What’s With All The Groaning?
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. 26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.
There’s an awful lot of groaning going on in this passage! Paul says that all of creation has been groaning (v. 22). We who are believers are also groaning, as we await our adoption as sons (v. 23); and even the Holy Spirit groans as he intercedes before the Father on our behalf, because words cannot express the depth of feeling that accompanies his intercession (v. 26).
So what’s with all the groaning?
Paul is using the metaphor of childbirth. All creation, he says, is groaning as in the pains of childbirth. This metaphor is helpful because it expresses the pain that we often associate with groaning, but, as in childbirth, that pain is not without its reward. I am glad I can’t speak from personal experience regarding the pain and rewards of childbirth, but the fact that women willingly continue to have children after they have experienced such pain is evidence enough that the final reward outweighs the difficulty of the process. This, I think, is what Paul is getting at. God has a plan for history that involves all of creation, but the culmination of that plan still lies in the future. Furthermore, the Fall has complicated the process so that not only humans, but all of creation, must endure the sharp pains of labor as God repairs what sin has broken and moves all of creation toward completion and wholeness. Once God’s Spirit in us gives us a taste of what it must be like to be whole, we yearn for that wholeness with a desire that is so intense as to be almost painful—and so we “groan inwardly”; and all creation groans along with us because it too yearns for the wholeness of completion and fulfillment.
Every day seems to bring more evidence of the groaning of the world. The news is filled with stories of political upheaval, the collapse of moral virtue, natural disasters and growing violence. It seems to be getting more and more difficult to imagine how the world can continue to endure. If history and current events tells us anything, it tells us that we human beings are not capable of achieving the wholeness we long for.
What we cannot achieve, God can achieve. Scripture tells us that this world will pass away, but God will create a new heaven and a new earth where there will be no more groaning, because God will have made all things new (Rev. 21:4-5). So, just as the groans of labor give way to the cries of joy, Paul encourages us to look forward with hope to the day when our waiting will be over (Rom. 8:24-25).
Today we groan because we do not yet have what we yearn for, but the fact that we do not yet have it does not mean that it is not a reality. Hope is not wishful thinking, as though we aren’t sure that what we long for will really happen. Rather, hope is the certainty that what we do not yet have will indeed come. Hope, like faith, will one day become obsolete. It will no longer be needed because all that we long for will be realized. For now, though, even though we, and creation, and even the Spirit groan, we need not despair. Rather, we can wait patiently, with absolute confidence that what God began he will finish, and the wholeness we long for will indeed be ours. Oh, what a wonderful day that will be!
Pastor Jon EnrightNovember 7, 2017