Groaning, Grumbling, and GraceBy Tony Caffey
August 18, 2020
Recently I was rebuked by a good friend for complaining so much about getting old. He told me, “You’re not old, Tony. You’re 41. You are still young!” He’s right, of course, but I responded, “Yes, but I feel old. I can’t run like I used to. I used to run like a gazelle. Now I run like a possum. I used to jump like a frog and dunk a basketball on a ten-foot rim. Now I jump like an Asian elephant. And that makes me sad!” Harrumph. Harrumph. Woe is me.
Growing Old Gracefully
One of my fears as I age is that I won’t be able to do the things I used to do, and yet I’ll still try to do them. I don’t want to live out my days trying to recreate my childhood like a bad episode of Duck Dynasty or Uncle Rico from Napoleon Dynamite. I still play basketball several times a week. I should be thankful for that. I use more craft and savvy then raw athleticism on the court these days, but I inevitably come home groaning. Sometimes the groaning is a result of the aches and pains in my joints. Sometimes the groaning sounds more like grumbling. I grumble as a result of my bad play. I grumble because I can’t do what I used to do. I grumble because I was regrettably teamed up with some ball-hogs who have delusions of grandeur. This weekly ritual has caused me to reflect on a few Scriptures that mention groaning and grumbling. Why is groaning good (Rom 8:22-27; 2 Cor 5:2-4) and grumbling bad (Ex 16:7-8; Num 14:27; 2 Cor 5:2; Phil 2:14; Jas 5:9, 1 Pet 4:9; etc.)? What’s the difference between the two?
Groaning is Good
In Paul’s wonderful discussion on the Holy Spirit in Romans 8, he mentions different kinds of groaning. Some of this groaning involves creation. “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Rom 8:22). Creation is tired of the sin, brokenness, and fallenness that man brought into the world, and it groans for restoration. It also longs for the unveiling of the sons of God (8:19). That’s one kind of groaning and the Lord doesn’t condemn it. In fact, he welcomes it. Additional groaning takes place in the souls of the sons of God who have the Holy Spirit planted inside of them, those who have “the firstfruits of the Spirit” (8:23). Why do we groan? What does the Holy Spirit inside of us long for? Actually, it’s the same thing that creation itself longs for—redemption! We groan for our new, incorruptible, resurrection bodies.
Thou Shalt Groan
Paul says elsewhere in 2 Corinthians 5:2, “For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling.” Groaning is a kind of reactionary reminder for us that this world is not our eternal home and restoration is coming. Every time you take a painful step and groan because your arthritis is flaring up again, you should say, “Hallelujah! The redemption of my body is coming!” Every time you get indigestion and you groan inwardly, you should say, “Hallelujah, thank you, Lord, that there will be no indigestion in eternity.” Every time you go to the doctor, every time you go to the dentist, every time you go to the podiatrist, every time you go to the gynecologist, every time you go to your gastroenterologist, to cure what causes your groaning, you should praise the Lord. Because those experiences are little reminders to us that this world is not our home and the body we have now have is not our eternal body. And maybe those experiences aren’t fun or pleasant; but they are a gift from God. They are a blessing. Because those physical pains and those trips to the doctor are reminders that something better is coming down the pike. The redemption of our bodies is coming.
Thou Shalt not Grumble
To all this you might say, “Okay, Okay! I’ll try to be thankful for these reminders the next time I go to the gastroenterologist. I understand that it’s okay to groan. But can we grumble? What’s the difference between groaning and grumbling anyway?” Yes, we can groan. We can even whimper when our bodies fail us and cause us sharp pain. But we can’t grumble. We can lament, yes. But we can’t murmur like the Israelites in the wilderness. And here’s the difference between the two. The difference is hope. The Israelites, if you listen to their grumbling and their murmuring in the wilderness, lost their hope. They started looking backwards not forward. “O God, at least we had cucumbers and onions in Egypt!” They lost sight of God’s promises to them, and they lost hope.
Hopefulness vs Hopelessness
Here’s how to make the distinction between grumbling and groaning: Grumbling is how people suffer without hope. Groaning is how people suffer with hope. Can you groan while still anticipating your future with Christ Jesus? Can you groan in anticipation of your future glory, your new resurrection bodies? Yes, you can. Paul says as much in Romans 8:23: “But we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” You can groan, but you can’t grumble. Grumbling is suffering without hope. For the Christian, grumbling is suffering while losing sight of God’s promises. The cure for that involves fixing our minds back on the hope that we have in Christ Jesus. It’s reminding ourselves (and being reminded by the conviction of the Holy Spirit inside of us), that we don’t deserve anything other than suffering, torment, and eternal separation from God for eternity. But because of God’s grace, we have hope. Therefore, grumbling is not just devoid of hope, it’s devoid of grace. God’s grace gives us hope for the future, and when our present falls short of that future, we groan. But we don’t grumble or grieve like those who have no hope.
The Discipline of Groaning
The next time you deal with achy joints or a bulging disc in your back or the inevitability of suffering as you age, let me encourage you to groan with hope. Let me encourage you to praise God for the grace that he has shown you and will show you. Let me encourage you to fix your minds on eternity and the new, indestructible redemption body that has been promised to you. This is a discipline that I’m trying to establish now in my forties, while I’m still relatively young (that’s honestly debatable when you look at the sum-total of life expectancy throughout human history). I know it’s a discipline that I will have to ramp up more in the years to come, if God indeed gives me more years.