Well, there seems to be a lot of groaning going around, huh? The creation is groaning because it’s been subjected to frustration, and we as believers are groaning because we’re awaiting the redemption of our bodies. Both “groaners” are subject to decay, awaiting a Better Day. But here in today’s passage we see another Person who’s groaning: The Holy Spirit.
He’s not groaning because he’s complaining, at least not really. What’s this passage talking about?
Hopefully you’re already aware of the fact that Jesus is our Advocate before the Father. As the author of Hebrews asserted again and again and again (in fact, one of the main points of the book), he’s our Great High Priest, the One who stands between us and the Father, sort of like a Defense Attorney. He pleads our case before the Father, and he reveals the Father to us and mediates blessings down to us.
But according to this passage, we have another Intercessor, the Spirit who lives inside of us. Now, this is a great mystery, especially since this is the only passage (of which I’m aware) that speaks about this aspect of the Spirit’s work in our lives.
Another reason this is mysterious is because Paul doesn’t exactly elaborate on what the Spirit’s doing. What are these “wordless groans,” and how does the Spirit intercede for us? What does he do that Jesus isn’t doing already?
There are two explanations which I’ve heard. The first interpretation, which we tend to hear from those of a Pentecostal/Charismatic persuasion, is that this is in the sense of “words that cannot be expressed in human language.” They believe that this to be some sort of “Spirit” language, that it’s a reference to speaking in tongues. We don’t know what to pray, so the Spirit within us takes over our mouths and speaks a “prayer language” to the Father on our behalf.
Now, I don’t buy their explanation, but it could be interpreted that way, and my disagreement certainly isn’t over a theological essential like the Resurrection. The second interpretation, which sounds better to me, is that they’re groanings which are completely wordless, not just unable to be expressed in human language.
Why do I lean towards the second instead of the first? Why do I think they’re completely wordless? Because of verse 27 and 1 Cor. 2:11 and the point that those verses are making.
Verse 27 says that he who searches our hearts and minds (God, probably referring to the Father) also knows the mind of the Spirit. And the second part of the verse says that the Spirit intercedes for us “in accordance with the will of God,” “God” again probably referring to the Father.
1 Cor. 2:11 says “For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” I can’t read your mind, and you can’t read mine (thank goodness!). But the Spirit knows the thoughts of God (the Father).
You see, the Father and the Spirit are in complete unity with each other. They don’t speak to each other because they don’t need to speak with each other. They’re in complete sync with each other. Just like the Father and Son are “one” (one in purpose, one in nature, one in essence), the Spirit and the other Persons of the Trinity are “one” as well.
So how does this affect us? Remember, I’m a practical theologian because the Bible is a practical book, even when it’s delving into a grand mystery like this. It doesn’t tell us anything about God without a purpose behind the telling, without a way that it should affect us in our daily lives.
How should this truth affect us? Well, one way I see it affecting me is that I shouldn’t worry so much about how I pray. Yes, you should be as theologically correct as possible: It doesn’t do to think thoughts about God which aren’t worthy of him. But I shouldn’t worry so much about finding the exact right words to say to the Father. Eloquence is not so important to him. Sincerity is, of course. But even the most sincere among us still have lingering sin and distractions and selfishness and baser motives. Or I might even be sincere yet praying sincerely for the wrong thing. That’s why the Spirit “helps us in our weakness.” I can take comfort in the fact that the Spirit takes my far-less-than-perfect prayers and brings them to the Throne and makes them exactly what the Father wants to hear. How can he do this? Because he—so to speak—is reading the mind of the Father and knows what the Father wanted to hear in the first place.
Again, the point is not to worry so much about the words, nor even about your sincerity. The point is to pray. Today’s passage assumes that we’re praying. Just go to him and open your heart to him. And rest assured that you have the Spirit in your corner, making the imperfect perfect in the Father’s ear.
Holy Spirit of God, I certainly need you. If Paul could talk about his “weakness” before the Father, how much more me! But in my weakness, you take my fumbling prayers and make them beautiful in the Father’s ear. Thank you so much.
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