Ever had a baby? I haven't. In the words of comedian Jim Gaffigan, "I don't think I could have a baby... because I don't have a uterus."
I have, however, spoken with many people who have given birth. Apparently, it's a painful process. But it's interesting, it's a painful process that leads to overwhelming joy. (Well, usually. There are terribly tragic times that it does not. Which is part of what we've been talking about in this little blog series.)
I've been trying to show you over the past couple posts that if we get some clarity around our eternal destination, that it changes our perspective of all the struggles and trials that we walk through in life. It's what Paul was writing about in Romans chapter 8.
Look at what Paul says in verse 22: "We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time." He goes on to say that followers of Christ groan in the same way. These groanings are expressed by our souls through pain and hardship. The universe itself is expressing these same things. It's broken, "in bondage to decay" as Romans 8:21 says. But the destination changes everything.
Our journey is progressing toward the glory of birth, not the agony of death.
When life falls apart, it often feels like death. When marriages fail, when those close to us hurt us, when we hurt them, when floodwaters rise, when the economy crashes, when the government is out of money and out of ideas. It feels like death.
But it's not death. It's birth.
We're living in an alarming time in history. The threat of terrorism, genocide, global pandemics, war, environmental decay - many of us walk around in a shroud of anxiety. I mean, some people are ready for a zombie apocalypse! (It is comforting, in a way, that the linked article says "FEMA did not respond to requests for comment about the need for zombie preparedness." Phew!
A few implications of Romans 8:22-23:
1. Birth pains still hurt.
Knowing that they will produce something wonderful doesn't change that.
When Karen and I were expecting our first child, she had these grand ideas that she was going to have our baby naturally. "I have a pretty high pain tolerance," she said. I'll go with it, and if the pain gets too severe, I'll get the epidural.
Karen's first words at the hospital when she went into labor? "Give me the epidural!"
Jesus told us that pain will be a reality of life in this world (John 16:33). Nothing in the Bible seeks to minimize or trivialize the pain we experience. From seemingly small things like getting laughed at in elementary school, to major things like burying a child, life hurts. Deeply.
2. Our pain isn't for nothing.
Although birth pains hurt, we know they aren't pointless. No mother, holding her newborn for the first time, says, "That wasn't worth it." The hurt we feel isn't senseless. God isn't cruel. Romans 8 says that "He subjected the universe to frustration in hope." That means that the pain all around us has a purpose. Whatever pain you are walking through right now will one day be worth it.
I am reminded of 2 Corinthians 4:17. "For our light and momentary troubles (that's a paradigm shift in itself!) are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all." The trials we experience now are actually adding to the glory of heaven.
3. Our future joy will be greater for having experienced pain.
The joy of motherhood is greater for having gone through labor. The championship trophy is more fulfilling for having endured spring practices and tough losses. Graduation is more meaningful because of the all-nighters. Embracing your child is sweeter after the agony of separation. And our heavenly joy will be greater for our suffering on earth.
4. Hope is the currency we need to endure the pain of life.
That's the idea of Romans 8:24-25. A mother can endures the excruciating contractions because her hope is in the not-yet-experienced moment of cradling her child.
Have you read those stories of women in labor who didn't know they were pregnant? Can you imagine anything worse? All the pain with none of the hope?
Unfortunately, that's how many, many people live. Their only hope is some alleviation of pain in this life. In Paul's words, that is "no hope at all." But if we understand and believe in our great destination, the result will be patient endurance that only God can produce (Romans 8:25).
Is your hope in Christ? Or is it in a relationship, or social status, or comfort, or financial independence? Those things will inevitably fail. Jesus did promise us trouble in John 16:33. But He also promised us hope: "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart, for I have overcome the world."