July 10, 2016
Romans is the first of the letters in the New Testament. But even though it comes first among the letters, it was probably written later than most of them. Because Romans is considered to be the height of Paul’s writing, the pinnacle of his maturity and understanding about Jesus. The letter reads like a “Systematic Theology” – a thesis – of the Christian faith.
Now, the reason I point that out this morning is that the part we read, the end of Chapter 8, is a high point in the letter – in Paul’s thesis. Paul has been following a line of thinking. He’s worked systematically through the Christian faith and its meaning. And in the eighth chapter he reaches his conclusion, about a number of things.
So far he has written about human nature, and the spiritual state of humanity. He’s told his readers about their relationship with God through “The Law,” and how we now have peace with God through Jesus Christ. He’s told them about Grace and the forgiveness of sins. If you have a Bible with little headings at the top of the page, you can work your way through his points.
Now we come to chapter 8. And last week, we talked about the first part of this Chapter. There we read, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the spirit of the life in Christ has set us free from the law of sin and death.” We talked about that being our “Declaration of Independence,” our declaration of “freedom in Christ.”
This week I began with these words I often use in funerals. Verse 18 says, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us.” At first, Paul almost seems to be making a point about the subject of “suffering.” And that would be a good subject all by itself. Why people suffer is a question that has been around for as long as there have been people around.
I saw a sign on a wall the other day that said, “3 out of 5 people suffer from headaches. Does that mean that the other 2 enjoy them?” Well, this is a little bit more serious than that! Why people suffer is a big question! And actually, the real question people have about it is why people suffer who don’t deserve it! Remember the title of the popular book that came out a number of years ago. It was “Why do Bad Things Happen to Good People.” That’s the dilemma. We’re actually not all that concerned with bad things happening to bad people. We understand that. They deserve it, right? But, why do bad things happen to good people?
The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” If you think about it, they didn’t bring the man to Jesus to be healed! They brought him to make a point! (I wonder how he felt about that!) They had the understanding that the people had in the story of Job. “You must have done something wrong, Job! Hence your suffering!” “You’d better figure out what you did, and get right with God!”
So Paul addresses the problem of suffering, but he does so in the context of his high conclusion about the person and work of Jesus Christ. Paul’s answer to the problem of suffering is tied directly to that! His statement about suffering is made in comparison to “the glory that is to be revealed to us.” And he says the two things “are not even worth comparing!”
He goes on to say that “We are redeemed.” And he said that we are redeemed “along with all of creation.” “And in that redemption we have ‘hope.’” And “that hope sustains us.” “And we also have the Spirit!” And the spirit helps us to pray in our times of weakness.
Do you feel like you have hope? Do you feel like you have hope, even when you are going through hard times? I hope so. Because without hope, hardship leads us down the road to depression. God wants us to have hope. He wants us to know he is with us,
through whatever we might face. Again, I “hope” you know that!
“Besides,” Paul goes on, “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him.” Now, I want to make something perfectly clear here. Too many people get stuck in that mode of the Pharisees and of the people in Job. They believe that God “caused” all things. Every hardship must be a lesson from God, something he’s “doing to us” to make us stronger. But I say, that’s not true. And so does Jesus!
This passage says that God works good in everything. Not that he causes everything! We could stop right there, and think of nothing else today! God gives us hope in suffering. He helps us through it. There is ultimately “great glory” to be revealed to us. But, it’s wrong to conclude that, just because there are times when God has caused suffering to teach a person something or make them stronger, that means that all suffering happens for that reason! Not only is that a poor conclusion, but it puts God in a very bad light!
Too often we try to put God in a box. We keep him in a nice confined space, and in a neat and understandable form. We try to figure out “how he works.” That’s comfortable to us. It’s not comfortable to have a God who is beyond all of that. We sing a song at camp “Our God is a great big God.” And the chorus ends, “Our God is a great big God, and he holds us in his hands.” That’s true! But sometimes I make the kids sing, “Our God is a great big God, and he won’t fit in our heads!” And that’s very true! When we think we have God all figured out, that’s when we’re probably the furthest away from understanding him!
“In everything, God works for good…” he said. And then we find a whole series of words here. “Those who he ‘foreknew,’ he also ‘predestined.’ Those he ‘predestined’ he also ‘called,’ he ‘justified,’ and he ‘glorified.’ We could talk about all of those words for a long time. (Especially “predestined!” We Presbyterians like that word! …Apparently!) But taken as a whole, those words tell us that God is sovereign! God knows! We don’t know why things happen sometimes. We don’t know why God allows things to happen sometimes. And that’s a more important word, I think! But, whatever happens, our sovereign God can work for good in all things. And again, it’s not that God causes all things, but that he works for good in them!
That’s the perspective on suffering that Paul wants to give us. It’s not worth comparing – to the glory that is to be revealed to us!” That’s the perspective! That’s the big picture! And then his conclusion is this. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” The God who has done all of this – everything he’s been saying up to this point – the God who is sovereign – that God loves us! In fact – and here’s his grand conclusion – nothing, neither death nor life, angels nor principalities, things present nor things to come… Nothing will be able to separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus!
That’s Paul’s answer to the problem of suffering. And it’s also his conclusion as to why Jesus came to earth! Both answers are the same! “If God is for us, who can be against us?” “Nothing can separate us from his love!”
Why do people suffer? We don’t always know. Sometimes they bring it on themselves. Sometimes others bring it on them. (It’s that darn “free will” thing!) But no matter what, God is for us! God loves us! God works for good! God gives us hope! God sustains us by his spirit!
Everything fades in comparison to that! Everything fades in comparison to the glory that is to be revealed to us.
Eternal God, we
thank you for your steadfast love and faithfulness to us. We thank you that nothing can separate us from your love! We thank you for your Spirit, by which we can live for you and have the hope of your glory. Help us to continue to look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, as we give you glory, now and forever, world without end, Amen.