There are three connected ‘groans’ in Romans 8:
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Rom. 8:15).
That’s a pretty clear cry, though it is childlike, not at all sophisticated, and a cry that comes from deep within.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies (Rom. 8:22, 23).
Two groans in these verses with creation and ‘we ourselves’ groaning. These two are placed together as they are deeply related.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words (Rom. 8:26).
Ever despaired as to how to pray? Sure, praying in tongues helps, and maybe Paul has that in mind here, but I think he is also pushing for something deeper than that, with a word used only once in the NT (alaletos, from a related word for ‘mute’ – alalos), maybe we could say with sighs / groans that are inarticulate, sounds without words.
Land / geography holds the corporate memory and so responds from that memory until either the memory is healed or new memories come in. New, as in new and different, do not occur naturally as memory locked in the geography draws yet more of the same kind of action to itself thus layering and re-enforcing earlier memories. (The rape of Dinah in Gen. 34 and the subjugation of the woman in John 4 seem related, being the same geography though separated by more than 1000 years. The pain from Genesis 4 is still present and manifesting in John 4.) Thus there has to be a healing for the memory locked in the land.
The land, responding as victim shouts with a voice of pain, that sound being one that is seeking recompense. Land does not by itself automatically release the pain through forgiveness. We have to hear the voice of the land, but we also have to help the land to articulate more than pain and to rise up so that ‘a better word than that of the blood of Abel’ is spoken; that original word coming up from the land being one that was requiring justice. If that voice is heard and responded to then the cycle will simply continue.
Back then to the Scriptures in Romans 8.
The Spirit within us groans with inarticulate sounds, sounds that cannot be put into words. We might not be able to articulate with words, but in yielding to the Spirit a sound is made, a groan is offered that will connect with creation.
This un-wordy groaning is for the future, for something different than that which is here now to manifest, something that is in line with liberation. The groaning calls for the future but springs from the past. The past of a simple understanding that we have been set free, that an unsophisticated, childlike cry of ‘Abba Father’, an expression of freedom is what we also desire for the land that is beyond us and yet present to us. Nothing smart there, something that could even be viewed as naive and childlike.
And in the same way creation has been groaning for liberation, a liberation akin to ours. Creation becomes our responsibility (nothing new there – consistent from the creation stories onwards).
We were in bondage, the Spirit comes and we receive a firstfruit, and respond with ‘Abba Father’.
Creation likewise is in bondage, but ‘sees’ our future and groans for the same. I suggest looking for our response. How do we respond, for we feel weak; the Spirit comes to align us toward the future, perhaps also we should expect that the land could receive her firstfruits, some measure of freedom, even if not the fullness.
I wonder also with this liberation of the family of God if we are not challenged to hear something from heaven that we can teach the land to speak forth. In 2 Cor. 12:4 Paul speaks of being
caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat.
Although he uses another (rarely used) word regarding what he heard, there seems something parallel to the Spirit’s help. ‘Inarticulate sounds’ and ‘sounds that are not to be put into words’. Could it be that to truly help the land we have to hear some sounds that cannot be put into words so that the land calls out beyond a cry for recompense but we teach the land to also groan without words?