Text: Romans 8:16-39
In 1755 on November 1st, All saints day, in Lisbon, Portugal Christians were gathered together in worship when an earthquake struck the city. 85% of the buildings were destroyed. Of course, the churches were the tallest buildings in the city so naturally the greatest loss of life happened there. It’s known as one of the deadliest earthquakes ever recorded. But the day of terror wasn’t over. Forty minutes later the city was struck with a tsunami. A twelve meter tall wave of death struck smothered those who had survived the earthquake. Which was followed by another wave ten minutes later and one last wave after that. Oh, but the terror still wasn’t over for the inhabitants of the city. There was no electricity in Portugal, they used candles and there were a lot of candles lit for all Saint’s day. So the earthquake which was followed by a tsunami was followed by fires that raged and consumed buildings and property for five days. It’s been estimated that up to 100,000 people lost their life that day.
And so the philosophers in Europe took note of this event and asked…WHY! But more pointedly they asked, WHERE…where was God in all this. How can a good and loving God co-exist with evil and suffering? How could a just God allow the greatest damage to be felt among the churches and the least amount of damage to be found in Lisbon’s red light district?
Voltaire wrote in response to this event:
“Are you then sure, the power which would create
The universe and fix the laws of fate,
Could not have found for man a proper place,
But earthquakes must destroy the human race?“
The modern atheist movement was birthed out of suffering. And so we end our series on Big Questions by looking at suffering….What do we do with suffering? How does suffering fit into a world which conceives of a loving God caring for his creation?
Even now as I speak this morning there is suffering…tremendous suffering. Millions upon millions of refugees who have fled their homeland because of the dangers of war or persecution. Where is God in this?
Parents who have to bury their children…I’m not talking about someone living a long happy life, I speak of untimely, unnatural deaths. Where is God in that?
Adults who take children and abuse them physically, mentally, emotionally, sexually. Where is God in that?
Think of all the natural disasters that have come and will continue to come in 2019. Floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis, fires, destroying property, ripping apart families, leaving people displaced and homeless. Where is God in that?
Of course, these are not numbers. These are not theoretical events. They are not merely things that happen to OTHER people. They happen to us! Suffering exists in our community.
I remember participating in a funeral in this very room for a 4 month old girl who died in her crib. I remember when the Malaysia plane disappeared and one of our member’s spouse was on it. Our family has had displaced people live with us, we’ve listened to their stories of loss. We’ve had church members taken advantage of by adults in their lives. We have members whose family has suffered loss due to natural disasters. It’s not a theory, it’s real life.
We have to be sensitive here…this is a real issue and touches real people with real hurts. This is no place for easy simple solutions. Suffering in the Scriptures, like our own suffering, isn’t neat, tidy, or systematic1.
But it’s there…God does address suffering. So this morning we turn our attention to Romans 8 because while it doesn’t systematize suffering, it does offer us hope in the midst of suffering.
16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
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. 28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Four things to consider about suffering from this passage:
1. The Scope of Suffering
v. 19, 22
Suffering is not an isolated event. Suffering is not the exception to the rule. When suffering comes we shouldn’t think, “why is this happening to me,” as if it were something strange. Suffering comes to us all. It’s on every continent. In every country. Every language group has a word for it, because every language group experiences it. The young are not immune from it. The old don’t graduate from it. It is universal.
But the scope is larger than humanity. It isn’t just humans who suffer, but all of creation. Every Creature – v. 22 says the whole creation groans.
Animals suffer. There was a time when the lion would lie down with the lamb, but no longer. The environment suffers. Even in space you see decay as stars die, as black holes form and they just eat away at anything within its vicinity.
But it’s even worse than that. It isn’t just humans, it isn’t just the creation itself, but the scope of suffering spans history. No one century holds the market on suffering.
In the 1300s the black plague killed millions. In the 1500s an earthquake in China killed up to 800,000 people. The 1800s had the bubonic plague that killed up to 10 million. The 1900s had the great wars killing millions upon millions.
There have been wars all throughout history. There have been murderers and serial killers all throughout history. There have been tsunamis and earthquakes and volcanic eruptions all throughout history. There has been disease and death and disasters all throughout history.
The scope of suffering touches every thing on earth on every part of earth at every time of earth’s history.
When Paul says ALL of creation groans, here’s the take away: Fate isn’t picking on you. You’re not unique. It may feel like it, but you’re not alone in your suffering. You need to hear that…you’re not alone in your suffering. When you suffer you join in with all of humanity in every part of history. Your groaning are joining a world-wide chorus that cries out together in their sufferings…crying out in pain, crying out for change, crying out for justice, crying out for something better.
Here is how Peter states it in his book on suffering: 1 Peter 4:12 – 12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.
Oh, we’d like to create theologies that get us out of suffering in this life. We’d like to say, suffering only happens to those who are evil or those who deserve it, or those who are outside the will of God, or those with little faith…but the fact of the matter is, that’s more of a Buddhists faith than it is a believer’s faith. That’s more a teaching of Karma than it is a teaching of Christianity.
Here in Romans 8 God says that THE Son of God suffered, you don’t get more perfect than that, more undeserved of suffering than that, more innocent than that. If anyone is to be exempt from suffering, surely it should be Jesus. But He wasn’t. Paul writes here to remind us, THE Son of God suffered…no one is exempt from suffering.
Not only does Romans 8 talk about the scope of suffering, but it also discusses:
2. The Root of Suffering
This is a reference to Genesis 3:17-19
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground.
Why is there suffering in the world today? Sin. But let me remind you that the suffering in Genesis three does not come without the promise of a Savior to one day lift us out of that suffering.
Yes, there is sin and because of sin there is suffering but there is also a Savior.
The Savior came because of sin. Sin is the root from which all suffering springs. This is the plain teaching of scripture and it’s there to teach us how horrible sin really is. If sin had never entered the world, suffering would not have entered the world. When you suffer today it’s an opportunity to tell yourself that sin is exceedingly sinful. It’s so sinful that it took the death of God to cure it.
Ralph Venning who lived through the great plague of London, who lost loved one from the plague, which took a fourth of London’s population, calls sin the plague of plagues. He looks at the plague and says, that’s not the worst thing on Earth…it’s merely a symptom of the worst thing on earth. Sin is the great enemy and all suffering is meant to stir within you a hatred for sin.
Every tombstone is a trademark of sin. Every argument, punch in the face, stabbing, gossip, and raised voice in anger comes from sin. The tears of regret, guilt, shame, and fear come from sin. Sin destroys lives at a record pace. Take a look around see its destructiveness. Don’t simply hate the confined consequences of sin in your own life, consider the cataclysmic ravaging of sin upon humanity. Hate all of the consequences, but even more, hate sin2.
Now let me say this so there is no confusion:
I am not saying your current suffering is due to current sin in your life…that was the error of Job’s friends. They couldn’t imagine a world where the righteous would suffer. But the Bible teaches that the righteous WILL suffer. Jesus taught that…John 16:33 – In the world you will have tribulation.
Your suffering may not be due to your sin, but it is due to sin. Some of your suffering may be due to someone sinning against you. Some of your suffering is due to nature gone wrong, which is due to Adam’s sin. Sin has birthed suffering. When we experience suffering, when we see the suffering of others our proper response is to hate sin. To shun it. To pray for its removal.
Sometimes we get this warped view of suffering…as if suffering itself is good. Martin Lloyd-Jones calls this the spirit of the Pharisee. The Bible says rejoice in your suffering:
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,
1 Peter 4:13
But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
But it doesn’t mean rejoice in the evil done to you. It doesn’t mean to rejoice in your pain, rejoice that evil people succeed on the earth, or rejoice that the earth is in chaos. Persecution and suffering is something Christians should regret and grieve (that people are opposed to God, their hearts are cold to His love).
Our rejoicing is not in the pain or difficulty, but with what suffering, in the hand of God, is doing for us! Romans 8 addresses this, it gives us hope as it give us a peek into:
3. The Purpose of Suffering
– 20-21, 29
…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…For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son
I don’t intend to give all the possible reasons for suffering. I don’t intend to give you the immediate “why” of your suffering. Suffering doesn’t fit into neat little boxes. But I do think that Romans 8 gives us the ultimate purpose of God when he allows suffering to happen to us3.
Don’t miss the key word here in the text…God subjected creation to futility, God allowed suffering to enter into this world, God has allowed suffering to enter into your life and my life…IN HOPE…what is that hope? That we would share in the glory of God.
Suffering precedes glory. That’s the first part of our text this morning: We are fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. God has designed it that glory comes through suffering.
But let me warn you: It’s possible to suffer without purpose. It’s possible for your suffering to be only suffering and no glory. Oswald Chambers speaks clearly on this: “We all know people who have been made much meaner and more irritable and more intolerable to live with by suffering: it is not right to say that all suffering perfects. It only perfects one type of person – the one who accepts the call of God in Christ Jesus.”
For the child of God who accepts the call of God, God uses the sufferings of this world to conform His children into the image of His Son.
That’s an amazing thought…sin was meant to destroy us – that was Satan’s intent…but God takes the consequences of sin (suffering) and uses it for our good…so that later Paul is able to say, 28-29 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.
These verses are in the context of suffering. God is working your suffering for good…well want kind of good? He’s using my suffering to give me a better house or better job or better opportunities…no, he promises something much better than that…keep reading…he has predestined you (through your suffering) to be conformed to the image of Jesus.
Listen to what God says in 2 Cor. 4:17 – For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.
Did you get that? It’s not just that joy comes in the morning. It’s not just that glory comes after suffering. God is using suffering to expand our capacity for glory in the midst of suffering. To receive suffering is to be put in the furnace. Fire does one of two things. It either destroys or refines. For the Christian, suffering is the tool which God uses to remove our unhealthy parts. The holes left behind, and there are always holes left in the wake of suffering, are areas where God can move in and reveal more of Himself to you.
Samuel Rutherford once said, “The Great King keeps his wine in the cellars of affliction not in the courtyard where the sun shines.”
Well it’s nice to know that God is using suffering for some greater end, but wouldn’t we rather just bypass this whole suffering business? Why did God have to allow it in the world in the first place? After all, the verse does say that GOD is the one who subjected all of creation to suffering. Couldn’t he have not subjected it?
As I think on it, there are several possibilities after the fall, not just one:
a. God could have immediately destroyed sin, sinners, and the effects of sin. When you eat of this fruit you will die…That’s what God says to Adam – That death could have been the moment they disobeyed. It could have been that the moment Adam and Eve fell all creation was destroyed. We get close to this with Noah. It is within God’s right to do this.
But He doesn’t…
b. God could have left Creation alone for now. No consequences for sin until death. Genesis 2:17 God explicitly says: “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
When a person reads that for the first time they get the impression that to eat the fruit causes the immediate reaction of death, that we would see the cold dead body of Adam and Eve lying on the garden floor. But God doesn’t do that. He delays physical death. Apparently that was within his ability.
So he could have delayed the curse. He could have delayed the thorns and thistles and sweat and pain in childbirth and earthquakes and tornadoes and a host of other things that causes suffering.
This is not a good choice for us..it may sound nice, but God is doing something here by subjecting creation to futility. He has a plan for introducing the pains of sin.
And so we turn to what God does do…
c. God subjected creation to futility…in hope –
Without the suffering, without the pain, there are no warning. Pain is an indication that something is wrong. It is the check engine light on your car.
What if pain didn’t accompany heart attacks? What if cancer had no warning signs of lumps or pain? What if illness weren’t accompanied with rashes and fever and aches and pains? It’s the pain that leads us to a doctor who in turn can diagnose the real problem.
God subjected the world to pain…in HOPE…That we would feel the pain, discover the root, and run to the One who can one day free us from the pains of sin.
This is the experience of Job…it was through pain that his capacity for God increased:
But it would be an admission of truth if we left our conversation on suffering here. There is something else we must discuss:
4. The Pain of Suffering
– v. 22-23
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.
Knowing that God has a plan for your suffering doesn’t make it easy, doesn’t remove the pain and hurt.
God never commands us to ignore the pain. Creation groans. We groan. When Jesus went to the tomb of Lazarus it says that he groaned (as he looked on the effects of sin).
Christianity isn’t a faith that says, be strong and ignore your reality. Christians are permitted – even encouraged – to express their grief with cries and questions4. The Psalms are filled with cries of pain and questions to God about suffering. Jesus himself is know as a man of suffering and acquainted with grief.
Listen to the how raw suffering was in Paul’s life:
Have you felt that? Sorrows upon sorrows, so great were you pressed that it was beyond your strength. Sometimes this is our reality. It is beyond our strength, but never beyond God’s strength!
It’s okay to long for an end to suffering. Romans 8 says creations waits eagerly for freedom from suffering. It also says that we too wait eagerly for freedom from suffering.
God doesn’t call us to ignore suffering. He doesn’t call you to smile and pretend everything is okay when your world is spiraling out of control, but God does call us to have hope in the midst of suffering.
Here is the hope – creation groans, we groan (so groan)…but there’s a third groan in the passage. The Spirit groans FOR US!
26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought (does that describe your suffering), but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.
The Spirit is groaning for us, doing something with our suffering. Holding us, sustaining us. Our suffering would be unbearable if it were not for the Spirit groaning on our behalf.
It’s because of the Spirit’s groaning that v. 37 becomes reality: 37 No, in all these things (our sufferings) we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
He doesn’t just say we suffered through, we survived, we made it, we endured, we are conquerors…no…we are MORE THAN conquerors. Our understanding of God may be great before we experience suffering…but IN suffering we experience God.
What would I say to Voltaire if he were here today? I don’t have an answer for you other than this:
38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels (demons) nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come (the suffering you have yet to experience), nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation (Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Fires), will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Notice how God apologetically mixes the language of suffering with the fact that God loves us.
Here is the ultimate proof of the love of God…He gave His Son to destroy suffering. We serve a God who came down into our sin to experience suffering with us! He sympathies with our pain. He weeps with us. He captures our tears.
Suffering isn’t just mentioned in the Bible…it’s at the very center of the Christian message. It is the sufferings of Jesus that brings us peace.
When you have doubts in your suffering cling to the cross and have hope that glory awaits you NOT on the other side…but in the midst of that suffering.
1 Mark Driscoll
3 John Newton: Everything is needful that He sends; nothing can be needful that He withholds.”
4Tim Keller – Walking with God through Pain and Suffering