A "Groaning Creation"
So far in this series we have considered how God in the beginning "laid the foundations of the earth" (Ps 104.5), and in wisdom made all the manifold works it contains (v.24). We have also seen from Scripture that in a future day He will bring about the end of it all, indeed the disappearance of it all, after it has served its purpose.
But what is happening just now in the created realm in which we live and of which we form a part? Is it simply proceeding under its own momentum, like an old fashioned rail-truck being shunted until it slows down to stop in a siding for a later purpose, or a sledge speeding down a snowy hillside until it crashes? Or are we whirling through space on planet earth held by invisible forces which will never be changed? No; none of these views is correct!
Actually two things are happening at the same time, according to the Scriptures. One is that the Lord Jesus Christ is "upholding all things by the word of his power" (Heb 1.3). The One who created all things is in control of them, keeping them going according to His wisdom and power. There will be no cosmic collision or unplanned collapse of our world. In His great love He cares for mankind, so that before this world perishes and does vanish away, His grace has planned and provided a future in a far better one for all who trust in Him.
The other thing that is happening is that this universe is naturally decaying and steadily deteriorating. We can see this all around us on planet earth, the part of the universe we know best. The entrance of sin, "by one man" (Rom 5.12), has altered everything. The ground has been cursed and the whole creation groans and travails in pain until now, says Romans 8.22. It is vastly different from Eden.
We will look at this decay and degeneration first, then in our next study see how everything is held by a hand that never loses control.
The universe has been likened to a huge clock which was wound up in the beginning, and is slowly ticking away with ever less of the spring reserve left available. There is some truth in this picture, sometimes used in popular science but without acknowledging the divine hand which "made the clock", "wound the spring", and can advance it or retard it!
We sometimes hear that the stars are "burning out". For us the best example is the sun upon which physical life on earth depends. The sun is a gigantic star which is slowly being consumed as its material mass is turned into light and heat and other forms of radiation by the process of nuclear fission. Its hydrogen atoms are being converted into helium atoms with the release of huge amounts of energy. From the rate at which this is happening, it has been calculated how many millions of years it will be until it "burns out". The change in the suns radiation is not noticeable during centuries of time, but if it ever stopped shining, even for a few days on end, life on earth would quickly become extinct. Our God continues to make it rise on the evil and on the good (Mt 5.45). But it is a fact that its energy is being expended and the amount left is decreasing.
Irreversible run down can be seen on earth also. Mountains and hills are slowly eroding by the forces of wind and rain, frost and snow, cold and heat. Rivers are becoming more silted as run-off from adjacent land carries material with it. The seas are becoming more salty. The atmosphere is also changing as lighter gases escape through the stratosphere and others are added. Everywhere chemical reactions are taking place to produce materials which are less useful and with less energy in them than the starting materials. All of this adds up to a picture of "change and decay" on earth, even before we start to take account of what is happening in the living systems on earth, and also what effects man has had upon the planet.
"The bondage of corruption"
When we look into the plant and animal kingdoms the effects are just as evident. The result of the curse, the "thorns and thistles", has only got worse down the years. Food crops have to compete more and more with weeds old and new. Farming and gardening are in a constant battle with unwanted growth. Whilst it is true that weeds are only "plants growing in the wrong place", the places where they thrive seem to be always where crops are intended to grow. Added to the problem of weeds is the incidence of diseases, parasites, fungi, and insect defoliants (e.g. weevils and locusts). Chemicals have been applied with some success to control weeds, diseases, and pests, but side effects are a concern. For "the desert to blossom as the rose" requires the removal of the curse, not huge irrigation schemes or the application of chemistry! The groaning creation can be seen all around the countryside.
On every continent can also be seen "nature red in tooth and claw". Predators of all sizes devour prey of every description, among the animals on the land, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and the insects everywhere. The death of one species enables the survival of another. This is the way of todays world. The effects of the curse can be heard in the howl of the wolf, the roar of the lion, the hoot of the owl, the hiss of the snake, the wing beat of the mosquito, and the groans of their prey. In the future, when Christ reigns, it will be different: "They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain" (Is 65.25); but just now "sin reigns unto death".
As for ourselves, when the vigour of youth declines and the limitations of old age increase, the groaning is often literal and audible. Accidents or mishaps may precipitate these groans at any stage in life. Aches and pains appear, diseases and illnesses happen: "we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting for the redemption of the body" (Rom 8.23). This redemption is a wonderful prospect, but meantime we are thankful for pain killers and a host of other medicines. These bodies of humiliation (Phil 3.21, RV etc) are part of the legacy of the Fall, and are not immune from its effects. But it will be different when Christ comes we will have a body like His, delivered fully and finally from all the effects of sin. Then, in the glorious liberty of the children of God, we, and the creature also, shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption (Rom 8.21). We shall go out with joy, be led forth with peace; the mountains and the hills shall sing in harmony with us, and the trees shall clap their hands (Is 55.12).
The natural run down of earth and its systems has been greatly accelerated by mans activities, increasingly so as the centuries pass. God committed to man the care and use of the earth and its resources, both through Adam and through Noah, but sadly that stewardship has been flawed. Selfishness has led to carelessness and neglect, and to the exploitation of the earth and its resources. Long term sustainable usage has been sacrificed for the sake of short term profits.
So today we have extensive deforestation, contaminated land, depleted fish stocks, holes in the ozone layer, atmospheric pollution and the threat of climate change. We have the problems of famine and disease, waste and destruction due to inefficiency, and more due to wars and strife. We have congested roads and overcrowded cities, rapidly depleting fuel supplies and other valuable raw materials, and the corresponding difficulties of dealing with waste dumps, pollution, and many more problems which statesmen and scientists have to try to solve. Too often, however, developments in science and technology have been employed for harm and warfare rather than benefit and peace, for enriching the rich rather than for the betterment of the poor.
We are part of a groaning creation which still waits. People still suffer. Injustice still stalks the globe. But God is in control. His purposes will be fulfilled for the blessing of all who are willing to trust in Him. Meantime, in "holy conversation and godliness" may we be "Looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God" (2 Pet 3.11-12), that day when every groan will have ceased, when there shall be no more curse on the fair creation of God.
To be continued.