As I look at Romans 8:16-17, it starts out very encouraging.
The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ…
Who doesn’t like to hear that? We are God’s beloved children and we are now his heirs!
But then Paul continues,
…if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
Suffering? I don’t want to suffer. What kind of suffering are we talking about? Paul gives us some examples in verse 35: trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and sword.
All of us go through suffering in one way or another in this life. It’s absolutely unavoidable, especially if you are a Christian, because if you follow Christ, there will always be people that hate you for it.
But why do we have to go through suffering? Can’t God just take it away? Why does God allow suffering in the first place? It’s a difficult question. Paul give us a partial answer in verses 20-22.
For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (20-22)
Why do we see earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural disasters? Why do we see birth defects, diseases, and death? Couldn’t God just take them out of the world? Yes, he could. But he allows his creation to be subject to these things. Why?
Imagine a life without these things, where people sin as they wish, and there is nothing to shake them out of the complacency of their sin. They would never see just how awful that sin is. And things would be even worse than they are today. But what these things do is make people face their own mortality. It makes them face the fact that sin is in fact a horrible thing. And it wakes up some to the point that they actually seek God and are saved.
So God subjects creation to these things with that hope in mind. That people will turn to him once again, and find the true joy that only he can bring. And when that full number has been reached, Jesus will come back and make all things new.
But until that day, Paul says the earth will continue to suffer birth pangs. Not death pangs, mind you, but birth pangs. And through the suffering we see in this world, we’ll see many children born into God’s kingdom as they turn to him. Nevertheless the birth pains are still very real.
So are the sufferings we as Christians experience. Paul says,
Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. (23)
We groan because of the sufferings we go through in this life. We groan because of the sin that we struggle with in our lives day to day. We long for the day that we can be free from all these things.
But the thing to remember through it all there is hope. Hope that we will share in Christ’s glory someday just as we share in his sufferings now. Hope that that future glory will far outstrip whatever pain we go through now (18). Hope that all things will be made new.
It’s a hope unseen. As Paul writes, hope that is seen is no hope at all. (8:24)
But as Paul also said,
Hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. (Romans 5:5)
So what do we do in the meantime?
Wait patiently. Because we can know with certainty that our hope will be rewarded.
How about you? As you go through the different trials in your life, is that what you’re doing? Are you waiting in hope?