by Joe Leavell
In our last post, found here, we looked at the reality of living in a sin cursed world that rightfully causes believers to groan for their heavenly home. Because of Christ, we do not need to mask this yearning within our hearts or try to find satisfaction for our souls here on earth. Rather, we are free to long for the return of Christ, similar to how a bride longs for her wedding day when her groom will take her home. Our desire is to see our Savior face to face and worship at His feet. Yet, that day has not arrived, and so we patiently wait.
A Biblical Example
While we continue to groan for the day when Christ will wipe away every tear, it is very easy for our groaning to turn into complaining. Israel experienced this difference in their deliverance from slavery in Egypt. While they were in bondage, they rightly groaned for their day of freedom and cried out to God for deliverance. Upon experiencing that freedom from Egypt, there was an intermediate time frame where they were no longer slaves, but had not yet arrived in their Promised Land. Instead of groaning for their new home, they began to murmur and complain about the circumstances they were enduring. Did Moses lead them out into the desert to die? What about water and food? They remembered life being better in slavery than experiencing the hunger and thirst pains in the desert and grumbled to Moses and God!
Did God continue to lead them and supply for them in the midst of their journey? He provided for every need, giving them food and water, and not even allowing the sandals of their feet to wear out. Yet, rather than patient trust in the God who had miraculously led them with power out of their slavery in Egypt, the Israelites continued to grumble and complain that their circumstances were not what they desired. Because of their groaning, when they arrived to the borders of the Promised Land, they refused to trust God and would not go in to the land because of the challenge they faced from the Canaanites. Their complaining against God kept them from God’s promises, and that entire generation, except for two people, died in the desert after wandering for 40 years.
The Difference Between Groaning and Grumbling
In Scripture, the word for groaning carries with it the idea of an angst that a person feels when there is a great injustice or hurt, and groaning for the wrong to be made right. Scripture gives the picture of a woman in labor groaning for her pain to be over and for her baby’s delivery. Similarly, we groan for the pains of this world to end, and for God’s Kingdom to come to earth. In this way, when we groan for home, it is not seen in Scripture as a negative. It is seen as a deep painful understanding of sin and its painful judgment, and a groaning for Christ to return to make all things new.
Christ felt this deep sense of troubled spirit and groaning on several occasions. When Jesus healed the deaf man in Mark 7, Scripture describes Jesus’ response to his deafness with a “sigh” or a groan. In John 11, in seeing the despair and the pain of the death of Lazarus, the Bible tells us that “Jesus wept” and was “greatly troubled” (groaned) in His spirit. Scripture also tells us that the Holy Spirit groans for us, interceding on our behalf with “…groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). We have a God who is familiar with groaning.
Grumbling, on the other hand, carries with it a completely different connotation. Grumbling is the self-pity that feels the freedom to complain to God for what He has given to us to endure. Complaining puts us in the judgment seat of Almighty God, and demands that He answer to us for our pain. Groaning leads to worship; complaining leads to despair or even suicidal thoughts. Kevin DeYoung explains the difference this way, “A groan says, ‘Oh God, this is really hard.’ A gumble says, ‘Oh God, you are really hard.’ A groan says, ‘Oh Lord, I would like something different.’ A grumble says, ‘Oh Lord, I wish you were someone different.’ Grumbling distorts the past, exaggerates the present, and dishonors God.”
In short, groaning is the expression of a heart of patient longing for God’s Kingdom, and trusts in the goodness of our God in the midst of pain. Grumbling is the expression of a heart that, in the midst of pain, longs for the unrealized kingdom of self.
Do You Groan or Grumble to God?
So which one is true of us when we suffer real hurts? Do we complain to God that He is not good enough, does not care about our hurts, or is powerless to help? Do we put the King of the Universe on the judgment seat and demand that He answer for our pain and for the hurts of others? Do you have a patient trust in God’s goodness or are you like Israel and grumble even in the midst of God’s unfolding plan that you may not comprehend? Are we groaning for the day when we will see the one who paid for our sin with His blood, or are we complaining to our Savior that He has not changed our circumstances today? Do we yearn for justice or do we wrestle with God for control over our lives believing that we would do a better job?
My prayer is that our groaning in the mist of pain would reflect Jesus’ redemptive heart for pain and suffering. I pray that we would have a thankful heart to the One who came to save us from this sin filled world. He did not leave us without any hope. The beauty of the Gospel is that we have purpose to our groaning and do not need to complain or grumble to our good God.
As you groan, we would be honored to help walk with you through your struggles, and help point you to the God who you can trust in the midst of your pain. Be encouraged! There is coming a day when our sorrows will be no more!