Romans 8:35-36 “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble, or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’”
In order to open our eyes and help us see God’s love, Paul gives us two lists. We might call the first one “Love’s skeptics” or “Love’s deniers.” So often our experience seems to contradict the idea that God loves us. If God really loves us, then why? Why does this list exist? Why is my life full of trouble and hardship? Ancient life was not so different than our own. Behind the words “trouble” and “hardship” in Paul’s Greek are experiences we know all too well. “Trouble” literally has the sense of “pressure.” We feel the “squeeze.” The weight of our responsibilities is crushing us. We feel pressure to compromise our integrity from people for whom we work or peers at school. “Hardship” puts us in narrow place, a tight spot. The walls are closing in. The options are running out. Finally we are cornered and trapped.
Why, if he loves us, does God let us be persecuted? How come I can’t just fit in and be accepted by everyone else? Why should they be making jokes because I try to live my faith? Why should my job, my reputation, my safety be threatened because of what I believe?
If I am God’s child and he loves me, then why should I suffer famine or nakedness? Or to put it in more 21st Century American terms, why should I be living on the edge of poverty? Why should I be struggling to make ends meet? Doesn’t God promise our daily bread? What gives?
What about danger or sword? My house has to be a little fortress–dead bolts and alarm systems, maybe even a weapon–to keep me safe these days. Even these offer no absolute guarantees. Has God stopped loving us?
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” Notice that Paul doesn’t deny these things happen to Christians. But in all these things, we are still the conquerors. God is still loving us just the same. Faith learns to trust that God’s promises are more real, more true, more certain than all we see or experience, because nothing stands between us and Christ’s love.
In support of that assertion, Paul brings his second list. Here are the leading candidates for getting between us and God’s love for us. Every one of them is destined to fail.
“I am convinced that neither death nor life…” Death can’t do it. Although death was at one time the penalty for sin that cut us off from God, now it is the gateway to life, and it is the last step in bringing us home to him. It actually brings us into the direct presence of God and his love, not farther away.
Life can’t do it, either. Maybe more than people fear death today, they fear the things that life can throw at us. We don’t want to suffer. But the worst that life has to offer is just temporary, and God promises to love us through it all.
“Neither angels nor demons…” Spiritual powers, whether good or evil, cannot do it. They deserve our respect because their powers greatly exceed our own. But they are no match for God and his love. Even if all the good angels were to turn against us (which they would never do), God’s love would remain the same, always protecting us, always saying to them, “You may go this far and no farther.” These most powerful spiritual beings (other than God himself) cannot separate us from his love.
“Neither the present nor the future nor any powers…” Nothing in time can do it. We may not like the times in which we live. They seem evil. Christianity and Christians seem to be in retreat. We may fear the future with all its unknowns even more. But present or future, from now until the day Jesus returns, we will be the objects of God’s love, every minute, every moment until the final tick of the clock and time itself comes to an end.
“Neither height nor depth nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Build a space probe and travel to the farthest edges of the created universe. Dig a hole and keep digging until you come out in China. God’s love for you is bigger and more powerful than anything else that exists. You will never find anything anywhere that can separate us from God’s love in Jesus Christ.