Romans 8 has brought comfort to many in times of trouble, reminding us of the power of God’s saving love for us.
But the letter isn’t just about God’s plan for saving humanity. Paul mentions ‘all creation’. And in an earlier part of the chapter, he says that it, too, is part of God’s plan for redemption.
“The whole creation has been groaning in the pains of childbirth until now” Paul notes, as it “waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.”
For Paul, the suffering of creation is part and parcel of the Fall: human sin has distorted not only our lives, but also the life of the world around us.
In today’s world, it’s not hard to see a linkage between human action and creation’s pain – we have only to look at the rising heat that intensifies droughts and storms, the many creatures on the brink of extinction, the rivers that flow polluted, the mountains and hills stripped of their resources. Our careless treatment of God’s gifts strains the natural world beyond its capacity and leads to natural – and human – distress.
But what has been distorted by the Fall can also be redeemed by God. After Paul talks about creation “waiting with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God,” he also says that “creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” In other words, as humanity is transformed by the power of God’s redemptive work, creation, too, will be set free to flourish.
This isn’t the only place where the apostle links God’s redemption of humanity and of the wider creation of which we are a part. Colossians 1 speaks of Christ’s role in the formation of all that is, and then of his role in its restoration. “God was pleased,” the epistle reminds us, “through [Christ] to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
What might this mean for us in our daily lives? As Christians, prayer that God’s love will shape our human relationships is in our DNA. But if Christ’s reconciliation encompasses all creation, then allowing God’s love to reshape our relations with the rest of the natural world is also a core part of our life of faith. That’s a large task! But as Operation Noah’s Climate Change and the Purposes of God notes, citing Romans, we can ‘Act with hope’. Confident in God’s redemption plan, we can face issues that might otherwise seem overwhelming. And slowly, by God’s grace, we can be confident we will see signs of redemption – in ourselves, others and ‘our common home’.