by Darrel Cline (darrelcline biblical-thinking.org)
Chapter # 8 Paragraph # 3 Study # 6 November 20, 2007 Lincolnton, N.C.
20 For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope,
1901 ASV Translation:
20 For the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of him who subjected it, in hope
I. The Subjection of the Creation to Vanity.
A. The verse begins with "for". The word indicates a progression in the presentation of the support for the thesis. The "thesis" is Paul's claim that we shall be fellow-heirs with Christ if we are fellow-sufferers with Him (8:17). The next verse starts with "for" and gives Paul's rationale for claiming that we will share in His glory: there is a precise link between temporal suffering (not all suffering, but suffering that is like unto that of Christ -- the Just for the unjust) and eternal glory. That claim is then further reasoned by the next verse as it begins with "for": the entire creation anticipates the "glorious" manifestation of the sons of God. Then we come to the verse before us and its "for". In this verse the argument is that the anticipation of the creation that was declared in 8:19 is rooted in its "involuntary" subjection to "vanity".
B. The issue: creation has been "subjected" to "vanity". What does this mean and what is Paul's point?
1. The word translated "vanity" is a part of a set of words that are found in the New Testament twelve times. The focus of this set of words is upon the inability to bring goals to fruition. It is a description of a "failed process" that has set goals that are either essentially unattainable (they are fundamentally contrary to Reality), or are unattainable because the procedures for reaching the goals are incapable of producing them. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament says this word group focuses upon an element of "deception" and makes the claim that the ability to deceive rests in the distinction between appearances and "being" (Vol. IV; p. 519). If these claims be true, being "subjected to vanity" means being forced to endure a host of frenetic activities designed to accomplish things that they cannot accomplish in any case. The activities "appear" to be able to do what they were employed to do, but, when it is all said and done, the appearances were deceptive and the efforts fell fruitlessly to the ground. It's like shooting an elephant with a BB gun and "expecting" the beast to fall dead. Since Paul has been dealing with the problems associated with "living after the flesh", what he is addressing is the "Sin" issue wherein men set false goals (sinful goals) and pursue them by methods that cannot yield those goals (sinful actions). The "deception" exists because of the reality of staggered methods and goals. An action may actually achieve the most immediate result that was desired (shooting an enemy may actually kill him/her). But, that immediate result was really just another step on the way to a greater goal (the death of the enemy may have been seen as the means to peace and joy). But, when the judge sentences the murderer to death for his crime, where is the peace and joy? Sin has never been able to produce "Life"; it most effective ability is in simply blinding people to its true results. So, to repeat myself, being "subjected to vanity" means being forced to endure a host of frenetic activities designed to accomplish things that they cannot accomplish in any case.
2. Paul's "point" has to do with his claim in 8:19 that the creation "waits" for the glory that is to be made manifest. For reasons known to God and, to some degree, revealed to men in special divine revelation (the Bible), the "subjection of the creation to vanity" is temporary. And, being an aspect of the wisdom of God, it is not, itself, an act of vanity. God "subjected the creation to vanity" for non-vanity reasons. He is going to actually accomplish His goals by this means. In its subjection to vanity, the creation witnesses the utter futility of evil. Those elements of creation that learn from this experience will move from vanity to glory at the point in time when the One Who has subjected creation to vanity decides the lesson(s) have been established (the point of the "adoption" of the sons). Thus, the "point" seems to be that we need to learn from the witness that surrounds us so that we may participate in the greater glory.
II. The Involuntary Situation.
A. Paul inserts into his declaration this fact: God did not "ask" creation if it would be willing to be subject to vanity for a while. He said it was subjected to vanity, not of its own will...".
B. Question: Why does Paul stick this issue of "voluntarism" into the picture at this point?
1. There are few, if any, issues that make a bigger impact than the issue of whether or not the Creator has a legitimate prerogative to do as He pleases with what He makes. Mankind universally recognizes the right of the potter over the clay to make whatever the potter pleases to make without any consideration whatsoever as to whether the clay will "like it". But when it comes to the Creator doing as He pleases, men rise up in a noisy rebellion against His prerogative. Where is the legitimacy in all this noise?
2. Because Paul has been very concerned with men having the Life of God as their present experience, and because he knew that there is no Life in rebellion, he stuck this issue of divine prerogative into his declarations at this point to make a point: Life comes by means of absolute agreement with God; not by means of rebellion and resistance.
3. There is also this fact: ever since the Fall of man, no man has been "willing" to endure personal loss for someone else's sake. Thus, if God had asked the creation if it would be willing, the answer would have been, "No". And, since the necessity exists, there is no point in asking; just do it. The marvel of the Love of God, Paul says, is that He sent His Son to die for us while we were yet sinners. Since this is, indeed, a "marvel", we do not expect self-centered human beings to "volunteer" for this kind of thing. So, God does not "ask" for a volunteer -- this would be an act of vanity on God's part.