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What Does the Bible Say About...Creation Groaning?

Please explain Romans 8:22. How does the whole creation groan? Does it mean that besides men groaning the trees, mountains and rivers are groaning too? How do they groan? Thank you.


I am not sure exactly what Paul meant by that phrase in Romans 8:22. There are a couple of possibilities, either taking the verse at face value or in context.

Most commentators I have read say this relates to the death and decay that came through mankind’s sin. Even all nature is subject to that decay, and therefore suffers pain (sighing/groaning and birth pangs) until such time as Christ comes again and mankind (and therefore all remaining nature, if any) no longer suffers death and decay. Whether this indicates that plants and animals as we know them will continue in an undying body is open to debate. All living things suffer pain, so they groan or sigh in their own way.

Some may take the related thought that the whole of creation, all nature including the various animals and plants, share in the groaning (or sighing) and birth pangs which result from our existence here on earth. That is, as long as mankind continues to reject God and follow its own whims, nature will suffer. We see that suffering in the extinction of species, the destruction of habitats, the pain and sickness inflicted on animals for our own benefit. This may be the interpretation preferred by environmentalists, animal protectionists, and many others who genuinely are concerned about what we are doing to the world. It is certainly valid that we are doing harm to this world, but what that has to do with the context of this verse is unclear.

Taken in context, the whole creation referred to may be all of mankind. Throughout Romans, Paul makes a distinction between Jews and non-Jews and between Christians and non-Christians. Thus in Romans 3:23 he says “all” (meaning Jews and non-Jews, not individual people) have sinned. In the context of this passage he may be making a distinction between “the creature,” mankind who follow their animal nature rather than God, and the “sons of God,” those who have obeyed God by dying to that old nature, being buried by immersion in water, and being raised to a new life (Romans 6). This fits the context because in the verse following the one about which you are questioning Paul uses the phrase, “ourselves also,” meaning Christians. Using that interpretation, verses 19-23 could be paraphrased thusly:

For sinful mankind eagerly awaits the appearance of the church. For mankind was made with the possibility of empty thinking, not willingly, but because God hopes that he will choose a more reasonable way. Even sinful men have the hope of being delivered from their corrupt slavery to sin into the freedom that is afforded children of God. For we know that sinful man also sighs and shares pain even until now. And not only sinful men, but even Christians which have the Messiah, even we sigh within ourselves as we wait for the final redemption of our bodies.

Even that interpretation, however, may be related to the death and corruption that began as a result of the sin of Adam and Eve.