I thought I’d cover a few more bits and pieces of chapter eight of Romans, since it is such a rich source for reflection. I can only hit on a few high points here; a thorough treatment would have you scrolling down, down, down, for a long, long time! In my last post I got as far as verse 17.
The next verse is a reminder, something we ought to have always before us, because we may tend to doubt it in the midst of our struggles and trials: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” We should realize who it is that is speaking these words. He’s someone who had been regularly scourged, beaten, imprisoned, and more, all for the sake of Christ. So if he says the sufferings of this life are insignificant in the face of the glory of the next, we know this is not some ivory-tower theorizing. In the previous verse he indicated that our sufferings are actually a necessary pre-requisite for our glorification. He says we are “fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” A servant is not greater than his master. The Lord said: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Lk. 24:26). So our own sufferings, whatever they may be, are not only required of us, but they also pale into insignificance when compared to the glory we hope for in Heaven.
We have help for this. The Apostle tells us that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness.” He says this because we don’t even know how to pray as we ought, let alone endure the myriad trials of life with equanimity and wisdom. I read a long time ago in a commentary on this passage that we should note that St Paul doesn’t say the Spirit helps us out of our weakness, but the Spirit helps us in our weakness. That may seem like splitting hairs, but there is a difference. We would probably want the Spirit to notice our weakness and then deliver us from it so that we will be weak no more. But since the Scripture says the Spirit helps us in our weakness, it means that God wants to be present to us in the midst of our suffering or inadequacies, and not merely make them go away. Paul spoke of this in his famous “sufficient grace” passage in Second Corinthians 12. The Lord told him that his power is perfected in weakness. So the Apostle was content to remain weak, so that Christ could be strong in him.
The next piece of eight is another famous passage, which can be variously translated. The usual way is: “All things work for the good for those who love God.” This is an encouraging and consoling passage, for it helps give us peace amidst the perplexing and even maddening experiences of life that tempt us to wonder if all the universe is just randomly spinning free as if it were some runaway vehicle hurtling toward a bottomless pit. Spiritual writers tend to emphasize (and rightly, I think) the “all.” All things work for the good, not just some of them, and not just the ones that we think have some clear potential for good. There’s another way to translate this verse, which is actually a little more accurate: “God works all things together (synergei) for good…” The first translation may give the impression that in the end all things will somehow turn out for the best, which is OK in itself. But the second one seems to give God a more active role in the events of our life, yet without staging everything and thus threatening our freedom. The “things” are there already as the facts of our world and the elements of our experience, but God works with them—and with us (“those who love God”)—to bring about the good He intends for us. God didn’t cease creating on the “seventh day,” but as Jesus said: “My Father is working still, and I am working” (Jn. 5:17). So God is continuously busy with “all things,” working with them for the good, inviting us to share in his creative labors, so that we can realize that all things can be worked with unto good, and so we don’t despair when nothing seems to be working for the good!
Finally, we’ll advance to the glorious conclusion of the chapter. The Apostle offers another pithy saying to reflect upon: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” That thought kind of puts things in perspective, doesn’t it? He asks a few more rhetorical questions to the effect that if God gave us the greatest gift (his own Son), is He not able to take care of smaller matters for us as well? If we’re secure in God’s grace, can anything threaten us? This is a call to put our trust totally in God, to put into effect everything St Paul has been telling his readers about faith in the first seven chapters (though if the seventh still makes you dizzy, stick to the first six!). The righteous live by faith, we have peace with God through Jesus; we stand in grace, for divine love flows into us by the Holy Spirit; the gift of God is eternal life in Christ.
So then, Paul’s final eloquent challenge: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” He goes on to describe all the things that one might think could separate us from Christ—tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, war, etc—and he bowls them all over like tenpins. All these things and more cannot separate us from God. Why? You guessed it—because God works all things for the good for those who love Him! Paul’s conclusion: nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
It may burst your bubble if I say that sin can separate us from God—and this is the only thing—but keep your bubble intact, because God has a remedy for that as well! This has also been clearly explained in the previous chapters of this Epistle. The remedy for sin is repentance based on faith and love for Him “whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood” (3:25). OK, then, having confessed our sins and received mercy from Him who loves us, we shall not be taken down by anything that the world, the flesh, and the devil hurl against us, for those whom God justifies He also glorifies (8:30).
Let us then not fear suffering (it is necessary) or weakness (the Spirit helps us). Let us not fear anything (God works all things for good), but rather rejoice in the love of God granted to us in Christ Jesus our Lord!