Ten years ago my mom under­went aggres­sive chemother­a­py and radi­a­tion. The treat­ment pro­longed her life, so I’m grate­ful she with­stood it. But I’ll nev­er be able to shake the awful mem­o­ries from the days she was most in agony. The sound of her groans haunt me.

In recent weeks, when footage of the killing of George Floyd cir­cu­lat­ed, I couldn’t stop think­ing about his fam­i­ly forced to watch and, espe­cial­ly, lis­ten to his dying. How they must be haunt­ed by his groans.

I began to pray that the Com­forter would help George Floyd’s fam­i­ly bear the unbear­able. I prayed that, even­tu­al­ly, they’ll be able to recall his voice in a form oth­er than a groan – the sound of him singing, or laugh­ing, or good natured­ly trash talk­ing a friend on the bas­ket­ball court.

And then I lis­tened as a col­lec­tive human groan for jus­tice began to crescen­do in Amer­i­ca – some­times peace­ful­ly, some­times vio­lent­ly. And I real­ized this groan for things to be put right is as ancient as it is urgent. I remem­bered that here in Cana­da we have often ignored or sup­pressed sim­i­lar groans for jus­tice – espe­cial­ly from our Indige­nous citizens.

I could only stand to lis­ten to the groans for a few days before I, like so many oth­ers, was tempt­ed to despair.

That’s when I remem­bered a ser­mon my friend Trevor Hud­son gave as a vis­it­ing preach­er in Van­cou­ver. Trevor is a South African pas­tor once impris­oned for his resis­tance to apartheid. His ears are fine­ly tuned to groans for justice.

Trevor’s text was Romans 8:22 – 27 which begins, We know that the whole cre­ation has been groan­ing as in the pains of child­birth right up to the present time” (22). Tak­ing us through the pas­sage Trevor not­ed the Apos­tle Paul asks us to lis­ten to three sep­a­rate groans.

The first groan is indeed the groan of the whole cre­ation – the deep long­ing for the flour­ish­ing God intends for His world. At every moment there are over­whelm­ing needs around us. But if we pay atten­tion, we’ll notice there are par­tic­u­lar groans we hear more clearly.

You may hear the groan for com­pan­ion­ship among the elder­ly or the dis­abled. I may hear the groan for pro­vi­sion among the impov­er­ished. The human cries we hear loud­est are impor­tant clues to the par­tic­u­lar ways we’ve been called to co-labour with God in His project of restor­ing and redeem­ing all things.

At this long over­due moment, many of us are hear­ing groans for racial jus­tice with new clar­i­ty. What are the appro­pri­ate respons­es? Grief? Yes. Repen­tance for our own com­plic­i­ty in sys­tems of injus­tice? Def­i­nite­ly. Rolling up our sleeves to learn how best to change and con­tribute? Undoubtedly.

But despair? No.

Why? Because there are a sec­ond and third set of groans addressed in the text.

The sec­ond groans are those of our own hearts. We our­selves, who have the first­fruits of the Spir­it, groan inward­ly,” writes Paul (23a).

Unpack­ing this verse Trevor asked us to pic­ture Jesus on the first East­er morn­ing, approach­ing Mary Mag­da­lene out­side the emp­ty tomb with a ques­tion. Why are you cry­ing?” (John 20:15 – 16). Our own tears, Trevor sug­gest­ed, are the most like­ly places of encounter with the risen Christ.

When the heart we offer God is bro­ken, it’s more per­me­able than it could be in any oth­er state. Rather than despair our sor­row can become our deep­est prayer.

But why can we trust God will hear and respond? Because – and here is the aston­ish­ing part – the third set of groans are the groans of God. The Spir­it Him­self inter­cedes for us through word­less groans,” writes Paul (26).

The deep­est groan of the uni­verse,” Trevor preached, is God’s.” How­ev­er much we may long for jus­tice, God longs for it more.

Our com­fort is that God grieves with us.

Our hope is that God’s not fin­ished with His plans for creation.

And God’s promise is that – even now, and despite appar­ent evi­dence to the con­trary – He is mak­ing all things new (Rev­e­la­tion 21:5).

Many peo­ple see the injus­tice in the world as a rea­son to give up on faith. But the irony is, when we decry injus­tice, our hearts res­onate with the heart of God more than we can pos­si­bly imagine.

If you find this hard to believe, just lis­ten to the groans.

Related Podcast

Fea­tured in the July/​Aug 2020 edi­tion of Faith Today mag­a­zine. Find more of these columns at Faith​To​day​.ca/​G​o​W​i​thGod.

Originally published July 2020

Join the 2020-21 Renovaré Book Club

An inten­tion­al way to read for trans­for­ma­tion. Cur­rent­ly under­way and runs through May 2021.

Learn More >