We continue our series in Romans 5-8 with Romans 8:18-27, a passage where Paul draws together a lot of what he has been talking about with frustration and struggle from Romans 7, as well as the glorious blessings we have in Christ from Romans 8:1-17.
We all know what it is like to feel frustrated. Frustrated with things in this world and our own bodies running down and nothing lasting forever (as in Ecclesiastes), frustrated with sin in our lives that we just can’t seem to conquer, or with people taking the mick out of us for being a Christian.
Paul links into that feeling – that groaning. In v20 and 22, it’s creation that feels it, using the word translated “meaningless” in Ecclesiastes – the idea that nothing really lasts, so nothing really matters.
In v23, it’s us who feel it, because of the gap between the now and the not yet – between what we have been promised in Christ and what we experience in the present, with bodies which don’t always do what we want and minds and hearts that don’t always want what they should.
It’s like we have exchanged contracts on a house, but the sale hasn’t yet been completed. Money has changed hands; we have the firstfruits of the Spirit, but we can’t yet experience the goodness of what is to come. And so we groan; not out of resignation or despair, but because we know that something better is coming (v22). And the something better will include the whole creation being made new and rescued from its own “bondage to decay”, so that the new creation will itself be better even than creation was before Adam and Eve’s fall.
So what do we do while we wait?
We groan. There’s a big difference between groaning and grumbling, and the Bible is full of people groaning as they wait for God to rescue them from their difficult situations (just read Psalms!). Paul says it is normal and right to groan sometimes as we wait for God’s future promises to come.
We hope. It is a confident future hope. They always say that the worst thing about serious depression is the hopelessness; the feeling that there is no way out. But in Christ, God has shone his light of unbreakable hope into the darkness of our suffering, and it can never be put out. His hope gives us the strength to keep on going and to keep on fighting for justice in the world and against sin in our lives.
We pray. We don’t always know what to pray for, but the Spirit himself considers our situation and groans, and that groan is itself a prayer which is in accordance with the will of God. Sometimes all we can say is a groan, and God values those prayers, and groans with us and for us.
In this present life we do groan. But we can still pray, and we do hope because we know that eventually the night will pass, the suffering will end, and the day that dawns will be so amazing that the all suffering and the groaning will seem like just a dream; just a light and brief struggle that we soon forget as we rejoice in the wonder and the glory of what God has done.