According to Paul, God himself of set purpose subjected the material creation to futility. In Galatians 1:4 the apostle says that this age is by nature an ‘evil’ age of trial and tribulation (cf. Mark 13:19; John 16:33; Acts 14:22; Rom. 8:35; 12:12; 1 Pet. 1:6f.; Rev. 7:14). (1* Compare the testing and trouble of righteous Job, 7:17f.; 23:10; 5:6f.; 7:1; 14:1, Psalm 66:10-12 and Ecclesiastes 1:13; 2:18-23; 3:18.) Romans 8:18 bears obvious comparison with 2 Corinthians 4:17.
In Romans 8:18-25 Paul makes no mention of sin which, so far as creation is concerned, is never more than an exacerbating factor. (On the curse, see below.) In any case, the Bible makes it clear that since creation had a beginning, it is by nature temporary and corruptible, that is, subject to age (Heb. 1:10-12) and wear (Col. 2:22). It will eventually come to an end irrespective of sin as Hebrews 12:27 and 2 Peter 3:5-13, for example, plainly confirm. What is naturally perishable cannot inherit the imperishable (1 Cor. 15:50), and since all physically visible things are perishable (2 Cor. 4:18), our hope is an invisible one (Rom. 8:24f.).
Regarding man, first, Adam was formed physically in the ground like the animals (Gen. 2:7,19; 3:19, 23) not knowing good and evil (Gen. 2:16f.; 3:5,22). But, second, he was also created in the image of God (cf. 1 Cor. 15:46). This meant that in contrast with the animals he was eventually able like a baby to acquire knowledge. Proof of this is to be found in his sin, for where there is no law (or knowledge), there is no transgression (Rom. 4:15; 7:8, etc.). To clarify, his sin proved he had gained a degree of understanding and self-awareness, and so his eyes were opened to his immediate surroundings (Gen. 3:7). At this point he and Eve became aware of their nakedness which prompted them to use fig leaves to make loincloths for cover.
Following this, like the infant he was on the mental level, Adam, the individual who epitomised Adam the race, gradually became acquainted with his more general physical environment. In contrast with the idyllic Garden of Eden, the womb of the race where all his needs were met, the world outside the Garden of Eden was to prove harsh, hostile and difficult to deal with (cf. Gen. 1:28). Faced with this prospect, Adam and Eve were given garments of skins to clothe them (Gen. 3:21). Clearly, having become like God (Gen. 3:22, i.e. armed with knowledge), their purely animal (fleshly) existence was coming to an end (cf. Ps. 49:20). They were therefore permanently expelled from the Garden-womb (cf. John 3:4) to till the ground from which they had originally been taken. After all, this was the vocation of man from the beginning (Gen. 1:26,28), regardless of sin.
The idea that the ‘good’ creation was originally perfect and was spoilt by sin is not taught in the Bible but has been inherited along with other ‘lies’ (cf. Jer. 16:19; 1 Pet. 1:18) from the early church and left uncorrected. The physical creation, like the law (Rom. 7:12), may have been ‘good’ or serviceable (Gen. 1:31), as according to the apostle it still is (1 Cor. 10:26,30f.; 1 Tim. 4:3f.) and according to Jesus will be to the end (Luke 17:27f.), but it was never perfect (Ps. 102:25f.; Heb. 7:18f.; 8:7) as Augustine taught. Only God is perfect, and we who are made in his image (capacity) are called to be perfected or to become mature (complete) in that image (Mt. 5:48; Heb. 6:1, etc.). Our calling (Heb. 3:1) and hope are heavenly (Col. 1:5), our prize upward (Phil. 3:14), and our inheritance eternal (Heb. 9:15), imperishable, undefiled and unfading (1 Pet. 1:4).
What about the curse? it may be asked. The curse arose for two reasons: first, man failed to exercise his dominion in part because he was immature and, in any case, he lacked the working parents that we his posterity have; second, because he was a sinner and rebelled against his vocation which was to work (e.g. Gen. 5:29; 4:12; Prov. 24:30-34; Eccl. 2:18-23; 2 Thes. 3:6-12). Uninhabited and/or neglected places were desolate places which remained untilled. They were at best fit for animals (cf. Isa. 7:21-23; 13:20f.; 34:13-17, etc.) but not for man who was in the process of transition from his earthly body of death (Rom. 7:24) to redemption from bondage (Rom. 8:21) as adopted sons (Rom. 8:23). (In 1 Corinthians 15:44 Paul distinguishes between a natural (physical) and a spiritual body. There are thus two bodies which correspond with the two ages he highlights in Ephesians 1:21, cf. Jesus in Luke 20:34-38.) In other words, man as the image of God had an invisible hope which was clearly heavenly (e.g. Heb. 11:8-16), but it had to be striven for by keeping the law (Lev. 18:5; Prov. 19:16) and seeking glory and honour by well doing (Rom. 2:7,10). Failure to work in the short term meant inevitable physical hunger (Gen. 3:17-19; Prov. 6:11; 13:4; 19:15; 20:4; 24:30-34; 2 Thes. 3:10 contrast Prov. 12:11; 20:13; 28:19; Isa. 1:19), in the long term loss of life (Dt. 4:25f.; 30:15-20; Mt. 25:26-30).
If what is written above is true, the traditional sin-saturated worldview palmed off on us by Augustine of Hippo is false. The material world (dust) was never, first, perfect, then fallen and cursed on account of Adam’s sin – a ludicrous idea at best. Rather, as Paul says, it was futile and ephemeral from the beginning, intended like the law (e.g. Dt. 8:2,16) to test and to serve as a stepping stone on the way to glory (cf. Luke 8:15; Rom. 2:7,10). In other words, the world described in Genesis 3:15-19 was not the result of sin but the OCCASION of sin. For sin implies knowledge as Paul in particular is at pains to teach in Romans 4:15 when he says that where there is no law, there is no transgression (cf. Rom. 7:8). Just as life in the womb (and for us even in infancy) is hidden by our lack of understanding (the knowledge of good and evil), so it was in our first parents’ case in the Garden of Eden, the womb of the race (recapitulation). It is only when understanding dawns and our eyes are opened that we become aware, as Genesis 1:28 implied, that this world/age is difficult to navigate. Only Jesus conquered it (John 16:33, cf. 1 John 2:15-17) and that in the flesh (Rom. 8:3; Heb. 2:14f.).
Bluntly, as Paul so clearly saw, Genesis 3:15-19 and Romans 8:18-25 refer to the same unchanged world which by divine design is both futile and ephemeral. Once it has served its purpose, it is doomed, like mortal flesh (2 Cor. 4:11; 1 Cor. 15:50) which epitomises it, to destruction (2 Pet. 3:5-13). Originally, creation was described as ‘very good’ (Gen. 1:31), because it served a temporary purpose before being finally removed (Heb. 12:27-29). Like the earthly Promised Land (Num. 14:7), which was also temporary (Heb. 11:8-16), it was, as God intended, incapable of providing permanent rest (Heb. 3,4). He had something better in mind as Hebrews 12:22-24 and Revelation 21-22, for example, inform us.
See further my
The Correspondence Between Romans 8:12-25 and 2 Corinthians 4:7-5:10
The Relationship Between Genesis 3:15-19 and Romans 8:18-25
Creation Corruptible By Nature
The Destruction of the Material Creation