Groaning: a godly response to suffering?!
After studying the book of Job last year, I realised something: I’ve been putting a lid on my sorrow. I’ve been keeping my grief to myself, rather than talking to God about it.
I don’t always know how to throw my burdens onto Jesus… but I know he’s invited me to do so.
I’ve been wondering, How can I be real with God — about my fears, my disillusionment, my anger, my despair, and even my doubts — in a way that doesn’t dishonour or disappoint him??
I’m about to make a bold statement. Are you ready for it? Groaning is a totally acceptable way — and even the most godly way — to respond when things are tough.
Really? Yes, really! Does this come as a surprise to you? How does it sit with your existing view of the Christian life? If you’re a bit perplexed by the statement, that’s OK. It would have surprised me, too, not too long ago.
Now, before going any further, I want to clarify one important point: Let’s not confuse groaning with complaining. The Bible explicitly instructs us not to complain! (To help you work out the difference, there’s a short self-assessment activity in the Groaning e-booklet.)
In case you’re not sure what I mean by “groaning”, let’s take a quick look at some examples from the Bible apart from Job’s story, which I’ve mentioned already.
Bible heroes who groaned
In both the Old and the New Testament we read of people — godly, upright people — groaning, or “lamenting” when faced with the brokenness of this world.
The Psalms come to mind. King David, a “man after God’s own heart”, wrote songs to our Lord that revealed the depths of his soul, and it was not all glass-half-full stuff!! The Old Testament prophets lamented bitterly to God, most famously Jeremiah and Habakkuk. (See related articles in the resources section for examples.)
In the New Testament, we see the apostle Paul pleading with God numerous times to take away his “thorn” (which is likely to have been a chronic health condition, according to my NIV Study Bible footnotes… Interesting!). (2 Cor 12:8-10)
Are you seeing the pattern yet? Groaning to God in prayer does not equal sin! These are all righteous, God-honouring people of God who are groaning. The thing that amazes me the most is that God doesn’t reproach any of them for being painfully honest in their prayers.
There’s one obvious example I haven’t yet mentioned… Even our Lord Jesus groaned! (Heb 5:7-8) In the Garden of Gethsemane, just before his arrest, look at what Jesus said and did:
He took Peter, James, and John with him, and he became deeply troubled and distressed. He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
He went on a little farther and fell to the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by. “Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”
When Jesus went back to pray again, Luke’s gospel describes it like this:
He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood. (Luke 22:44)
Jesus wasn’t stoic; Jesus was real with God. He was raggedly emotional… as well as being obedient. Wow. I really want to become more like Jesus in this area… How about you?
Want to continue?
Go to Part 2 – Groaning and New Life