Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Holy Groaning (II)

The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. 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 as sons, 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 he already has? 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 with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will.
Romans 8:24-27

Last week we looked at verses 18-24 of this passage and learned that this world (and even our own bodies) are marred by sin, this causes us frustration and it leads us to groan in eager anticipation for our Lord's return when everything will be made right. But now in verses 24-27 Paul makes explicit what we really couldn't have even guessed before: this groaning is a type of holy prayer.

When I think of groaning I think of complaining and whining about stuff that I don't like. Notice though that Paul's groaning is a groaning in eager expectation of the world to come. His groaning isn't just about being unhappy with a world and a body that are tainted by sin. That type of groaning would be wholly negative. No! Paul's groaning goes beyond merely being unhappy with the mark of sin on our world and instead patiently waits in eager expectation for God's promised redemption. It is at one and the same time both a complaint against our present situation and a hope for our future deliverance. Which brings to light a precious truth. It is only because of our frustration in this world that hope exists, for "who hopes for what he already has?" If we had everything we wanted there would be no reason to hope.

It is in grasping this truth that we find the difference between groaning that is a wholly negative attitude and groaning that is a holy negative attitude. Herein lies the difference. It is right and good for us to be unhappy with this world that is marred by sin. This isn't a problem. It only becomes a problem when we allow our displeasure with the world to grow into displeasure with God...when we begin to blame Him for our suffering. That isn't what our frustration was intended to accomplish. Instead, frustration was given to us to cause us to look toward God's future in hope. Our frustration is a helpful reminder that we ought not get too attached to this world and that we ought to eagerly anticipate the day of our Lord's return.

Still not convinced that groaning can be holy? Paul even goes so far as to say that the Holy Spirit groans on our behalf in prayer when we do not know what to pray. When our suffering or frustration with this world has taken our words and we long for something better but are incapable of communicating what we long for to our God, the Holy Spirit groans on our behalf. He groans to mourn our pain, and He groans in faith that the Father has already planned our deliverance.
In I Thessalonians 4:13 Paul says that Christians should not mourn as others do who have no hope. Normally we apply this exclusively to how we mourn the death of a loved one. Taken together with the above passage however, it makes a strong argument that we ought to handle all mourning, all frustration, and all disappointment differently because we are Christians. All of these ought to lead us to hope instead of despair.

So here's the question, where do you allow your frustration and disappointment to lead you? Do they lead you down a path of blame and anger towards God? Or do you remind yourself that it is only when you lack something that you are capable of hope? Do you take your disappointments to the throne of God in eager expectation of how He will resolve them or do you hurl them like darts of accusation at His throne? Brothers and sisters, do not despair. This trial was given so that you would learn to hope.

For further reading this week...

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