God Hears: Groans

God Hears: Groans

God Hears: Groans.

GROAN: (in biblical terms, a groan and a sigh are interchangeable); a wordless sound uttered in pain, grief, or distress; a visceral sound full of deep emotion but without language; a personal expression of inner disturbance; the Greek word for groan is rooted in the word for ‘to give birth;’ a deep wordless prayer offered to God when in distress or difficulty. “Prayer is language used in relation to God. God speaks to us; our answers are our prayers. The answers are not always articulate. Silence, sighs, groaning – these also constitute responses.”   (Eugene Peterson).

Ever since the world was marred, God has been listening to and understanding groans. Ever since sin entered the world, groans have been woven into every aspect of life on earth. Creation groans; Jesus groaned; the Holy Spirit groans; believers groan. God has been listening to people groan for a long time… “Now it happened in the process of time that the king of Egypt died. Then the children of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and they cried out; and their cry came up to God because of the bondage. So God heard their groaning…” (Exodus 2:24). Long before that, God heard the miserable groaning of Hagar as she ran away from Sarah to the wilderness: “Behold you are with child, and you shall bear a son. You shall call his name Ishmael, which means ‘God hears.’ Because the Lord Yahweh has heard you in your misery.” (Genesis 16:11).

So it’s okay to groan. It’s not sinful to sigh. We don’t need permission from anybody, no less God, to groan and sigh to God when the situation calls for it. So many of the psalmist’s prayers were composed amidst groans. The key is not to get stuck there, but to offer your groans to the Lord and ask Him for His presence in your distress, and to eventually turn your groaning into dancing. Groaning can actually be a spiritual gift in which we are afforded a way to express our thoughts and feelings at the deepest level to a God who always stands ready to listen and respond.

Jesus groaned. Whenever we find ourselves groaning, we can be assured that Jesus has been there before us. After his friend Lazarus died, Mary and Martha and all their friends were mourning and weeping, and Jesus groaned deeply. The groan of Christ has been described in many vivid ways in the many translations: a deep-seated agitation; greatly distressed and troubled; a profound sigh; shuddering with emotion; chafed in spirit; indignant and angry (apparently at the effects of sin and the very existence of death). Words were not sufficient to express His distress, and He groaned and sighed and perhaps even snorted like an agitated horse. This is one of the few times in the gospels where Jesus reveals raw emotion. It was important for Jesus to join in the grief of His friends, so He groaned in His spirit before He even ventured to raise Lazarus from the dead. Whenever we groan, He joins us in solidarity as well. When we groan, He groans along with us.

Creation groans. “For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who His children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”  (Romans 8:18-22). The Christian tradition has been that all creation has been moaning and sighing together in the pains of labor. Jeremiah asked in chapter 12:11, “How long must the land mourn, and the grass and herbs of the whole country wither? Through the wickedness of those who dwell in it, the beasts and the birds are consumed and are swept away.” Creation is living under a curse because of man’s disobedience and inferior stewardship. All of creation is waiting to be released from the curse, eagerly awaiting the time when it will not be affected by the consequences of sin.

The Holy Spirit groans. “And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.” (Romans 8:26-17). When we are in distress, and are simply unable to pray, or don’t know where to begin with God in prayer, or can’t find the right words to express our heart, the Holy Spirit cares enough about each one of us to pray through us, to intercede with wordless groans. Language is not used, only the unspoken sighings of the Holy Spirit. And that is enough, for God understands. This is a time when God speaks to God, which is as intimate and meaningful as it can possibly get. When we don’t have the strength to pray on our own, when our prayers don’t seem to raise higher than the ceiling, the Spirit will helpfully pray through us in that deep place, where only God can communicate clearly. The early church fathers have said that the highest form of prayer is when there is prayer without words, when one is so filled with the Spirit that human words become inadequate.

Believers groan. “And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as His adopted children, including the new bodies He has promised us.” (Romans 8:23). Along with all of creation, we also groan. We groan inwardly, and sometimes outwardly, as we wait for the redemption of the world. We are waiting, sometimes impatiently, for the time when we won’t have to suffer the consequences of a fallen world. We hope for the time when we will fully participate in the life of Christ within us. We groan that we might experience some of the fullness of our status as God’s children. We yearn for the time when sin will be eradicated, and pain, and suffering, and violence, and injustice. We long for the day when we won’t be challenged by temptation and spiritual warfare. We wait for the time when our world-weariness will turn into spiritual rest. O, to live in an untainted world, where sorrows cease, when mourning turns into dancing, when we joyfully sit at table with other believers at the wedding feast of the Lamb.

When only a groan or sigh will articulate to God what is on your heart, groan away. God listens and understands.