For Paul, the Gospel’s realism identifies and even quantifies suffering; it is real and cannot be denied. He fully acknowledges the real cost of suffering, in particular the suffering that is for the sake of Christ; sometimes it is so weighty that all we can do is groan. It holds all of us in its bondage, some to a lesser degree, others to a greater degree. But there is no escaping the fact that it holds us all.
Sin and all its associates—strife, suffering, distress, sickness—are real deprivations of the good that powerfully remind us that God made us for something better. That something better is so much more than regaining Eden; it is the full reconciliation of this futility-subjected world to its maker. To that end it is not a mere restoration but a remaking. “Behold,” the Lord tells John in Revelation, “I am making all things new” (Revelation 21:5). And that remaking, that newness will extend as far as the curse is found.
Our assurance of this remaking of the old into the new is the first Advent of our Lord; in the incarnation God became man to initiate the remaking; one could say that in the incarnation the Son of God put on his working clothes; in his birth, life and death he “got to work,” laying the foundation that makes the remaking possible.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Since this is so, we wait patiently with hope. We wait patiently with hope when the bondage to decay shrinks, wrinkles and breaks our bodies. We wait patiently with hope when the futility frustrates our desires with sickness and disease, snatching the promise of life away in death. We wait patiently with hope when the curse’s thorns infest the ground of our relationships with hurt, spite and unfaithfulness. We wait patiently with hope in all these things because all of these things we suffer, weighty and painful as they are, lose their present value when set next to the eternal value of what we hope for: the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
But Paul is clear that we do not yet see the realization of that hope in its fullness. And so God sets before us the great tension of what it means to belong to Christ in a fallen world: We live in the reality of the Now and the Not Yet. We wait patiently in hope for the Not Yet Glory because we know it is real—just as real and as certain as our present suffering is real. The bondage to decay is the Now; the freedom of glory is the Not Yet. We wait for it with faith and hope, but we have not yet entered into it. It is yet to be—but we are with the certainty of faith assured that it will, indeed, be.