Thursday, January 12, 2006


All Creation Groans

Romans 8:22 tells us “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” What does that groaning sound like? Where does it manifest itself? Some preachers and writers are connecting this to the increase in earthquakes, violent storms, and other natural phenomena. “Look at the tsunami, the hurricanes, the earthquakes,” they say. “These are the groans of the earth, torn apart by human sin.”

Let’s look at the Bible with open eyes and see if these natural calamities are the groans of creation. Surprisingly, the Bible consistently refers to earthquakes, storms, crashing waves, wind and rain, etc. in quite a different understanding.

Exodus 19 and 20 describe God’s descent to Mt. Sinai to meet with his people. His presence was manifested by thunder, lightning, thick clouds, smoke, earthquake, and the sound of a trumpet.

1 Kings 19 details Elijah’s spiritual field trip to the same mountain. When he stood on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, “a great and powerful wind tore the mountain apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD. . . . After the wind there was an earthquake. . . . After the earthquake came a fire.” These were manifestations of God’s presence, though of course the answer to Elijah’s problem was not in them but in the quiet voice.

Psalm 50:3: “Our God comes and will not be silent; a fire devours before him, and around him a tempest rages.”

Habakkuk 3: “God came from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran. . . . Did you rage against the sea when you rode with your horses and your victorious chariots? . . . You split the earth with rivers; the mountains saw you and writhed. Torrents of water swept by; the deep roared and lifted its waves on high. . . . You came out to deliver your people, to save your anointed one. . . . You trampled the sea with your horses, churning the great waters.”

These and many other references to earthquakes, thunderstorms, and devastating waves are connected, not with creation groaning under the burden of sin and curse, but rather with manifestations of God’s presence on earth. God’s presence may not seem good to those who do evil, but it ought to be a reason to cheer for the godly and for the creation. In fact, during the storms, the trees are clapping their hands in praise.

What, then, are the groans of creation? Romans 8 specifically describes the groans as labor pains. In the present there is frustration, but in the future there will be accomplishment. The ability of the earth to produce fruit has been limited by the frustration to which God subjected it. In terms of the curse God placed on the earth in Genesis 3, the groans are best heard in the weeds: thorns and thistles, plus depleted fertility, hard-packed fallow ground, back-breaking labor, and sweaty brows.

Like the other two groans in Romans 8, creation’s groans are groans of hope. Some day creation will again be a garden. Through Christ, the results of sin will be gone. At the completion of the Gospel’s work (the redemption of the human body in resurrection), the curse will be lifted and the earth remade. No more groaning of creation—but still maybe a thunderstorm now and then.

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