Pentecost 7: Covid-19 and the Groans of Creation

The second reading for the 7th Sunday of Pentecost is Romans 8:12-25


It contains these lines:

15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God…


19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God…


22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 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….


As we pointed out in comments on last Sunday’s second reading from Romans, Paul’s message is that a new age has dawned in Jesus Christ. The old dominion of sin and death hangs on desperately; but the new age of righteousness and life has been ushered in with the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.


We Christians are people of the threshold. The power of sin has been cancelled for us when we trust and invest our lives in this truth. The rite of baptism opens our eyes to its reality as we die in its waters and are raised to live not for ourselves, but for the God of love.


In this time of pandemic the full depth of this movement of history is understood when we think of how the “whole creation has been groaning in labor pains.” For the pandemic we are living through at this time is just one part of that cosmic groan.


Zoonoses is the name given to diseases in humans that have jumped from other animals. In his June 17, 2020 article in the New York Times Magazine, Ferris Jabr, author of many works on this subject, writes:


Between 60 and 75 percent of emerging infectious diseases in humans come from other animals. Many zoonoses — rabies, Lyme, anthrax, mad cow disease, SARS, Ebola, West Nile, Zika — loom large in public consciousness; others are less familiar: Q fever, orf, Rift Valley fever, Kyasanur Forest disease. More than a few, including influenza, AIDS and the bubonic plague, have caused some of the deadliest outbreaks in recorded history. Although zoonoses are ancient, thought to be referenced in Mesopotamian tablets and the Bible, their numbers have increased in the last few decades, along with the frequency of outbreaks.


This groaning of creation is killing us, because we are not above creation, we are part of it. The millions of people who will die from Covid-19, will now join the millions who have died from those many other plagues. And the zoonoses of many flavors have appeared for a reason: As Jabr’s article points out in great detail, animals like bats have carried these organisms harmlessly in their bodies for millennia, the way we carry friendly bacteria in our guts. The animals that harbored them had their space, and we had ours. But “[Zoonotic diseases] jumped to humans from animals after we started destroying habitats and ruining ecosystems.”


The Bible tells us we are made from the earth. We sin when we become arrogant about our place in creation and try to grab the life God wants to give as a gift. It is God’s design that we share reverently and fairly of what God gives generously. But when, for short-term advantage, and without regard to the delicate balance of nature, we rip apart forests, unleash little understood poisons, drain wet-lands, pump chemicals into the water-table—or look the other way while others do those things—we unleash death.


It is no wonder that creation “waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.” Being in favor of care for the environment is not a mere lifestyle choice. Agitating to reduce greenhouse gases is not a political choice. These things are essential characteristics of children of God. They are the hope of creation. You can’t be Christian and not care. When you betray this creation you are not thereby living for the new, you are insulting the Creator. Children of the Creator walk in a faith that must include reverence for Creation.


This is indeed a spiritual battle. We are living, as the Apostle tells us, in the end-time struggle between good and evil—between sin and righteousness—between life and death. When we stand for care of the earth we will stand against the zoonoses that ravish our families and force people to die of suffocation without their loved ones around them. Since each and every one of these zoonoses have caused far more suffering among the poorest and the powerless, caring for environmental justice demands that we repent of our sin of accepting inequality, In this we resist evil and bring on the revealing of the genuine children of God.


It’s not easy being the children. We will be called names. We will lose elections. For these reasons, but especially because we feel the sorrow of all creation, we groan inwardly. We cry out “Abba, Father” on behalf not of our private selves, but for all creation.


But this is our fate. This is the direction of our living. We have been subjected to suffering, right along with nature. But it is the God of love who has subjected us; and this God subjects us in hope.




About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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