Connections 08.07.2016: Safe in God’s Love

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Romans 8:28-39

What follows is my paraphrase of the last two verses (vv. 38-39) of this week’s lesson text.

For I am convinced that

neither death,
nor life,
nor recessions,
nor politics,
nor presidential elections,
nor terrorism,
nor racism,
nor sexism,
nor homophobia,
nor the internet,
nor arrogance,
nor ignorance,
nor hatred,
nor lies,
nor xenophobia,
nor jingoism,
nor fear,
nor twenty-four hour news,
nor climate change,
nor mass killings,

nor anything else in all creation—
either the way God made it
or the way we’ve messed it up—
will be able to separate us from
the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I am also convinced that
being safe in God’s love
frees us to do what we can
about those realities that
cause people so much pain,
and that no matter what happens
to us because of our efforts to help,
that won’t be able to separate us from
the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, either.

Discussion

1. How would you paraphrase Romans 8:38-39?
2. What do you think v. 28 teaches? How have you heard it misinterpreted and misused?
3. In this passage, Paul tells us that we can be completely confident in God’s love. How would you summarize the reasons he gives us for such confidence?
4. Paul doesn’t say that nothing will hurt us. He says rather that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 39). Why is that good news?
5. How do we “conquer” (v. 37) in all the things that happen to us? How did Jesus conquer? What do we learn from his life, death, and resurrection about what it means for Christians to conquer life’s troubles, tragedies, and obstacles?

Reference Shelf

Paul begins with a transitional statement, which once more appeals to a shared understanding: “we know that for those who love God he works all things together for good” (8:28). It is a statement whose precise meaning is obscure in any case but has also become dangerously distorted by being used out of context. For some Christians the verse has become a kind of pious slogan used to mollify grief or assuage anger in the face of hard experience, having the bromidal effect of, “Don’t worry, God will make everything turn out all right.”

In fact, Paul does not claim that absolutely everything works out fine for every person, whether they “love God” (one of the few times he uses this traditional designation for the pious; see 1 Cor 2:9; Jas 1:12; 2:5) or not. His statement is both more embracing and tentative. First, he does not say that God “makes everything” turn out right. Rather, it is that “God works with all things”—it is the big picture that Paul has in mind, not the incidental details of lost coins or school exams. Second, God works with them “toward good” (eis agathon). “Good” here stands as the goal toward which all things move rather than a quality that inheres in everything that happens. The precise import of Paul’s declaration is given by his next statement, which begins, because: it is in the light of what we have learned about God thus far that gives us the conviction to make such a sweeping and affirmative state- ment. Here it has to do with “being called according to his purpose.” The good that God is working toward, then, is that of salvation or, in other words, of belonging to God’s people and eventually sharing in God’s life. The topic, therefore, is that of God’s “purpose” (prothesis, 8:28).

In order to speak meaningfully about God’s purpose or “will,” it is necessary to posit that what humans experience a posteriori, God has known and chosen ,em>a priori, even though temporal statements are in the strictest sense inappropriate for God. All such language is “from the bottom up,” defining God in terms of the human perception of movement, change, and causality, trying to describe the eternal in terms of the temporal. What for humans is “before and after” can be in the sight of God, simultaneous. Boethius (in The Consolation of Philosophy) has a wonderful analogy. The human looking down on ants sees their “future” unfolding “ahead” of them, simply because the field of vision given by human height enables them to grasp in a single vision what the ant may take a day to encounter. Even such analogies, of course, falter. But they remind us that discourse about “God’s purpose/will” must always remain a matter of human guesswork.

Luke Timothy Johnson, Reading Romans: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2001), 141-42.

Michael Ruffin is husband to Debra and father to Joshua (Michelle) and Sara (Benjamin). A graduate of Mercer University and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, he has previously served as a pastor and as a university professor. He lives on the Ruffin Family Farm in Yatesville, Georgia. You can visit and communicate with him at MichaelRuffin.com. He is the Connections Series Curriculum Editor.

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