What mental image do you see when someone talks about groaning for something that they long for with all their being? For me it is the picture of a person craving something that is extremely important to them. I can see one groaning for another person in that they long for the company of the other person. I can also see a child as they long for a particular toy or animal and don’t think that they can live without it.
When I think in terms of what the Bible says on the subject two different sections of Scripture come to mind, both from the pen of the apostle Paul. The first of these is in 2 Corinthians 5:1-5. Paul had closed chapter four by discussing the main focus of our lives. He noted that he didn’t put his focus on the outward man since it was temporary but he focused on the inward man that is renewed day by day. He mentioned that the momentary, light afflictions he was going through were working for him a far more eternal and permanent weight of glory. Then in chapter five he said that in this tent we now live in, that we call a body, is only here for a little while. It will pass away and become part of a permanent dwelling that never fades or dims. He is describing the death of the physical nature. He said our frailties in the physical body are only here for a short time and the physical ailments are working for us or on our behalf in the eternal side of our nature. We groan in the body, desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is in heaven. It isn’t our longing to just be unclothed, thus laying aside the physical body and existing only as a spirit being. We groan for the whole transition to immortality.
In thinking about that groaning he said that God has made us for the eternal dwelling in heaven. We may become very much at home down here in this temporary life. But God has made us for something much better and we won’t be fully at home until we are in heaven both bodily and spiritually. He said that God had given us the Holy Spirit as a down payment or as earnest money for what He will bless us with in eternity. Earnest money is a small amount of money by comparison to the whole that is going to be given. It serves as a promise or guarantee of what is to come later.
In Romans 8:18-25 Paul again talked about the groaning that takes place in creation. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us. For the creation eagerly waits with anticipation for God’s sons to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to futility – not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it – in the hope that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of corruption into the glorious freedom of God’s children. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together with labor pains until now. And not only that but we ourselves, eagerly waiting for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. Now in this hope we were saved, yet hope that is seen is not hope, because who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with patience.”
Notice that like the 2 Corinthians passage Paul is again discussing the suffering one goes through in this life as a Christian. It isn’t worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us in eternity. The whole creation waits eagerly to be set free from the bondage of corruption into the glorious freedom of God’s children. Look at the image he draws for us when he said the creation was groaning in labor pains until now. When an expectant mother begins to have labor pains we know a birth is near and will excitedly begin to imagine what the new baby will look like.
In the picture being developed by Paul the whole creation is in labor pains, “eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” Ultimately, it is God’s plan and promise that when Jesus comes again he will bring with him the spirits of those who have died in Christ and the bodies will be raised from the dead to meet him in the air and so forever be with the Lord.
For those who question the bodily resurrection it should be noticed that there is no other kind of resurrection. The spirit or soul of man isn’t resurrected since they don’t die. The spirit returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7). We aren’t to fear one who can kill the body but can’t harm the soul but we are to fear God who can destroy both body and soul in hell (Matthew 10:28). In Philippians 3:20-21 Paul declared that our citizenship is in heaven from which we also look for a Savior who will “transform the body of our humble condition into the likeness of His glorious body, by the power that enables Him to subject everything to Himself.”
One other time the Bible mentions groaning is later in Romans 8 in verses 26-27. “In the same way the Spirit also joins to help in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings. And He who searches the hearts knows the Spirit’s mind-set, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” This is a tough set of verses. The basic point is clear that we need the assistance of the Holy Spirit when we pray since we don’t know what to pray for as we should. The Spirit intercedes for us taking the needed message to God in the right package for God.
Is it saying that we groan since we don’t know what to pray for as we should or is it saying that the Holy Spirit groans to God in ways that we could never understand? It seems to make much more sense to say that we groan in our spirits, longing to communicate effectively with God but not having the words that are needed. The Spirit takes our groans and presents them to God in the very form needed, thus helping us in our weaknesses. I believe that is the point being made.
Our spirit groans to be fully clothed with an immortal body. The earth groans for the final redemption of the body and of the whole of creation, so the earth can fulfill it’s mission. We groan in our spirits for close communication with God that only The Holy Spirit can produce while we are in this body.
It isn’t uncommon for me to wake up in the middle of the night to hear Linda saying to me, “Stop groaning”. Evidently I’m groaning about something during the night in my sleep. Our groaning is a reaching out for something that we can’t fully comprehend but that we know is supposed to be there. We won’t stop the groaning until we get home with God.