Church of England Diocese of Guildford Dunsfold


26 Jan 2021, 6:15 p.m.

<strong>When God sighed</strong>

I was reading a passage of scripture the other day when a word jumped off the page at me. It’s only one word, and not a very big one at that. It is a word that I didn’t remember seeing before, but it hit me square in the face. I found it in Mark 7: 31-35. Jesus is presented with a man who is deaf and has a speech impediment. Jesus took the man aside and looked him in the face. Knowing it would be useless to talk, he explained what he was about to do through gestures. He spat and touched the man’s tongue, telling him that whatever restricted his speech was about to be removed. He touched his ears. They, for the first time, were about to hear.

But before the man said a word or heard a sound, Jesus did something I never anticipated.

He sighed.

One might have expected a clap, or a song or a prayer. Even a ‘Hallelujah!’ but the Son of God did none of these. Instead, he paused, looked into heaven, and sighed. From the depths of his being came a rush of emotion that said more than words.

I’ve never thought of God as one who sighs. I’ve thought of God as one who commands, weeps, calls forth the dead...But a God who sighs?

I have begun to wonder if this word caught my eye because I have done my fair share of sighing recently. I have sighed at the ever-increasing numbers of those who have died because of Covid. I have sighed as I have watched doctors and nurses cry because of the pressure they are under. I sighed as I watched protestors storming Capitol Hill. I sighed after I realised, I had spoken wrongly and harshly to my son.

No doubt you have done your fair share of sighing.

Of course, there is the sigh of relief, a sigh of expectancy, and even a sigh of joy. But that isn’t the sigh described in Mark 7. The sigh described is a hybrid of frustration and sadness. The apostle Paul spoke about sighing: he said that Christians will sigh as long as we are on earth and long for heaven; and that the creation sighs as if she were giving birth; even the Spirit sighs as he interprets our prayers (Romans 8:22-27). All these sighs come from the same anxiety; a recognition of pain that was never intended, or of hope deferred.

When Jesus looked into the eyes of this man, the only appropriate thing to do was to sigh. ‘It was never intended this way,’ the sigh said. ‘Your ears weren’t made to be deaf, your tongue wasn’t made to stumble.’ In a strange sort of way, this sigh brings me comfort, because in an indirect way, God’s pain is our comfort.

For it is in the agony of Jesus that our hope lies. Had he not sighed, had he not felt the burden for what was not intended, we would be in a pitiful condition. Had he simply chalked it up to the inevitable or washed his hands of the whole mess, what hope would we have?

But he didn’t. That holy sigh assures us that God still groans for his people. He groans for the day when all sighs cease, when what was intended to be will be.

<strong>Martin Breadmore, Archdeacon of Dorking</strong>