When Words Fail

This post is an excerpt from my sermon this past Sunday, edited to fit better in this format, based on Romans 8:22–27.

Christianity is a religion of hope 1. But the thing about hope is, it can suck. We know we’re looking for a new world Jesus promised, and what we are seeing isn’t it, and the disparity causes some amount of internal grief—so, we groan. And that groaning reveals the ache of our hearts, “When will the new world come in all its fullness?”

And often times words fail us as we try to express this hope and longing—because the longing of our hearts has such dissonance with what we see in this world.

When George Floyd was killed because the person arresting him didn’t see him as human, words fail.

When people’s anger boils over to the point of rage—because of endless broken promises for justice as we saw last Summer, or from the fearful specter of lost power as we saw post-election and on January 6—words fail.

When people would rather catch a potentially deadly disease than admit a pandemic is real—words fail.

When children are shot in the street—words fail.

When people are beaten up simply because their ancestry is asian—words fail.

When we ache to see the people our heart misses—words fail.

When rockets rain down, and death is returned one hundred-fold as a “lesson”—words fail.

When we encounter the hopelessness of addiction or the horrors of abuse—words fail.

I could leave it there, and I think folks would understand the basic impulse behind Christian groaning. But the image is actually much wider.

When the beauty of a sunset moves our heart—words fail.

When a song strikes us so deep tears well up in our eyes—words fail.

When the unshackled joy of a child’s laughter reaches our ears—words fail.

When joy overcomes us as we see long-missed friends—words fail.

When we breathe a sigh of relief because justice manages to stay on track—words fail.

When we see forgiveness bring healing—words fail.

When the immensity of what we claim to do in worship strikes us in a moment of clarity—words fail.

It’s not just the sorrow of this world which triggers our groaning for the new creation, it’s the beauty as well.

But why, whether our groans are triggered through joy or sorrow, don’t we have words to express our longing for the New Creation? Well, think about it. How can we? We’ve never seen it, except in brief glimpses and flashes. But the Spirit, the first fruits of that New Creation promised in Jesus, takes our unintelligible cries and communicates them to the throne of the universe. And in that way, we are heard.

And in the compassion and love our groaning generates in our hearts, Jesus is seen.

  1. You wouldn’t know this nowadays, given the fear and rage and power grasping in which so many Christians exult. To say I’m disgusted is an understatement.  ↩