We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. 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 through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
The dictionary defines “groan” as “an inarticulate vocalization of pain, distress, and sorrow”. I wanted to check out that definition because I hear a lot of groaning in today’s Scripture text: the whole creation groans, we groan, and the Holy Spirit groans.
I also hear a lot of groaning in our world. There is the inarticulate vocalization of pain and distress over ISIS, over beheadings, Ebola, pandemics, starving children, people out of work, and cancer. There is all this pain, but without words adequate to express it. And so we groan.
In today’s text we learn that groaning is one of the “firstfruits of the Spirit” within us. We talk quite a bit about the fruit of the Spirit that is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). But here is also a “fruit” of the Spirit, groaning. We experience something terribly broken in our world and the Spirit testifies to this, producing groaning deep within “as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies”.
The fruit of the Spirit is God sharing with us not only His joy and peace, but also His groaning for a world bearing the weight of sin. This sharing of God’s groaning is not unlike the Old Testament prophets who spoke of the “burden” for the world entrusted to them by God (Isaiah 13:1; Habakkuk 1:1; Nahum 1:1; Malachi 1:1).
A man once spoke to me about his distress for the world and its problems, saying: “I feel this burden for the world and wonder where God is in it”. I told him that I did not have the answer for many of his questions, but suggested that the burden he felt did not have its origin with him. Rather, I thought it was God who was first burdened, and God who had shared His burden with him. The Spirit groaned deep within him and made him a participant in God’s loving concern for the world.
Because profound and deep pain is inarticulate, prayer can be difficult. I am glad that even the apostle Paul includes himself with us in our weakness in struggling to pray as we ought: “We don’t know what we ought to pray for”. But, fortunately, Paul says that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness” in not knowing how to pray in the face of such trouble. As Paul sees it, prayer is not a matter of our finding the right words, but rather an act of the Holy Spirit. Even when we don’t know how to pray, or what to pray for, the Holy Spirit translates our prayers “in accordance with the will of God”. C. S. Lewis said, “how true that our prayers are really His prayers: He speaks Himself through us”. The Holy Spirit groans with us and our groaning becomes part of our experience in the very life of God.
As we wait for the redemption of our bodies we do not have the whole picture. We see now only the pain, distress, and sorrow, but the Holy Spirit prays within us as we pray. The New Testament scholar and theologian, C. H. Dodd, put it like this: “We cannot know our own real need; we cannot with our finite minds grasp God’s plan; in the last analysis all that we can bring to God is an inarticulate sigh which the Spirit will translate to God for us.”
The Holy Spirit groans with us today, feels with us in our pain, and speaks for us in ways beyond our imagining! So we groan and we hope, patiently waiting for the future God has for His creation.
Grace and peace,