Question: "What does it mean that all creation groans (Romans 8:22)?"
Answer: If you’ve ever longed to be released from your earthly body to be free from sin and the physical suffering associated with it, then you know something of what Paul meant when he said, “All creation groans” in Romans 8:22.
To better understand the meaning of all creation groans, it helps to consider the context. In Romans 8, the apostle Paul is teaching believers that their new life in Jesus Christ is solidly founded on God’s promises and plans for His children. The first promise Paul touches on is that of future glory: “I consider our present sufferings insignificant compared to the glory that will soon be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18, GW).
We may suffer now through our journey here on earth, but Paul reminds us that this world is not our home (1 Peter 2:11; Hebrews 11:13). Awaiting us is a glorious future kingdom where death is defeated, and tears of sorrow, pain, and grief will all be wiped away (Revelation 21:4). When we firmly lay hold of this promise from God, we can begin to view our current troubles as light and momentary compared to the far greater eternal weight of glory (2 Corinthians 4:17).
In Romans 8:19, Paul says that all creation is eagerly awaiting that future glorious day when God’s children become who they were always meant to be. J. B. Phillips’ New Testament in Modern English renders verse 19 like this: “The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the sons of God coming into their own.”
Because of the fall of man, every part of God’s creation was subjected to a curse (Romans 8:20). Under that curse, all creation groans: the ground was cursed for Adam’s sake, thorns and thistles and noxious weeds began to grow, all of Eve’s daughters have labored painfully in childbirth, and death entered the world (Genesis 3:14–19).
In Romans 8:21, Paul explains that the entire universe, held under the curse, eagerly longs for the day when it will join with God’s children in glorious liberation from death and decay. Paul is speaking of the new heavens and new earth when “no longer will there be any curse” (Revelation 22:3). The curse of sin will be lifted, and all creation will be restored to the Eden-like reflection of God’s glory (Isaiah 65:17; 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13). “‘There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
Right now the entire creation reflects the curse of sin. All creation “groans”; that is, all created things suffer a common misery, being in a state of pain and disorder. The “groaning” is intense, as Paul’s simile shows: “as in the pains of childbirth.” When at last sin is removed from the children of God, all of nature will burst forth in glory. The full work of redemption includes the reversal of the curse.
As part of creation, “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 8:23, NLT).
God promises a magnificent future for the believer, complete with a brand-new, glorified body. At present, we only have a taste of our glorious future, through the presence of the Holy Spirit who is within us. He is the down payment, or deposit, guaranteeing our full adoption as God’s children and the release of our bodies from sin and suffering (2 Corinthians 1:22; 5:5; Ephesians 1:13–14; 4:30).
In the meantime, all creation groans—believers, along with the rest of the fallen universe, travail as a woman in childbirth, longing to be clothed in their heavenly bodies (2 Corinthians 5:2). Significantly, the pain of childbirth is not endured without the hope of new life. Paul, knowing that hope transforms suffering, gave believers this inspiring metaphor. Just as a woman labors through the agony of birth pangs with the hope of new life, all creation groans as it waits for the promise of full and final restoration and redemption. We may suffer now, but our heavenly reward is worth the wait.