“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” Romans 8:22
The portrait of Jesus had hung in the sanctuary of Santuario de Misericordia in Borja, Spain for more than one hundred years. Painted by nineteenth century artist Elias Garcia Martinez, the work depicted Jesus with a crown of thorns and was entitled Ecce Homo (“Behold the Man”), a reference to John 19:5 where Pontius Pilate brought out a beaten and bloodied Jesus and displayed Him before the crowd in hopes that they would take mercy on Him. But one elderly parishioner of the Spanish church noticed that the painting looked a little worn. So with paintbrush in hand she tried to touch up the master artist’s work. The attempt went horribly wrong. Officials discovered the painting defaced by misguided brushstrokes that nearly covered the masterpiece.
No one has to tell us that things in this world have gone horribly wrong. It only takes one glance at the evening news to realize that the beauty of the created order is marred and defaced. Wars and rumors of wars. Refugee children sitting dazed and dusty in the back of ambulances. Boko Haram. ISIS. Environmental disasters. Political divisions. Scandal and heartache and death. If this were a painting, few would call it a masterpiece.
And in each of our own lives, an atom bomb has exploded, shattering the shalom of the garden and the world that once was, before sin. We feel the lump and know that our life will never be the same. Our child wakes up one morning with type 2 diabetes; later he asks us why God made him sick. An elderly neighbor walks her dog past our house every day, and then one day she is gone. Relationships feel clunky or fractured, tornadoes destroy the work of a lifetime in seconds, businesses fail, and even our gardens sprout more weeds than flowers. All of creation is groaning.
The beautiful world that God called “very good” shattered in an instant when our first parents sinned (Genesis 1:31). Before the fall, shalom reigned. Adam and Eve were at peace with God, each other, and creation. They walked and talked with God in the garden. Lunch was just a tree branch away. Even creation was at peace with itself. It was a perfect masterpiece.
But when Adam and Eve ate from the tree of which God had said, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely die,” they brought a curse down upon the entire created order (Genesis 2:16–17; 3). Thorns and thistles grew up; work became difficult; childbirth proved excruciating and sometimes deadly. Every relationship was broken. Adam and Eve became fearful of God, suffered shame within themselves, and experienced relational friction with each other. Death entered the picture. To cover our first parents’ nakedness, God killed animals and fashioned clothes from their skins. With a single stroke, the masterpiece lay ruined.
Or was it?