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I'm trying to understand what the "likewise" is referring to in Romans 8:26. Here is some surrounding context (ESV):

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we await for it with patience. 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

Now, likewise means in the same way (and it is translated like this in some versions, e.g. NIV). So we could rearrange the phrase to say:

In the same way as [refer to something here] the Spirit helps us in our weakness.

But what is the [refer to something here] part? No matter what I plug in, I struggle to see how it is similar to the Spirit helping us in our weakness.

I feel like I'm missing something obvious here, but I just can't see what it is.

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2 Answers 2

The argument you are following is basically this. Verse 22 sums up the idea of nature groaning under the curse, not to die but as pains of childbirth to be renovated. Verse 23 is a ‘likewise’ comparison to our own inward groaning for glory. This introduces the subject of hope:

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Ro 8:24–25). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.)

We are under afflictions and we groan but this should not shake our confidence about what we will be. Therefore our hope comforts us and lifts us up. Our having to ‘wait’ and our ‘pains’ should not discourage us because that is the nature of hope. The whole idea of salvation involves waiting in hope. This is a comfort and joy for us in our sorrows.

Of course one must already see where the ‘likewise’ fits in before stating it. The Spirit also comforts us in our suffering and lifts us up in our hope. The Spirit also comes along side us in our groaning so that that by expressing our deepest prayers and desires (even if we are not fully conscious of what they are) we are lifted up in hope and strength. The likewise has primarily to do with a similarity of the comfort that hope brings with the work of the Spirit.

It represents the condescending Spirit as taking upon himself, as it were, a portion of our sorrows to relieve us of their pressure. “Magna est vis Graeci verbi συναντιλαμβάνεσθαι, quod scilicet partes oneris quo nostra infirmitas gravatur, ad se recipiens Spiritus non modo auxiliatur nobis et succurrit, sed perinde nos sublevat acsi ipse nobiscum onus subiret.”—Calvin. Our infirmities is the appropriate rendering of the original, which expresses the idea both of weakness and suffering. Heb. 4:15, “We have not an high priest which cannot be touched with a feeling of our infirmities;” 2 Cor. 12:5, “I will not glory, but in mine infirmities.” (Hodge, C. (1882). A commentary on the Epistle to the Romans (New Edition) (437). Grand Rapids, MI: Louis Kregel. )

This 'comforting' work of the Spirit is commonly acknowledge in scripture:

So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied. (The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Ac 9:31). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.)

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Paul is drawing a parallel between the our bodies and the ground (from which we are formed), which both "groan" in hope to be liberated from the curse of Adam.

When Paul says that the whole creation "suffers the pains of childbirth" (Rom 8:22), he is making a direct reference to the sin of Adam, which precipitated the curses from God (that included the suffering in childbirth for the woman). That is, the ground had received the curse when Adam sinned (Gen 3:17-19). This curse is why our bodies suffer decay and return to the dust, because we are formed from the ground, to which we return: "ashes from ashes, dust to dust" (Gen 3:19).

But there is a new birth around the corner, and the labor pains of the creation are in hope for this time when the curse on the ground will be lifted. Paul calls this time when "the creation will be set free from the corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God" (Rom 8:21).

For example, when the ground "groans and suffers" (earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, etc.) the cause is the curse that stemmed from the sin of Adam according to Romans 8:20-22. These groanings are the labor pains of the new birth, when one day the ground will be set free from the curse of the ground. In other words, Paul indicates that there is a HOPE that one day in the future that the curse would be lifted from the ground. This HOPE is why the ground "groans." The curse on the ground causes the "groans and suffering" (Rom 8:22), but the "groaning" also stems from the hope of the new birth (release from the curse of Adam) according to Romans 8:23. Or to put it another way, the curse of Adam causes "groans and suffering for the whole creation," but the HOPE of the release from the curse of the ground (for both earth and the Christian) is the reason that we "groan." So while suffering is mitigated, there is still this groaning that remains.

LIKEWISE (Ὡσαύτως), we too will be set free from the death and decay of our bodies, and so we have the hope of "release from the corruption into the freedom of glory..." (Rom 8:21). Our physiological groanings however are not earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, etc., but IN LIKE MANNER (Ὡσαύτως) and in parallel with the earth, the groanings come from within "deep." The Spirit of God articulates these "deep" groanings and intercedes our suffering to the Father in heaven (Rom 8:26), but in hope. This "hope" is this future day for which the ground yearns (Rom 8:20-21), and for which we look forward to the redemption of our bodies from corruption according to Romans 8:23.

In summary, what throws us off and confuses us in this passage is that groaning occurs within suffering because of the sin of Adam and its attendant curse on the creation (thus groaning and suffering happen together). But because there is this hope of release from the curse on the creation, the groaning (in the ground and within our bodies) is actually stemming from the hope of the release from the curse on the creation. This groaning is akin to labor pains, which happen before the new birth (release from the curse). Thus within suffering there is hope, which causes the "deep" groaning.

This slight nuance of meaning and parallel is why we can slip and miss the meaning of this passage.

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+1 - for an excellent explanation of v23 –  Mike Mar 23 '13 at 3:49
    
I've read and reread your answer a few times. But I'm still not clear what you mean. Are you saying that, given our groaning in anticipation of adoption and/or the creation groaning in childbirth, this is "in the same way as" the intercessory groaning of the Spirit on our behalf? –  cdjc Mar 23 '13 at 8:08
    
@cdjc - I have a car with 200,000 miles on it, and there are noises coming from deep within the car. I learned from my mechanic that the car is barely running, but that the sounds coming from the radio (contemporary rock music) are not to be confused with the noises of the decrepit condition of the car -- although they are sometimes indistinguishable! This radio can and will be removed, and will "sing" in a new car one day. –  Joseph Mar 24 '13 at 22:23

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