Some sorrows run so deep, and last so long, that those who bear them may despair of ever finding solace, at least in this life. No matter how large a frame they put around their pain, the darkness seems to bleed all the way to the edges.
Perhaps you are among those saints whose lot seems to lie in the land of sorrow. You have not taken the bitter counsel of Job’s wife — “Curse God and die” (Job 2:9) — and by God’s grace, you will not. Yours is not a fair-weather faith. You know that God has treated you with everlasting kindness in Christ. You cannot curse him.
But still, with Job, you stare at the fallen house of your life, where so many dear desires lie dead. And even with faith larger than a mustard seed, the brokenness seems unfixable in this world. The wound incurable. The grief inconsolable. The darkness defies the largest frames we could build.
Which is why, when God speaks to such saints in Romans 8, he does not bid them to merely look harder here below, squinting for a silver lining. Instead, he gives them a frame far larger than this life.
Groaning Bodies, Groaning Earth
When we think of Romans 8, we may remember only the series of triumphant trumpet blasts sounding through the chapter: “No condemnation.” “Abba! Father!” “All things work together for good.” “Who can be against us?” “More than conquerors.” But even as Paul takes us to the heights of Christian joy, he also leads us through the depths of Christian sorrow. For the mountaintop glory of Romans 8 rises from the valley of deep and desperate groaning.
“The whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now,” Paul writes. “And not only the creation, but we ourselves . . . groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:22–23). This earth, for all its beauty, lies like a mother on her back, miserable and aching for the cry of new life. And God’s people, for all our blessings in Christ, stumble through this world like children far from home, waiting for our Father. And as we wait, “we . . . groan.”
We groan because we, sons of the Second Adam, still suffer and die like sons of the first — ashes to ashes, dust to dust. We groan because legs and lungs fail, because eyes grow dim, because paralysis lames and Alzheimer’s erases the face of dearest loves. We groan because the tribulation and distress of this age sometimes feel like nightmares brought to life (Romans 8:35), like burdens beyond the strength of our frail shoulders. We groan because hope deferred makes the heart sick, and the sickness sometimes feels terminal (Romans 8:24–25). We groan because “the sufferings of this present time” can veil the Christ we love (Romans 8:18).
We should beware of papering over such groanings with platitudes (however well-intended). The saints may find themselves, at times, so perplexed, so oppressed, so utterly weak that our mouth, opened for prayer, forms no words. “We do not know what to pray for as we ought” (Romans 8:26). And so we gaze speechlessly ahead, the horizon of this life shrouded in one incoherent groan.
At the same time, however, we should beware of allowing “this present time,” these seventy or eighty years, to set the boundaries of our hope, our joy. “For,” Paul tells us, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). Into this world of deep groaning, glory is coming.
Glory Will Come
We do not groan, then, as those who have no hope. For these pains, though they last all our life long, are “the pains of childbirth” (Romans 8:22), not the pains of death. “The sufferings of this present time” end in glory, not a grave. And the glory to come will be big enough, incomparable enough to answer the double groaning of this age: the groaning of these broken bodies, and the groaning of this broken earth.
For now, your identity as God’s beloved child lies veiled beneath a weak body and a pain-ridden life. Your body breaks like every other body. Your life trips and bleeds on this world’s thorns like every other life. In fact, just as onlookers esteemed Jesus “stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:4), so may you seem: like a sheep led to slaughter (Romans 8:36), you may appear, to the natural eye, Godforsaken. You may, at times, even appear so to yourself.
But not forever. One day soon, your true self, hidden for now in Christ (Colossians 3:3), will be seen. Then will come “the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19), “the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21), our “adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). Your status as God’s child will become manifest not only to the eye of faith, but to the eye of sight, as you shed this death-bound body and, like a brilliant flower born from a dirty seed, rise up resplendent. Imperishable, powerful, glorious with Christ’s glory (1 Corinthians 15:42–43; Philippians 3:21), you finally will look like the child you are.
And finally you will see what glory can do with this life’s shattered pieces. Like the palm of our Lord Jesus upon the sick, glory will restore every part of you still broken and blind, still leprous and lame, healing all your unhealable places. Glory will be the balm you longed for but never found here, the cure that felt a world beyond reach. For Glory himself will touch you with his own hands, and his scars will banish ours forever (Revelation 21:4).
His scars will banish ours — and not only ours. The creation, too, waits for glory, its current brokenness a consequence and reminder of our own. “The creation was subjected to futility”; it lives “in bondage to corruption” (Romans 8:20–21). But oh how it yearns for freedom, waiting “with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19). The sea, even now, is ready to roar, the trees are poised to clap their hands, and the song of the hills hangs on inhaled breath (Psalm 98:7–8; Isaiah 55:12).
With us, creation too will descend into the grave, and rise again transfigured. It too, seed-like, will sprout into a beauty beyond imagining, its freedom and glory an echo of our own — and both an echo of Christ’s (Romans 8:21). Meanwhile, the creation groans for this transformation, aching to become the mirror of the children’s glory, the fitting frame for our own endless joy.
Creation looks to the day when its stones will run like streets of gold, when its trees will bear fruit for our healing, when every bird will sing the song and every flower waft the fragrance of God’s all-conquering love in Christ (Romans 8:37–39).
Glory Is Already Here
Glory, then, is rushing toward this world like a river from the throne of God, like light from the lamp of the Lamb, like the Spirit blown over Ezekiel’s valley, ready to come and dig a grave for all our griefs. And yet, even now, in this present age of groaning, the guarantee of that glory lives and dwells within us.
If Christ is yours, then “the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Romans 8:9). The same Spirit who raised and glorified Jesus has made your heart his home (Romans 8:11), his presence a promise that your groans will turn to glory (Romans 8:23, 30) — and a promise, too, that glory can even now enter your groans.
Whenever you walk “according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:5), you feel the beat of glory’s undying heart. Whenever you put to death some deed of the body (Romans 8:13), or respond to heartache by crying, “Abba!” (Romans 8:15), or love Christ in the midst of deep loss (Romans 8:35–39), you hold, like Noah, an olive leaf of the coming glory, a little piece of the land beyond sorrow.
Some pain fills the whole frame of this life. Some wounds never heal fully in this world. Some hopes follow us, still deferred, into the grave. But glory is coming — and the Spirit of glory lives, even now, as our inseparable friend. And the sufferings of this present time, however high and wide and deep and long, are not worth comparing with him.