Holding on to Hope
August 13, 2022 | Brian Bill
Some time ago, George Barna polled adults: “If you could ask God one question, what would you ask?” The top response was, “Why is there pain and suffering in the world?” I can’t think of anything more universal to the human experience than suffering. In fact, many people point to the problem of pain as their reason for not believing in God.
If you’re not going through a hard time right now, just wait – you will. That’s the nature of living in a fallen world. Pain is guaranteed for anyone who takes on the task of living. Some of you are in the furnace of suffering right now. Others of you have just come out of a time of affliction, and the rest of us will be there sooner or later because if you live long enough, you will suffer.
This is not just an intellectual issue to be packaged in a sermon: it’s an intensely emotional matter that can leave us with spiritual vertigo. One writer referred to the problem of pain as the “the question mark that turns like a fishhook in the human heart.”
Related to the question of why there is suffering is the question of how to process our pain. We live in a sinning, sighing, sobbing, and suffering world filled with cancer, murder, relational ruptures, dementia, grief, and genetic disorders. Write this down. When you become a Christian, all your problems aren’t removed. Actually, you inherit a new set of problems because you are now swimming against the cultural current. The Christian life is not about the subtraction of suffering, but rather the addition of grace to go through suffering.
One of the reasons Romans 8 is great is because it presents in detail the three major doctrines of the Christian life.
- Justification deals with the past – we were saved from the penalty of sin (verses 1-4).
- Sanctification deals with the present – we are saved from the power of sin (verses 5-17).
- Glorification deals with the future – we will be saved from the presence of sin (18-30).
So, how do we hold on to hope when we’re hurting? That’s exactly what’s addressed in Romans 8:18-25. Let’s stand and read together: “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.”
We need the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome sin and we need the presence of the Holy Spirit to enable us to persevere in suffering. Here’s our main idea: To get through your groaning, focus on the glory to come. I see three ways to hold on to hope from this passage.
1. Focus on future glory more than your present suffering.
When we’re hurting, we tend to get so wrapped up in what we’re going through that we can lose perspective. Romans 8:18 gives us a corrective: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” The word “for” links us back to verse 17 where we learned how our present grief prepares us for promised glory. To “consider” means, “to reckon, to think about, to calculate.” It’s important to think biblically about suffering so we’re not surprised when it comes.
Notice the word “sufferings” is plural, meaning we will have a multiplicity of problems. The word “glory” means heavy, or weighty and refers to all of God’s presence and promises. We use the phrase, “Going to glory” to refer to dying and going to Heaven.
Compared to the weightiness of glory, our sufferings are relatively short and light. The notes in the ESV Study Bible are helpful: “The ultimate glory that Christians will receive is so stupendous that the sufferings of this present time are insignificant in comparison.” Bruce Goettsche adds: “Our suffering is minute, virtually insignificant in comparison to the glory that is established for us in Heaven…it’s a good trade to surrender what you cannot keep in order to keep what you cannot lose.”
This is fleshed out in 2 Corinthians 4:17: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.” Paul is not making light of his troubles; He’s just saying they are short and small compared to the extent of eternity and the coming weight of glory. We should pay attention to his perspective because in the previous verses, he described being afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down.
We tend to gaze upon our sufferings and only glance at our future glory. Instead, we’re called to glance upon our sufferings while gazing at glory.
To get through your groaning, focus on the glory to come.
2. Recognize the curse on creation will be reversed.
Doesn’t it seem like our world is out of whack? On a regular basis we hear of floods, earthquakes, heat waves, and viruses. Verse 19 personifies creation: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” The word “waiting” refers to “looking for with expectation.” The phrase “eager longing” is used seven times in the New Testament, each time referring to the return of Christ. It means, “to stretch out the neck and thrust the head forward.” J.B. Philips captures this idea well in his paraphrase: “The whole world is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own.”
Notice all of creation is longing “for the revealing of the sons of God.” Creation itself is straining to see the coming restoration when Christians will be made complete at the “revealing,” which refers to the return of Christ. This is one of three words which refer to the Second Coming, along with “appearing” and “coming.” I’m challenged by what Martin Luther used to say: “We ought to be living as if Jesus died yesterday, rose this morning, and is coming back this afternoon.”
While creation care is important and we should be good stewards of the earth God has given to us, this passage gives us three truths to hold on to.
- Creation has been cursed in the past. In verse 20 we read: “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it…” When Adam sinned, all of creation was put under a curse as stated in Genesis 3:17-18: “And to Adam he said, ‘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; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you.’” Genesis 5:29 adds, “Out of the ground that the Lord has cursed.”
All creation suffers the backwash of Adam’s sin. As a result, disappointment, decay, disease, disorder, and death reign. BTW, our next verse-by-verse study will be from the first three chapters of Genesis.
- The curse will be reversed in the future. Let’s go back and pick up the last two words of verse 20 because they go with verse 21: “…in hope 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.” When Christ returns, creation’s corruption will be turned around and Paradise will be restored. Our freedom will mean creation’s freedom as we see in 2 Peter 3:13: “But according to His promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”
According to Isaiah 11:6, when the effects of sin are removed from our world, the animal world will no longer be predatory: “The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together; and a little child shall lead them.”
- Creation is groaning in the present. We see this in verse 22: “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” If you listen carefully, you can hear creation crying out for redemption. The word “groaning” means “to sigh with affliction” and was used for groaning under a heavy burden. As a guy, I won’t pretend to understand the “pains of childbirth,” but it’s a good picture of what the world is going through right now. Hosea 4:3 says, “Therefore the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish, and also the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens, and even the fish of the sea are taken away.”
To get through your groaning, focus on the glory to come.
3. Wait with hope and patience while you groan inwardly.
Not only is creation groaning; Christians are as well. What sound do you make when you’re stressed or upset? Do you sigh or do you exhale loudly? Do you scream, or groan out loud? Let’s let out a collective groan right now!
Brothers and sisters, take comfort. When you groan, God hears your groaning. Listen to Exodus 2:23-25: “During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.”
According to Romans 8:23, we know this world is not all there is because we are not home yet: “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.” Believers have been given the “firstfruits of the Spirit,” which means we’ve been given the first installment and pledge of the final delivery. Firstfruits in the Old Testament referred to the initial offering made after the harvest. It was made in faith and in anticipation of the greater harvest to come. In 2 Corinthians 5:5, we read God has “given us the Spirit as a guarantee.”
The word adoption was used in two senses. The first described how an orphan was moved into a new family with all the rights and privileges of that family. The second use referred to a Roman family publicly acknowledging the child as a full heir. This speaks of the time we will stand with the Lord in Heaven, and He announces, “I want to introduce you to my child!” In that sense, the final stage of our adoption is still in the future.
In the meantime, we groan deeply on the inside as we wait with eagerness for our full adoption and the redemption of our bodies. This is fleshed out in 2 Corinthians 5:2-4: “For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling…for while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened.”
There’s so much gross stuff going on which makes us groan. This groaning is a deep, intense, universal, and inward response to sin and suffering that can’t even be put into words. Here are two stories that made me groan deeply this week
- During the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in England, a giant mechanical bull, 30-foot-tall with glowing red eyes, was rolled into the center of a stadium. The human performers gathered around the bull and bowed down in worship to it. This made me think of people in Old Testament times worshipping Baal, who was often depicted as a bull.
- Beth and I listened to a story aired by Janet Parshall on Moody Radio this past week, which was so gross it made us nauseous. A self-proclaimed “abortion doula” who is part of a group called, “Self-Guided Abortion” made the statement that abortion is sacred as she gave instructions for building a personal altar to her “fetal remains.” This is horrifying and brings to mind the ancient god Molech who demanded child sacrifices in Old Testament times.
The groaning that comes from the grossness of sin and the greatness of suffering should create a longing for glory
All this gross stuff makes us groan, doesn’t it? On top of this is the ugliness in our own hearts which makes us want to scream. As strange as it may sound, groaning characterizes the Christian and creation itself. We grieve and we groan, but we do so with hope for what’s ahead because groaning is a prerequisite to glory. The groaning that comes from the grossness of sin and the greatness of suffering should create a longing for glory “as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” For the Christian, groaning will be swallowed up by glory.
One pastor says the Christian viewpoint on suffering is this: “Yes, it’s bad. But it’s not going to last forever. Yes, it’s terrible, but this is not the final story. This isn’t the last chapter. Yes, we suffer, but God has ordained that our suffering is temporary. Something better for us is on the way.”
The word “hope” is used five times in verses 24-25: “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” When we’re groaning, God wants to develop the qualities of hope and patience within us.
The word “hope” in the Bible is very different from how it’s used in our culture, where most equate hope with “I wish” or “I want.” The Bible uses hope as “an assurance based on a conviction; a deep settled knowledge grounded in the promises of God.” God invites us to trust Him as our hope in Psalm 71:5: “For you, O Lord, are my hope.” 1 Peter 1:3 says we are “born again to a living hope” and Colossians 1:27 reminds us of the source of hope: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
Hope is the settled confidence that God will keep all His promises. Patience is the ability to endure pain and problems because we’re on the way to Heaven. We’re reminded there is an invisible world which is more real than this visible world.
Over 100 men attended the Men’s BBQ on Wednesday night. I’m praying this will lead to a movement of men who live on mission for the glory of God and for the good of our families. We were challenged from 1 Corinthians 16:13-14: “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.” We summarized this passage with some short phrases
- Wake up
- Stand up
- Man up
- Grow up
- Love up
“I have noticed a trait among men, where faith is impeded. I’m talking about a cultural fixation upon fantasy…men are giving themselves to something they can see but is not real. However, with Christianity we give ourselves to something that we cannot see but is actually real.
“We find that men are reluctant and stagnant in their Christianity because they are thriving in a fantasy world [of video games, pornography, and fantasy sports]. Is it any wonder why there is such a decline in biblical masculinity in the church? It is a shame that many men are far too busy conquering fake lands, looking at fake women, and winning fake championships instead of following Christ’s path of self-denying, cross-bearing, service.”
According to 2 Corinthians 4:18, the faith-world is more real than the fantasy-world: “As we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
Let’s summarize what we’ve learned.
- Focus on future glory more than your present suffering.
- Recognize the curse on creation will be reversed.
- Wait with hope and patience while you groan inwardly.
To get through your groaning, focus on the glory to come.
God isn’t a detached, distant, or disinterested deity
Let’s come back to the Barna poll. God’s ultimate answer to suffering isn’t an explanation; it’s the incarnation! The best answer to the problem of evil is Jesus Christ. God isn’t a detached, distant, or disinterested deity. He sent His Son who entered our world of suffering, evil, and pain. He took the worst of it for me and for you. He died as your substitute, was raised to life as victor, ascended to Heaven as the conqueror, and is coming again in glorious triumph!
Randy Alcorn says it well: “When you’re tempted to ask God, ‘Why did you do this TO me?’ Look at the cross and ask, ‘Why did you do that FOR me?’”