NOTHING CAN SEPARATE US

Have you ever had someone say to you ‘If you confess your hidden sin God will heal you?’ or ‘If you had enough faith you would not be poor?’ Such statements infer that God is punishing us for some sin, or God is withholding ‘blessing’ from us because of our lack of faith; that our sin or our imperfect faith is somehow preventing us from receiving the full measure of God’s love.

In Romans 8:35 Paul asks two questions:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

The first question refers back to his questions in verses 33 and 34. There he challenged the legal right of anyone to bring a charge against those whom God has acquitted. There he challenged the legal right of anyone to condemn a person for whose sins Jesus Christ died. The answer to this question is ‘No one.’ No one can undo the redemptive, reconciling work of Jesus Christ. No one can sever a person from the love of Christ.

Paul’s second question asks: but what about suffering? Is not suffering an indication of God’s judgement? Isn’t suffering a removal of God’s love? No. In verse 36, quoting Psalm 44:22, Paul refers to the fact that suffering is the way life is. Suffering happens. Paul has already taught us that in 8:18 – 25. Some suffering commonly threatens all humans – trouble, hardship, danger, famine, nakedness. Other suffering – persecution - is deliberately targeted towards specific groups, including Christians.

When Christians experience suffering that is common to all – it does not mean God has stopped loving them.

When Christian experience deliberately targeted persecution – it does not mean God has stopped loving them.

In 8:37 Paul states that none of these can separate us from Christ's love – they can never mean God is condemning us. Even in the presence of suffering 'we are more than conquerors'.

How? Because we have sinless lives? No. Because we have perfect, unwavering faith? No! Only 'through him who loved us.'

Suffering is suffering. For those united by faith to Christ: It is not punishment for sin. Christ, who loved us, bore all of that for us. It does not mean God has cut off his love. God loved us while we still sinners, he is not going to cut us off now that he has placed us in Christ (Romans 5:1-11; 8:32).

Christians who believe that suffering is because God is withholding his love because of their sin, or that their sin has blocked God's love, are still seeing their relationship with God as merit-based; they are assuming that God is still relating to them as they are in themselves, apart from Christ. They are not living with the grand and glorious forgiveness that is theirs because of the death of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In 8:38-39 Paul affirms with great confidence and assurance: Nothing in all creation can separate us from God's love for us in Christ. Nothing can deny or undo our salvation, because our relationship with God is not based on anything variable or changeable but on Christ to whom God has united us by his Spirit.

Nothing.

Nothing life. Nothing in death.
Neither angels nor demons.
Nothing in the present. Nothing in the future.
Not any power, no matter how strong how high or how deep.
Nothing at all that exists anywhere in the whole universe.

Nothing can separate those who belong to Jesus Christ from the love that God has given to us in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Sadly, many Christians continue in their own hearts and minds to relate to God on the basis of their own performance. Their awareness of peace with God is non-existent or fragile. They constantly fear God's condemnation and punishment. They still live as though trapped and enslaved by the law of sin and death. They have no assurance of salvation. To them suffering is God's punishment, a payout for some sin or some failure of faith.

To these Christians, to all of us, Paul says: we rejoice in suffering! (5:3) Suffering can never again be perceived as punishment. It has no ability to sever us from the love of God in Christ. Nothing can do that. Christ has taken all the punishment. Christ has borne all the rejection and separation from God. It will never be experienced by the believer. Never. All that could ever separate us from God has been disempowered forever.

Yes. We suffer. Along with the rest of the world. But even in our suffering, we are more than conquerors through him who loves us. Rather than question or disprove the integrity of our faith, suffering is the real life context in which true faith is both demonstrated and confirmed.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2020

For further discussion of suffering go to these studies on Job,  and these studies on Suffering Revisited.