What are the “Groanings” in Romans 8:26-27?

When we can not find the words to express our need and longing for the hope of God’s glory, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us to speak from our heart.

There are two translations that I enjoy reading more than any other. The first is the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) andthe Tree of Life version (TLV). The CSB version has the following translation of Romans 8:26-27:

“In the same way the Spirit also helps us in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.”

The TLV offers it this way:

“In the same way, the Ruach helps in our weakness. For we do not know hot to pray as we should, but the Ruach Himself intercedes for us with groans too deep for words. And He who searches the hearts knows the mind of the Ruach, because He intercedes for the Kedoshim according to the will of God.”

The key for understanding this passage of scripture lies in what comes before it, since it begins with “In the same way.” Where I see relevance is in verse 22, “For we know that the whole creation groans together and suffers birth pains until now – and not only creation, but even ourselves.” (TLV) It continues in verse 23, “…We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Ruach, groan inwardly as we eagerly wait for adoption…” (TLV). Then, in verse 24, “For in hope we were saved.” (TLV). All of this is in a section of the scripture that is titled, “The Coming Glory” (TLV) or “From Groans to Glory” (CSB).

This is a mixture of hope in what is to come while struggling with suffering that are the birth pangs of what our hope is in, the coming glory of God. We eagerly await the coming glory of God and it is our Hope that helps us through the groan of wanting it to be here already. It is the “Sufferings of this present time…” (vv. 18) that cause us to groan, that cause us to be dependent on the Spirit to guide us, our Hope to carry us forward. As with all of us who go through difficulties, we groan with a desire in our hearts that longs for something better. Our words can hardly describe how we ache for relief in our adoption, our full redemption, the revelation of the Glory of God. So, not knowing what to pray in times of hardship, the Spirit brings the words we should, just as our Hope brings forth in us the strength to persevere.

The Wycliffe Bible Commentary is a family favorite for seeking other perspectives on passages. On page 1208 of the Charles Pfeiffer and Everett Harrison edition explains it well, “Sometimes we cannot pray because words cannot express the needs we feel.” Being weak and finite in our times of struggle, the Lord searches our hearts with his Spirit, and when we reach out to him, The Spirit intercedes for us where our words miss the mark, or we simply do not know what to say. I take this as, while we are speaking words the best we can, the Spirit, searching our heart, translates the rough language into that which God knows and feels in us.

The MacLaren Expositions of Holy Scripture on this passage states, “The context speaks of intercession expressed in ‘groanings which cannot be utterd,’ and which, unexpressed though they are, are fully understood  ‘by Him who searches the heart.’ Plainly, therefore, these groanings come from human hearts, and as plainly are the Divine Spirit’s voicing them.” (Under Romans 8:26) While the Spirit intercedes, it is still our heart that feels the longing but simply does not know how to properly express it for one reason or the other. Just as a woman groans in birth pains, so too does she hold on to the hope of the birth of a beautiful child, her child. So here do we have pains, and those pains cause us to groan in our hearts with a longing for the hope that is in each of us.

This passage in its context allows for one to come to an understanding of what the “groanings” are that the Spirit intercedes for us in. Those who are not quite “spiritual” in the emotional sense of the concept might not grasp its meaning. Perhaps someone who has not achieved the point of life experience where one can understand these deep things of the heart. For those who have, its meaning is clear. I certainly have experienced this, on many an occasion. Not knowing how to pray or how to communicate what is in my heart, longing for God’s grace to come to end the hardship and bring the fullness of redemption. Reviewing this passage with more focus has allowed me to find comfort in knowing that the Spirit intercedes for me when my spoken words are not eloquent or well thought out. That the Spirit knows what is in my heart and allows my weakness to still give glory to God.

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