“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written, ‘For your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:31-39)
I must confess, looking through a worldly lens this passage seems to oscillate between victory and defeat. On one hand, if God is for us, who is against us? But God is for Jesus, and He let Him die. Yet He raised Him from the death. Who can separate us from God’s love? Seems like the answer should be “No one”, but instead He detours to us being slaughtered all day long. Then reverts us to “But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.” Then tells us that nothing in all creation can, indeed, separate us from the love of God (ultimately answering the question that was asked a few verses early, where the answer seemed to detour into our being put to death all day long like sheep sent to slaughter).
What the heck? This feels about as tumultuous as riding on a Nepali highway.
But that’s what I see when I look at it through the worldly lens. Let me show you what it looks like when the foundation firmly rests in the fact that a) God is sovereign, b) We overwhelmingly conquer through Christ, and c) Nothing in the whole of creation, seen and unseen, can separate us from Christ’s love.
Earlier in Romans 8, Paul uses the analogy of childbirth. Of creation groaning and suffering the pains of childbirth (vs. 22) and us groaning likewise (vs. 23). We are waiting for the same thing- the fullness of God’s redemption. Childbirth isn’t a super pleasant process. I was fortunate to have relatively easy labors, but I will spare you the details of what many women go through because I don’t want to discourage anyone from having children. The reason we endure the pain of childbirth is because we know that on the other side is someone whose worth far surpasses the pain we endured.
This is the story with us, the sufferings of the world, and Christ. Paul can talk about a Christian’s suffering, to the point of following Jesus to the slaughterhouse, with an eye on the victory, because he knows a secret that many of us also know: That our hope and joy don’t rest in what happens to our bodies. We are heaven-bound, and this is just an uncomfortable place to labor a little while, while we wait for our deliverance into Glory.
We read things like “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs” and think of the bravery of those who have gone before, and the worth of the One they were happily willing to die for, but we have to realize that these were actual men and women, who literally allowed their bodies to be burned, their flesh to be torn, to make prisons their temporary dwelling, all because they were entirely convinced that Christ is worthy. I am too. They knew their home isn’t on earth. They knew they were testifying, by their willingness to die, of the loveliness of Christ. They knew what they would gain on the other side of these labor pains is FAR greater than the sacrifices they were making.
We ought not judge His love for us based on our struggles, either. If Christ loved us all the way to the cross, inviting us to follow Him, why should our struggles make us question His love? Shouldn’t they invite us deeper into fellowship with Him? Didn’t He love us best through His own suffering? Yet now look where He is! He is at the right hand of the Father! Soon enough, we will see the fullness of the promise in verses 17 and 18, “If indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”
You see, for a Christian, there is nothing that can be done to this body that makes Christ unworthy of our devotion. All the sufferings of this present time only serve to remind us how much sweeter it will be when we get to heaven. There is tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril and sword. There is life and death, angels and demons, things present and things to come. Though all of it may scream loudly in our faces, none of it has power that even begins to touch the hem of His robe. We, who are being conformed to the Image of His Son, may endure some hardships down here, but if we are His, there is nothing that can divide us from Him or His tremendous love for us. Nothing that is not worth enduring for the Glory that lies on the other side. In all these things, “we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.” To Him be all praise!