Paul’s Mother Earth

The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. (Romans 8:20b-23)

One doesn’t expect “Mother Earth” images in Paul’s writings, but here it is: creation itself is writhing in birth pangs.

The pain it feels–the pain we feel–is our “bondage to decay.” We are slaves to decay; “time and chance happeneth to them all” (Ecclesiastes 9:11).

What does Mother Earth give birth to? Not to ourselves, in Paul’s image, but to our full adoption, “the redemption of our bodies.” Not just birthed, but fully raised, and fully accepted as sons and daughters of God, “the freedom and the glory of the children of God.”

So, part of Paul’s reasoning about pain, sorrow and decay–it’s the natural order of things. This is in line with non-theistic views of pain–bad things happen because this is how the world just is. But Paul’s good news subverts this. We somehow sense that the pain of childbirth, though as natural as anything, is at the same time profoundly unnatural–it seems wrong that something so connected with the giving of life should be also so connected with pain that makes one groan.

Especially those of us who have “tasted and seen that the Lord is good,” who have received and recognize the gifts that God has given us, have this hope: one day, all of our pain and suffering will be redeemed. It would be enough that God would see us through our difficulties, dayenu, but God promises even more: the redemption of those difficulties, the redemption of our very lives.

Praise be to God.

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