“For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. . . . For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now, and not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body” (Romans 8:19, 22-23, NKJV).
During the Red-Shirt Rebellion in Thailand several years ago I was in Nepal, with return tickets to home on Thai Airlines with a layover in Bangkok. The Red-Shirts captured the airport through which I would be flying and stopped all travel for about two weeks. I inquired about changing my travel arrangements but the airline refused to deal with me until time for the flight to occur. For all of that time I was in a state of suspension, not knowing what would happen or when and how I might be able to return to the U.S. Thankfully, the rebellion was ended and the airport reopened just before time for me to travel. We completed our journey without difficulty.
Being in limbo is not much fun. We like to know what is happening, what our options are, and to have some security for our plans. Unfortunately, limbo is a major ingredient in the nature of this world in which we live.
Paul establishes that idea in Romans 8:18-25. He portrays the world (i.e., “creation”) as an entity with thoughts and emotions, and attributes to it the same frustration at uncertainty that we humans feel. Creation has been subjected to futility (verse 20) and eagerly waits for the time when its frustrations will be ended (verse 19). Creation’s futility (uselessness, fruitlessness) is the result of human rebellion against God (verses 20-21) and incorporates the lost condition of mankind as well as imperfections of other creatures and things.
But Paul also provides us with the antidote for futility – hope (verses 23-25). Jesus provided the sacrifice which saves from sin, and which bonds us to God as his children. His actions were accompanied by infallible promises – adoption and redemption – to which we cling in hope. That hope is invisible to material eyes or senses, but is still very real. It is that hope which removes us from limbo and empowers us to live enthusiastically and with courage.
To further enable us to deal with these issues we are given prayer and the intercessory activity of the Holy Spirit (verses 26-28). This is not an innate miraculous involvement of the Spirit within us, but rather his interpretation of our prayers and hopes to the Father. (Compare his aid in communication from the other direction as taught in 1 Corinthians 2:10-13.) When we feel frustration and impatience we may simply address God with those concerns and be assured that he will hear and understand our needs.
When news of the reopening of the airport in Bangkok and assurance that my flight would depart on time reached me, I immediately recovered from all anxieties and calmly prepared to travel. I still was not on the plane, but hope was restored and with it confidence that I had nothing further to fear. Jesus gives us that assurance. In him, life is never in limbo.