Have you ever wondered why it is that people are far more likely to lament that things are as bad as they are than they are to rejoice that things are as good as they are? The deviations in the way things are from the way they “ought” to be are virtually always perceived as negative deviations. Today’s text as bears witness to the feeling. Romans 8:18-27:
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
One can readily understand why Paul refers to the “sufferings of this present time.” We do read of rather significant hardships complicating his life. And the people to whom he first addressed himself may well have known many difficulties, some of which directly resulted from their identification with Christ. But in many ways, in virtually any age people seem to nod knowingly when hardships are mentioned. It is acknowledged, even by those who might appear to have no reason at all to lament their lot in life, that life is tough. And Paul could be seen as giving a tip of the hat to that feeling by noting that the whole creation waits for something better.
We do not wait for something worse; we anticipate something better–far better. I cannot help but wonder how much better our experience of life might be if we truly incorporate Paul’s attitude into our daily lives. For Christians it is far more than the orientation toward half-full rather than half-empty glasses. That focus is indeed helpful in making the best of what is at hand in a given moment, but is inadequate as an outlook on life. No, the glass itself has to be reconceived in order to get a glimpse of what lies ahead. When we think of what it would be like to have a full glass we are still woefully limited in our vision. So we conjecture of what it would be like to have each of the momentary sufferings alleviated, removed, disintegrated, resolved, or whatever. Not enough; and if our faith in God is tied to the changing of particular circumstances we will always be disappointed at some time–because in a creation that is itself groaning under the weight, there is another unwelcome circumstance around the corner.
I have done more than my share of considering the present sufferings in this world as limitations rather than as things unworthy of comparison to the hope yet ahead for the adopted children of God. This too provides an occasion for repentance. Anyone else in that boat?