Genesis 41:25-36, 53-57, Romans 8:28-39
August 3, 2008
As I said last week, I want us to think today about the incredible Love of God! As we do, I want us to look at this passage from Romans 8. Listen to it again. This is my favorite part of this chapter.
“For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That is one of my favorite passages in all of scripture. And I know I say that a lot! But I have a lot of favorite passages! And this one is very near the top! And I love sharing them with you!
Now, I have to tell you when I usually read this passage. I usually read this – when do you think? In what setting? I usually read this at funerals. That’s where I deal with this passage the most. Just like First Corinthians 13 is a standard at weddings. Well, at funerals it’s Romans 8! (And the 23rd Psalm!) And that’s good. Because indeed, nothing, “neither death nor life… will be able to separate us…” from God’s love. And that’s an important thing to remember at those times.
Well, this morning I want us to see that this is a wonderful passage for all the rest of our lives, too! I want us to think about that great love that God has for us always! Because God’s love is empowering! It’s inspirational! It can add new depth to the joyful times of or lives. And it can be sustaining in ways we can’t comprehend even in the darkest times of our lives! That’s what I want us to think about today. I want us to focus in on the infinite love of God.
As we do, I also want us to see that there’s a lot going on in this passage. And it would take quite a long time to get through this if we “unpacked it all,” like we used to say in the ‘80’s. That is, if we paused on every word or even looked every idea. But let me start out by pointing out one of the more important things that’s happening here.
When Paul talked about all these things that have not the power to separate us from God’s love, he was working hard to break an understanding that people had about God in the ancient world. And it’s one that people still hold on to today. (You’ve probably heard me mention this before.) It’s the understanding, the belief, about God that says “if God is pleased with you, he loves you, and then good things happen.”
Now, let me first say that there is some truth in that. It certainly happens, to some extent, that when we’re trying to please God, when we are striving to draw closer to him and grow in our relationship with him, he blesses us. Not only that, but simply through the efforts we make to do those things, a lot of good things happen to us. We grow in the joy of life. We see God’s blessings more readily. We feel God’s closeness. And we are more highly aware of his love. And notice, I said we are more aware of his love. It’s not that he loves us more, because he loves us always! One of the constant refrains in the Old Testament is, “The steadfast love of God endures for ever and his faithfulness to all generations.”
That “steadfast love” of God is important to remember. Because the problem people have had for centuries, is that they have thought the opposite was true, too. They believed that, if bad things were happening to you, it must be that God is displeased you. And the worse part of that is that it’s not a far stretch to think that if God is displeased, then he doesn’t love you. We feel that way sometimes, don’t we? Now we parents know that’s not true. We can be displeased with our children, but we still love them. But somehow with God it seems to be different, somehow. I guess if you rule the universe you’re held to a different standard!
Well, that understanding is a tough one to break. If things are going good, God must be pleased with us. But if something is going wrong, God must be displeased with us. Those feelings are strong, aren’t they? Remember, that’s what the “comforters” of Job told him. They said, “Job, you must have done something really bad for this terrible stuff to have happened to you!” Jesus had to deal with this in the New Testament when they brought before him a man who had been blind from birth. “Who sinned,” they asked, “this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2) This infirmity must be punishment for someone’s sin. Someone must have displeased God. Someone must have caused God to love them less.
I want you to see again today how that’s the wrong idea about God. It gives God a bad reputation. And it’s based to a great extent on feelings. We feel like God doesn’t love us! But unfortunately people have held on to that thought for as long as there have been people! Again, that’s the reason for the tremendous sales of that best selling book, “Why do Bad Things Happen to Good People?” As I’ve often said, people wouldn’t care about a book entitled “Why do Bad things happen to Bad People?” But perhaps they should! Because they think they’ve got that one all figured out! We know why bad things happen to bad people. Bad things happen to bad people because they (what?) deserve it But when we hold to that understanding, it all gets “messed up” when bad things happen to good people.
Well, the reason I say all this is that one of the people who certainly would have subscribed to that understanding was Paul. He would have been just fine with all of that when he was “Saul the Pharisee!” If bad things were happening to you, God must be displeased, and if good things were happening, he must be pleased. And somehow God’s love was somehow swirled around in all that business about reward and punishment. At the lease it affected person’s feelings about how God loved them.
This passage then shows the incredible change that came over Paul. Because now here he was attempting to debunk that understanding of God with some of the greatest and most memorable words ever written! “Nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!” The old formulas of reward and punishment are gone. Now it was this incredible love of God that had come over Paul. Now he knew that nothing can separate us from that love! He knew that now because he realized it about himself! And it showed in all his writing.
So how do you feel about that? Do you know that incredible love of God – for you! Maybe you don’t feel like that works for you. Maybe you’re more comfortable with the old understanding. It’s less threatening in some ways. For one, you don’t really have to be in relationship with God. You just have to be good, or not be good. And unfortunately, that’s how a lot of people want it to be. They don’t want that relationship! Oh sure, they want to “have all their bases covered.” They want to be sure to make provision for their “eternal destiny,” just like they want to make provision for their retirement. But they don’t want that “intrusiveness” of God in their lives. They don’t want anything to have to do with the uncomfortable or difficult idea of having an actual relationship with the Almighty. They just want to “do the minimum.” Faith, for them, is simply “retirement planning.”
Of course, what we’re finding today is that many people aren’t making plans for their retirement! Less and less people these days are doing that! And that’s scary! In a couple of decades, maybe sooner, we’re going to see a lot of retirement age people in crisis. Or we’re going to see more and more older people working! Well, the reason I say that is because of the spiritual parallel. People are doing the same with their “eternal destiny.” For various reasons they want nothing to do with God – the inconvenience, responsibility, or the idea that this God might expect something of them, or worse “tell them what to do.” (Or what not to do!) Many are heading for a “spiritual crisis,” just like there looks to be a “retirement crisis!”
Paul gave us these words for today so that we would know that faith is not about all that. It’s not about just making plans for our “eternal destiny.” It’s not about “doing the minimum” to be sure our “bases are covered” It’s not about being on the right side of that old formula of punishment and reward, and making sure God is pleased with us. The Christian faith is about knowing the love of God, and living this life in joy with him. It’s about the restoration of that relationship – which is why he created us! It’s about being “fully alive,” and having peace in this life, even despite circumstances. Because sometimes things are tough. Sometimes bad things happen. But none of them, none of them, can separate us from God’s love! It’s not about the next life, like too many people think it is! It’s about this life! We have been created to share this life with God!
Paul told us 2,000 years ago that “Nothing in all creation” can separate us from the love of God. When he realized that, it was the most freeing, the most joyful thing that could ever happen to him. And it’s the same with us. And when we realize that, I have to imagine God saying, “Finally! I’ve wanted you to know that all along! You are my dear children! And I might be displeased with you from time to time, but nothing in all creation can separate you from my love!” And that, folks, changes everything! It changes everything about us. It changes everything we do! (It changes who we are – because we then know whose we are!)
I know there are times when we don’t feel like we’re very loveable. There are times when it doesn’t seem as though God loves us, or we’ve forgotten that, or we don’t think it matters. But even in those times – especially in those times – we have this incredible, amazing, life-changing promise, that nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!
Eternal God, we know that your love for us is everlasting. Your word assures us of that. But sometimes we forget. Sometimes we don’t realize how important that is, and how life changing it is. Sometimes we still live as though those things that try to separate us from your love actually have the power to do so. Help us to know for sure that your love is everlasting, and it is above and beyond whatever we may be feeling or thinking or worrying about. We thank you, Lord, and we give you all the praise and honor and glory you deserve. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.