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Groaning in Paradise or For Paradise?

Updated: Oct 20, 2023

Romans 8:20-24a “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now, and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we are saved.”

Early in the morning on Wednesday, August 9th I received some texts from my sister intended to make me smile and to remind me of the simple pleasures in the world like daisies, tea, and funny baby photos. A few hours later that same morning, I received a very different text from her… “OH KIM! Maui is on fire!” Ten days later I continue to process what has happened in a most beloved place to so many, including my sister and me. Part of the Hawaiian paradise we love has burned to the ground!

I have moments of just leaning my head back to quietly absorb the realities of the ongoing loss. Sometimes I watch the news to hear the latest updates, and often tears fall as I pray for the survivors of this tragedy. Maui is where our family’s faith first took root. My sister became a missionary teacher in Maui in the early 1970s. In 1971 my mother and I were baptized together in a lagoon on Maui when we visited my sister, her co-workers, and Dr. Ed Todd, a true man of God who was integral in founding, almost 70 years ago, what is known today as the Doris Todd Academy. We visited again in 2006 for the 50th anniversary of the school to honor the work done there since 1956, and the impact it has had on our lives and countless others.

Even though the school (30 miles away from Lahaina) was not physically devastated by the fires earlier this month, the impact on it, as well as all of Maui, is still being discerned and evaluated. As of this writing, some of the Maui fires are still burning and not fully contained. Maui’s main income source is tourism, and Lahaina is a large part of that economy, along with its history and culture. How the tragedy impacts Maui’s tourism industry and the long-term health of the local economy and community will be vast. The vacation paradise is now anything but blissful.

Those of us who have been to Lahaina to snorkel and enjoy other various vacation activities have a unique perspective on what it might be like to become trapped there by a whipping wind coupled with an unpredictable fire. We know there is only one road in and out. What fear that would strike in our hearts. What we may not know is what it is like to experience not just the threat to our personal safety but also having our homes, our place of business, our bank, our church, our school, our medical offices, our local government and agencies that we rely on, our pets, our treasured heirlooms, our possessions that we’ve worked so hard to acquire, and our family and friends all under siege at the exact same time. Images of everything charred flit through my mind and I have deep empathy for the people who went through this fire.

Additionally, the blame game has begun. It always follows a tragedy or natural disaster – looking for failed or inadequate responses from those in positions of preventing or responding to our crises. It adds a new layer of despair as those who are grieving and trying to recover from numerous types of loss lash out at others who hold some of the responsibility assigned to them in the massive, overwhelming mess. In this disaster, most of the responders are simultaneously victims of the tragedy and are likely suffering their own personal losses while trying to carry on in their public responsibilities. It’s at this point most of us begin to turn off the news and slink away into our own lives because we really have no idea how to help or to properly assign blame, if any even needs to be assigned. We just wish we could all be friends and work together side by side to bring healing, comfort, and hope, each adding a brick to the rebuilding of the lives of those who remain from that community.

The ugly reality is that this is a fallen world, and even though we nicknamed Hawaii “Paradise”, it wasn’t true paradise before the fire, and it clearly isn’t now. The concept of Heaven on Earth won’t exist until the return of Christ. Creation has an invasive curse, and there is no corner of the globe that can be found where danger, decay, destruction, and death cannot touch our lives.

On the Sunday following the fires, our church prayed for Maui and all who are suffering there. Our worship pastor, Joel Stamoolis, led us in singing “Waiting for His New Creation” which he and his wife wrote and recorded in 2015 on their Fully Set Your Hope album (it can be found on Spotify). In my head I continue to hear the words “we are waiting for His new creation… new heavens, and new earth…forever good, forever good.” Nothing on this earth that we experience now is forever good. Our hearts know we want forever goodness, but we only catch glimpses of eternity here. It’s not here yet. “There shall be no more death, no more sorrow…The dwelling of God shall be with His people, as Heaven and Earth at last are as one. His presence will be the light of creation. Come Lord Jesus, come.”

The song’s lyrics draw on passages of Scripture such as Acts 10:42, II Peter 3:9,13, Revelation 6:9,10, and Revelation 21-22. Revelation 22:3 says “No longer will there be a curse upon anything. For the throne of God and of the Lamb will be there, and His servants will worship Him.” This promise to God’s people - of being removed from this temporal curse on creation - is what we wait for. The reason we are waiting is because the Lord is extending the mercy of time to the world so that many can come to Him and choose to belong with Him one day in Paradise by accepting His gift of forgiveness and salvation.

Meanwhile, we groan inwardly, waiting for this new, forever good creation to come with the return of Christ. We endure the evidence of the Fall and its Curse, such as the burning of Lahaina, knowing that one day we will live out the forever goodness He has secured for us through the work of the cross. Every effect of the Fall will vanish, and we will know the joy of the new creation…true Paradise.

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