“For the creature was made subject to vanity.” (Romans 8:20) Some Bible translations say, “Creation” rather than “Creature” but ultimately it means that which was created; so it includes everything from the animal kingdom to plants, Sun, moon and stars. All of these things were subjected to vanity. Of course this brings up an important question. What is the definition of vanity as it is used here?
Let me just say the primary meaning of the word vanity is futile, empty or meaningless. In other words this is telling us the creature was subjected (submitted to or put under the authority) of futility and meaninglessness. You might ask why God would put his creation in submission to vanity. Let’s look at this a bit closer.
When Adam partook of the forbidden fruit right away he saw that he was naked. This is telling us he became outwardly, or materially focused, rather than Spirit or God focused, right? God told him “Do not eat of this Tree” but he did anyway therefore he placed himself under subjection to the elements and the material realm. He, by his own choice, removed himself from the realm of the Spirit in God and stepped out into the created world of space, time and matter. In other words, he became limited in a way that had never been known before. He embarked on a journey that would include toil, frustration, pain, disenchantment and ultimately it would provide no fulfillment.
If we read a little further in Romans 8 we discover God’s purpose in subjecting his creation to vanity. We read it was subjected “In hope.” God knew all along man would disobey, so if the truth be told we can see where God had a plan to redeem us long before we found ourselves in this vanity. He didn’t force Adam to stay away from the tree but he did have a way for him to come back afterward.
What we have here I believe is a verse that harkens back to the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. The one that tells us over and over again how there is nothing new under the sun. We are reminded “Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” From the merely earthly perspective there is no ultimate meaning found in anything which is why he uses the term “under the sun.”
This is telling us the same thing as in Romans eight because the author of Ecclesiastes is looking at life from the vantage point of being under subjection to the elements or merely physical, earthly life. What we need in order to be liberated, which is the hope, and reason it was subjected in the first place, is a view from above the sun. We need to get God’s perspective on life. It is only when we get his viewpoint that these things start to become clear to us.
While it may seem like God is just toying with us if the truth be told it is really an amazing display of his great patience with us. He doesn’t want anyone to perish, but at the same time he honors our free will. Rather than override our free will, he subjects us to meaninglessness in the hope we will come to our senses and look to him. God, and his plan that is worked out through his Son Jesus Christ, is the key to meaning for everything. In fact Colossians tells us “In him all things hold together.”
Built into the human is a divine drive for meaning that wasn’t extinguished by the fall. It is that divine discontentment that will lead us to Christ because we will try everything under the sun in order to find ultimate meaning and purpose until we discover it can’t deliver. Then, and only then, do we look to the one and only that can give us that which we seek, which is deliverance from corruption and entrance into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.