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April 15, 2008 / beidson

Two Types of Groaning

Consider at least two types of groaning mentioned in Scripture.  While both involve pain and grief, and both are rooted ultimately in sin, they are both brought about by two different causes.

The first type of groaning is brought about by the shame and guilt of personal sin.  We see this in Proverbs 5, when the wise father warns his son against the perils of adultery.  He says, “And now, O sons, listen to me, and do not depart from the words of my mouth.  Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your honor to others and your years to the merciless, lest strangers take their fill of your strength, and your labors go to the house of a foreigner, and at the end of your life you groan, when your flesh and body are consumed, and you say, ‘How I hated discipline, and my heart despised reproof!’ . . . . “ (vv. 7-12).

Here is a man who knows what it is to groan, who is facing the reality that he has done something he is not able to undo.  His groaning is the consequence of ignoring the counsel of friends, family and teachers, and most of all, Wisdom.  He refused to turn away from evil, and now he groans as the weight of his sin presses upon his shoulders; he is not able to bear it and so it crushes him.  He is old and he has wasted his life.  Groaning is an appropriate reaction to condemnation.  Though he thought he might escape judgment, he realizes that he cannot.

Another type of groaning is born not out of sinful desire, but out of the desire to escape sin.  Here, groaning is the expression of that which is too deep for words, and what’s more, it is the language of God, who knows the heart.  Romans 8:26-27 reads, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness.  For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings to deep for words.  And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” 

Here we find a man who, in his sinful weakness, in his flesh, cannot describe to God what his heart so desperatly wants to communicate.  He is not sinless, and so he is speechless.  And yet the Spirit himself speaks to God on our behalf with groanings welling up from our hearts.  And God knows what we mean when we groan because of our weaknesses.  We are like the rest of creation which has been groaning in the pains of childbirth even to this day (v. 22).  We yearn for God to deliver us from evil, even the evil in our hearts and the sin which clings so closely to us (Hebrews 12:1).

In both cases, we groan according to the will of God.  In the first case, we groan because we are guilty before God and our consciences condemn us.  We have no refuge, and so our bodies tremble and our voices shake as we cry out for another chance to undo what we have done.  In the second case, we groan because we have not yet escaped the sin that we have conquered.  We hope in Christ, and we look for his immanent return, and yet, we are still here and our sin is ever present.

End in the end, only those who hope in Christ will be relieved of their groaning, and those who do not will groan forever in the lake of fire, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.  They will hear the voice of Christ explaining to them what their groaning was all about, and why it ought to have driven them to repentance. And for those who longed for the resurrected Messiah to deliver them from evil, they will learn too what their groaning was all about, and their groanings will be turned into a new song in the New Jerusalem, in a new creation.

At the end of your life, what will you be groaning for?   

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