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.

About Will Fitzgerald

I work on recommendation systems and lexical resources for Wordnik.

One thought on “Paul’s Mother Earth

  1. John Thomas says:

    In reading these verses this morning, I am struck by the relationship between pain and birth. It seems to me that birth itself is not the source of pain; rather pain precedes birth as a condition of new life. In my life, pain is the marker by which I can be sure that God is calling me. Satan is working to give us comfort and prosperity with the false promise that we can escape pain or at worse postpone it to a more convenient time. When I look back at the most painful periods of my life, I can see that one of two things happened. Either I fought the pain and stayed stuck in it for week or years; or I surrendered my self will to God and let Him lead me through the muck to a new place of His creation. The temple of self that I built was decaying and I resisted God as He was patiently calling me out of the rubble into a new life. My humanness wanted God to first give me the new life, before I would let go of my putrid past. However, God does not work that way. Decay, pain, destruction, defeat, etc. is the experience of being delivered (literally birthed) into the hands of God. God does not inflict us with suffering, He releases us from it when we turn to him. My resistance prolonged my birth in far too many situations. I can groan as the deceptions of Satan are revealed to me by God. I can groan as self-absorption is crushed by His feet. I can groan as I become willing to perceive the power and sovereignty of God in my life. Most importantly, I can celebrate what God has done and is doing while I groan. Lord, I pray that my groaning will mark another birth in my life today. Lord continue to deliver me from myself.


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