Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35-39 (NKJV)
Since we often look at the circumstances of our lives to determine God’s love for us, then the question we want to answer is what kind of circumstances can come into our lives and demonstrate the God doesn’t love us? This is also the question Paul asks in this passage. Are there any circumstances or situations that will cause Jesus to stop loving us or will demonstrate God no longer loves us? In this passage Paul lists seven circumstances or situations that can cause us to doubt God’s love for us.
Tribulation-This is a hardship that comes from external causes. These are times when you feel as though you are about to be crushed by these trials or hardships. Have you ever been here? Is this type of suffering a sign that God doesn’t love you?
Distress-The word for distress pictures being in a narrow place and then having great anxiety or fear because you don’t know what to do or how to get out. Have you ever felt this way? Is this type of suffering a sign that God doesn’t love you?
Persecution-This is suffering for a cause or belief. In this case, it probably refers specifically to suffering for the Gospel. However we need not narrow it only to being persecuted for the sake of the Gospel or none of us could really relate to this since we’ve never been persecute for the Gospel. In a sense, we could say that what happens to many young people in our schools would be persecution. Persecution often included being abused, mocked, shamed, harassed, ignored, neglected, attacked or tormented. Have you ever suffered this way? Is this kind of suffering a sign that God doesn’t love you?
Poverty-The next things Paul mentions are famine and nakedness. Famine is not having enough food to eat. Nakedness is not having any clothing to wear. When we take these two ideas together we see the idea of poverty. This is not having enough money to provide the basic necessities of life. Have you ever experienced the suffering of real poverty? Is this kind of suffering a sign that God doesn’t love you?
Peril-Peril just means dangers of any kind. These dangers would threaten our safety, our property and our family. I would say we could apply this to the peril you face when you or someone in your family gets a bad test result. Have you ever faced this kind of suffering? Is this kind of suffering a sign that God doesn’t love you?
Sword-This would be danger that actually resulted in violence or the loss of life. Obviously, this would imply martyrdom as the early church faced. That’s really not a problem here in America. Here we might think along the lines of senseless violence. Things like murder, rape, mugging, molestation, violent and sudden death. Have you or someone you loved suffered like this? Is this kind of suffering a sign that God doesn’t love you?
I think we would all acknowledge that any of these would be pretty intense suffering. Can’t you imagine someone suffering in one of these ways feeling forsaken by God? If you’ve gone through this type of suffering, did you feel forsaken by God? In the midst of this kind of suffering, can you be confident that God loves you? Look at Paul’s answer to his own question.
Paul quotes Psalm 42:11. In that Psalm the Psalmist makes the specific statement that those who follow God should expect to face suffering. Believers who suffer are not the exception they are the rule. Notice the wording used. The suffering comes because they are following God. The suffering is severe because they are being killed. The suffering is constant. It happens all day long. They are treated badly because their persecutors think no more of them than they do animals heading to slaughter.
What is the position or condition of those who have trusted in Christ and yet are still suffering? According to Paul we are more than conquerors through Christ who loved us. Part of what this means is that we don’t merely survive the suffering but we are also victors over the suffering. The suffering is hard and it hurts but it doesn’t destroy us or our faith in Jesus. When the suffering is over we are more confident in the greatness, power and love of our Savior than ever before.
We can be tempted to look at this and say, “That sounds nice in here but it doesn’t work in the real world.” We have to realize that the man who wrote this wasn’t an ivory tower theologian or an armchair quarterback who sat back where things were easy and told others how things ought to be done. Instead, this was a man on the front lines of the battle. Paul had firsthand experience with tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril and the sword. He knew what it was to suffer continually for the sake of Christ and come out on the other side as more than a conqueror through Christ. Paul knew that Christ was his victory and since Christ had overcome the world, Paul would be and had been victorious as well.
His conclusion through it all was that nothing could separate us from the love of God that was found in Christ. Paul is convinced that nothing could separate us from God’s love.
Death-Suffering that leads to death doesn’t separate the believer from God’s love. Instead, it ushers us into the presence of Christ and that is victory!
Life-There is nothing in this life that can separate us from the love of God. There is no hardship, no person, no circumstance, no nothing in this life that will be able to separate us from God’s love. Instead, through suffering in this life we will experience Christ as our Good Shepherd in ways we couldn’t have imagined otherwise and this is victory!
Evil Spiritual Powers– We know from plenty of places that we are involved in a very real spiritual battle. The evil spiritual forces greatly desire our destruction. They can attack and do their worst but in the end we will find out that Christ made a spectacle of them through His victory on the cross. This means that they have no power over us and could not possibly separate us from God’s love and this is victory!
The tide of time– There nothing in my life now and there is nothing that will come into my life in the future that can separate me from the love of God. There is nothing that can happen in our lives and future that the providence of God does not secure us through. All these things will do is prove to us the truth of Isaiah 41:10 that says, “Fear not for I am with you. Be not dismayed for I am your God. I will strengthen you, yes I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” This is victory!
No created thing-Height and depth have had some various interpretations through the years. What makes the most sense to me is that it refers to the full expanse of creation. This would fit well with the next life of “nor any created thing.” There is nothing in all of creation that can separate us from God’s love. Instead they will just prove to us to use that even if our heart and flesh fail us, God is our strength and portion forever (Ps 73:26) and this is victory!
There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God that is revealed to us in Christ Jesus. We have access to this love through faith in Jesus. We experience this love because of Jesus. As long as Jesus is our Savior, this love will never change. Jesus, not circumstances, guarantees God’s love for us because Jesus guarantees that God’s love is enduring and not wavering.