I groan more than I used to.
In an earlier post, I identified with Bill Cosby’s description of how to know when you’re past 50: you make groaning noises when you drop into or climb out of an easy chair. In the time since I wrote that, I’ve had more reasons to groan — and that’s with being acutely aware of how much less I have to deal with than many, many of the people I know.
Groaning is simply part of the life we live in these fragile and mortal bodies of ours. The question is whether we groan as people with or without hope.
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling—if indeed, when we have taken it off we will not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden, because we wish not to be unclothed but to be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. (2 Cor 5:1-4, NRSV)
In chapter 4, Paul wrote about the faithful vision that sustained him through all his suffering as an apostle. He had once despaired when looking only at the trials he suffered (2 Cor 1:8), but learned instead to redirect his vision from the temporary to the eternal, from the seen to the unseen (4:18). And that includes, of course, a compelling vision of the bodily resurrection that awaits those who are in Jesus.
For Christians, there must be two sides to groaning. On the one hand, we groan as those carrying a burden: the burden of suffering, the burden of living in a broken world. Every day brings more sad or terrifying news from near and far, stories that add to the emotional and spiritual weight we carry.
But on the other hand, as Paul insists, that’s small potatoes compared to the weight of glory (2 Cor 4:17). This isn’t some abstract lesson in theology, some dim and distant hope. He groans like a man on a long journey, longing for the home that he already knows and loves. Even if the journey is worth it, home is better, and we can’t wait to get there.
It brings me up short whenever I read Paul talking this way about life in the present versus life in the future. I’m forced to realize that many of the things that weigh me down, many of the things I complain and whine about, are setbacks related to this life only, to the things I want or think I should have now.
That’s not to say they’re not important, though if the truth be told, I am sometimes reminded of how shallow and self-centered my values and priorities can be. But how we evaluate our life today must be countered by the life we envision tomorrow; for Christians, suffering of every kind must be viewed through the lenses of resurrection hope.
In other words, it’s one thing to grit your teeth and pray for patience. But it’s another to pray for the faith that makes our hope of resurrection as tangible as longing for home.