There are certain rules that I tried to establish regarding the surface of road that my Hog will not travel on. Gravel is a forbidden. (Check back to my Utah off road experience- that was more or less sand, not gravel!) So in 2007 Julia and I head out to Brandon to meet some friends, and we were going to travel together to Alberta. Being a trailblazer, I took Hwy 2 knowing that the bridge was out near Wawanesa. Not a problem. There was a good road north of Wawanesa and we headed up that ‘away. Then the pavement ended. And we did not have time to make a long detour of many miles and make it in time to our friends’ house. Our only option was about 5 miles of gravel. This was nothing to chuckle about! What do we do? Well, first I let out a long στεναγμός.
The word στεναγμός (and the verb στενάζω) means to sigh or to groan because of an undesirable circumstance; it expresses the deep distress of the soul. Sighing, or στεναγμός, takes place due to a condition of oppression under which we suffer and from which we long to be freed from because it is not in harmony with our nature, expectations or hopes. Stephen uses στεναγμός in his story of Israel in Egyptian bondage. God heard the groans of His people. The Israelites were in an undesirable circumstance, and they groaned (Acts 7:34).
A characteristic of a Christian is groanings and sighings. Are we not to be happy, joyful and full of optimism? Sure, but it depends about what! Romans 8:18-27 offers a rather bleak portrait about life on earth. Here we find a triple sighing, that of creation, of Christians and the Holy Spirit. What is the cause of all this groaning? Sin! We are not living in a circumstance that we were created to live in! We were created to live in Eden! God wanted us to stay there, but we chose otherwise, and sin now has everyone groaning. Yes, Christians are new creations in Christ, but we have not fully experienced the redemption of our bodies. We are like Israel wandering in the wilderness, free from Egyptian bondage, but not yet in the Promised Land!
So what is our response to this debacle?
Follow Paul from Romans 7 through to the end of chapter 8. Romans 7 is the dark chapter of the failings of the flesh, the doing of the things we don’t want to do. In plain words, the ongoing groaning of the sin issue is our lives. Romans 8:1-17 is the wonderful work of the Spirit in our lives. We are set from the condemnation of the Law! Romans 8:18-27 remind us that while we are reconciled to God, we still live in a world that is not redeemed and we all yearn for the coming of Christ when we will experience redemption in full. Romans 8:28-39 is comparative to Romans 8:1-17 in that Paul describes how we Christians will overwhelmingly conquer this state of groaning. God is not going to leave us. His love will never be severed from us- no matter how deep the groanings may get. The day of His coming is coming, and we will be set free from our groanings.
2 Corinthians 4-5 voice the same theme as Romans 7-8. This present life on earth is marked by affliction and persecution. Our physical bodies are constantly decaying. This undesirable circumstance is the cause of our groanings. 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:4 are certainly verses of gloom, but such is the Biblical view of this present world. And search as one might through these passages (Romans 7-8 and 2 Corinthians 4-5), there remains strangely absent any hope that in this life, on this side of eternity, in this post-Eden pre-redemption world, that a Christian will find the resources by which to end the present groanings. That simply is not Biblical. The groaning ends when redemption is fully revealed, at the coming of Jesus Christ.
I had coffee yesterday with a fine, excellent Christian man whom I deeply respect as a brother in Christ. He is healthy, fit and running a successful business. He is a picture of prosperity in every way. But my brother longs, deeply, deeply longs to go and be with Jesus. But I reminded him of how pleasant his life is and how he had no ball and chain that seeks to drag him down. He shared how he is just tired of the fight against evil. Always there is the presence of temptation. Once I think, he said, I have conquered one sin, it suddenly comes up again, and I wonder where that came from. The constant rat race, the constant harassment of Satan, the ongoing reminder that life is not what is ought to be, these are the things that made my friend long for heaven.
That, my dear reader friends, is the sign of a true Christian!