All creation is groaning
For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us.
– Romans 8:22-23 (New Living Translation)
At 12.51 pm on Tuesday 22 February, the earth below the city of Christchurch creaked and groaned, as a previously unknown fault line cracked open with a rumble and a roar, shaking the people of the city with the ferocity of a lion shaking a rat. Within the space of 40 seconds the inner city was devastated and people’s lives were turned on end. Yes, the earth groaned big time, and people groaned too as they saw homes destroyed, heritage buildings in ruins and lives cut tragically short. And today the groaning continues even more strongly across the Pacific in Japan, where the same has happened again, this time in a three-fold disaster of even greater magnitude.
As Christians, how do we respond? Andrew Strom, a self-styled charismatic prophet, pointed the finger at the leaders of the Christian churches in Christchurch, implying that the quake came as an act of God’s judgement, because they failed to hold a public service to thank God that no one had been killed in the earlier September quake. At the other end of the ecclesiastical spectrum, Peter Beck, Dean of Christchurch Cathedral, argued very differently: “The earthquake was not an act of God,” he asserted. “The earthquake was [merely] the planet doing its thing, the way the planet does.”
There may well be elements of truth in both these reactions, but listen as well to the response of the Apostle Paul in Romans 8, which helps us to put such events into more accurate perspective. According to Paul, we should not be surprised at natural disasters like this, because the earth has always been in upheaval — “groaning”, he calls it (8:22). Such disasters are part of an ongoing process: like labour pains — distressing while they last, but certain signs of a new birth that is to come: in this case a new world that God is going to bring into existence. And if the groanings of the earth make us groan too, let us remember that we also are part of the process — new people that are being born — God’s children, that the whole creation waits eagerly to see (8:18). So we have this to look forward to. And if the groaning still seems to be hard to bear, Paul reminds us that God’s Spirit groans too (8:26), in exactly the same way that Jesus groaned at the graveside of his friend Lazarus. And this same Holy Spirit is right at our side now, praying with us.
Above all, we must never be tempted to believe that the world is out of control. For if we take Peter Beck’s argument to its logical conclusion, that is where we end up. In effect, Beck’s “planet doing its own thing,” becomes a world that God has no power over. No, if we have the courage to believe that God is really God, then we can take comfort from Paul’s confident words that “in all things (even earthquakes, tidal waves and radiation leaks), God works for good, and [especially] for the good of those who love him (8:28).
— Walter Raymond, Christchurch