Christian hope is free, but it is not easy.
We need to internalise this truth well if we are to cope with the many challenges and disappointments we will all encounter in the flow of our lives.
Honest Christians will acknowledge that it is not always easy to be hopeful in Christ. To admit this does not mean we have failed as Christians; it only means we are ready to receive real strength in our weakness.
The eighth chapter of the book of Romans offers us one of the most pragmatic, accurate, and powerful descriptions of what Christian hope really looks like. It is not what we may have imagined.
This chapter offers us the great assurance that the Holy Spirit is present and enabling us to experience the reality of God’s fatherhood over us.
Yet, despite this glorious assurance, Romans 8 does not describe Christian hope as an easy celebration; it describes it as a deep and difficult groaning.
The apostle Paul says, “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:19-22).
The apostle Paul is inviting us to see that experiencing hope in Christ includes groaning.
Christian Hope Involves Groaning
The imagery that Paul uses to describe hope is quite telling. Christian hope is not depicted as a Barbie doll—dressed up and looking pretty.
Instead, we are given the imagery of a pregnant woman groaning in labour as a vivid, visual illustration of Christian hope.
If we face any crisis with a Barbie doll notion of easy Christian hope, we may not be able to cope with all the grief and fear. Our faith may be shaken.
On the other hand, if we develop this accurate picture of hope that involves groaning, we are likely to deal with any crisis much better.
The opposite of hope is despair. Real Christian hope is designed to be fully enjoyed and truly lived out in the deepest depths of despair. But in the depths of our despair, Christian hope will include groaning.
The word “groan” suggests a deep, guttural, and inarticulate sound to express our pain or sorrow. Groaning has no syntax. It has no grammar. Groaning escapes from deep within—from beneath our reason and even our emotions. It is never crafted; it is almost involuntary.
In our despair, our groaning is often the most authentic expression of our hope for the perfect world God will bring one day. Groaning is not a sign of lack of faith in Jesus. It is an expectation of his coming, a longing for him.
Christian Groaning Involves Hope
If we are only groaning and do not have eager hope in Christ despite present pain, our faith is shallow. We are just whining.
On the other hand, if we are only hoping and pretending there is no pain in the present, our faith is superficial.
A good and balanced Christian response to crisis will include both deep groaning and eager and certain hope. A truly Christian response to crisis will include both deep lament and high praise. The first seamlessly flows into the second.
A woman in labour probably does not come to give birth wearing make-up. This is the enduring image of Christian hope that the Bible wants us to have—a woman groaning in labor.
Jesus himself presents a pregnant woman in labour as an accurate picture of Christian hope.
A good and balanced Christian response to crisis will include both deep groaning and eager hope. A truly Christian response to crisis will include both deep lament and high praise.
“When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:21-22).
A woman in labour groans. But she knows that the joy of holding her newborn baby awaits her on the other side of the pain. We are called to wait patiently, through all the suffering and frustration, before Christ comes again and delivers us from decay.
The apostle Paul is also pragmatic enough to tell us that we will often be weak and confused in our journey of hope.
“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 too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26).
We will be weak, but the Holy Spirit will help us in our weakness. Sometimes we will be confused, not even knowing what to pray. But the Holy Spirit will intercede for us, joining our groans with his own.
Our hope in Christ may not remove all present weakness, but it will absolutely give us the grace to live through this present weakness.
A pregnant woman in labour is a good illustration of hope. But it is only an illustration.
Is there a real picture of a person who was groaning perfectly in eager hope? Someone who did not stifle godly grief, but never crossed the line of sinning in his sorrow?
We see Jesus groaning in anguish in Gethsemane. This is how he endured the cross for the joy set before he. This is what authentic Christian hope really looks like. It includes groaning.
Is there a man who was absolutely perfect, in his groaning and in his hope? Of course, there is!
Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man. He lived as our substitute, living the perfect life on our behalf and dying on the cross, taking the punishment for all of our sins upon himself.
What did hope look like for Jesus?
The writer of Hebrews gives us a good description, “looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2).
Many people see the resurrected Christ as the greatest picture of hope. That is true and helpful. But it is not complete. The picture of real and authentic Christian hope is incomplete unless we include the picture of Jesus groaning in anguish to his Father.
How did Jesus endure the cross? With groans. We see Jesus groaning in anguish in Gethsemane. This is what authentic Christian hope really looks like. It includes groaning.
So, go ahead and groan. But groan in the likeness of the one who died and rose again to wipe out all groaning forever.