Romans 8:28; 31-39
Even in the midst of our deepest, darkest times God is there. This is one of the reminders I have recounted to you all over the last few weeks. Our lives are filled with times of drought as we have found out with these “Why?” questions these past few weeks. However, as we have gone through these discussions we have seen one thing that holds everything else together. It is God’s presence in both the good and the bad times. It is about God being there in the droughts that make the future droughts easier to handle.
These two scriptures today have a common theme that tie them together. The writer of Joshua records, “for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9b) Pauls says it, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) It is curious that across so many generations among the biblical narrative these two statements appear. It is no coincidence that each of these two writers recorded these similar statements. It is because the true nature of God that is seen and understood from these writers, and through the Bible, was that of a continuing presence from God. A God who was always there.
So often we read about the differences between the God of the Hebrew Bible and the God of the New Testament, but it is recognizing the similarity in these statements that let us know that God has been the same all along. God has had the same will for humanity since the beginning of time, and continues to maintain that same will for us through our own lives. God wants us to understand his continuing presence and to genuinely and authentically love him.
However, as we have found out these last few weeks we do not always feel that way. Sometimes we feel as though God has let us down. That God has abandoned or forsaken us, either through allowing bad things to happen in our lives, not answering our prayers, or through not having a purpose for us. We often wonder how we can continue to turn to God when all of these bad and sometimes terrible things happen all around us. This is the question that plagues us as Christians. This is where our “Why” questions come from. They come from this lost and abandoned feeling. However, the answer is always the same. God is always with us and nothing can separate us from his love, but what does that mean?
As many of you remember I am in the midst of the ordination process in the United Methodist Church. In that comes papers upon papers and interviews upon interviews. This past year after my interviews back in February I was continued by the Board of Ordained Ministry in the area of theology. They saw that I still needed to do some work on how I wrestled with and articulated some of my theology. In that specifically how I wrestled with and articulated this problem of evil and suffering in our world. This problem of God’s perceived absence in our lives.
You see what I was doing was just explaining it with God’s love. I wasn’t actually wrestling with the concepts. All of the answers focused solely on God’s love, but it left one important thing hanging. Why is it that God’s love conquers all of these ideas? It is not enough to just use love as the answer, but we have to know why it is the answer. We cannot simply tell someone going through a tough time that everything is going to be alright, because that isn’t actually helping them. It is kind of like telling them…just get over it. But we have to let them know exactly why it is going to be alright. We have to know the problem and understand why the problem doesn’t matter. Why is it that God’s love prevails over all of the evil and suffering in the world?
This is our last question. It is not a question that causes people to lose faith or to run away from God, but it is a question that we need to answer…or at least understand…to help care for those in bad times and to help get ourselves through those bad times as well. This is the question that ties the rest of the questions together. If we look at each of the past three weeks we see that the answers we tried to give to these questions attacked God or our relationship with God. Therefore when we understand that it is not God we begin to pick apart what Paul is saying to the Romans, “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” (Romans 8:35) The answer as Paul so emphatically puts it at the end of this chapter is Nothing. “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37) Understanding why God’s love prevails helps us to understand a little bit more the role that suffering and evil play in our lives.
We see it also in God’s Commission to Joshua in our Joshua passage. Lets remember back to the story for who Joshua is. Moses has led the Israelites out of Egypt and they are wandering through the desert. God has told Moses that he would not enter the promised land. Therefore, someone else must lead the people into the promised land. That man is Joshua. Joshua is given this reminder by the Lord so that he would never forget in all that happens and occurs God is always present among them. God is always watching over them.
From Joshua is where we get our first recognition of why God’s love prevails. That is that God walks with us. The recorder here in Joshua writes, “I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9) Hamilton writes, “Faith in God is the Christian response to the problem of fear. Among the primary affirmations of Scripture is simply that God is with us.”(Hamilton. Kindle Locations 879-880.) Joshua was probably very afraid of what the future held for him, but the understanding of God’s continued presence can bring a calming sensation in a time of fear. We too must remember this same promise that was made to Joshua. Remembering that God will always be with us.
Hamilton continues on, “God not only promises to walk with us but God also promises to work through us to come to the aid of others in need…when God wishes to do something, God most often does this through people.” (Hamilton. Kindle Locations 905-907) God not only walks with us, but he uses us and other people to do his work. God works through us. God does this not through force, but through nurturing and calling people in his name. We read examples all throughout scripture of God working through certain individuals to help people who need it. God works through Rahab to house the spies in the book of Joshua. God works through Philip to minister to and convert the Eunuch in Acts. There are countless stories in the Bible and throughout history of God working through people to accomplish his work.
Another reason that God’s love prevails is because God takes and uses our times in evil and suffering and make them good to serve God. In other words as Hamilton explains it, “God brings good from evil. God takes our sorrow, suffering, and sin and bends it, redeems it, and sanctifies us through it.” (Hamilton. Kindle Locations 972-973) God works in our bad times to make them good. We explored this idea briefly a few weeks ago. God takes the bad that sometimes happens in our lives and works it for good. Remember God does not cause any of the suffering or evil in our lives, but God does use it. Those stories we hear that even from the deepest and darkest times in our lives we can see God working in our lives, and when we reflect back on those experiences we know, not only that God was with us through that experience, but that God also worked that experience and used it to make us better and stronger.
The last recognition in why God’s love prevails is that God will ultimately deliver us. We learn this from the resurrection. Hamilton notes, “The resurrection of Jesus Christ is itself a shout from God that good triumphs over evil, that the forces of light will defeat the forces of darkness, and that life will vanquish death!” (Hamilton. Kindle Locations 1027-1029) Think about what we celebrate on Easter and the ramifications it continues to pose in our own lives. Jesus rose from the dead and that itself was a message from God that even in the midst of dark times the sunrise of Easter will come.
So why does God’s love prevail?
It is because of our faith and our holding on to who God is in our lives that we find ourselves coming out of the other end of evil and suffering. It is because God walks with us, works through others, uses the bad in our lives to make good, and that God will ultimately deliver us from the bad. These are the concepts we must remember. These are the concepts we can use to help others begin to understand and work through the bad in their lives. And not only to help others but to remember ourselves for when we are going through tough times as well.
“Someone asked C.S. Lewis, ‘Why do the righteous suffer?’ ‘Why not?’ he replied. ‘They’re the only ones who can take it.’” (http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/s/suffering.htm)
That may seem kind of forward and blunt, but there might be a little truth to it. Why can we take it? I think it is because we believe in a God who is loving, who will walk with us, will work through other people to help us, will take our suffering and make it good, and promises that we will ultimately be delivered.
It is difficult to explain these problems other than they are cause by humans. Sometimes it is directly our fault and sometimes it is the fault of others impacting us, but we must always keep in mind that God is not the cause, but God is the redeemer, sustainer, and comforter.
From those final words of Paul in chapter 8,
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:37-39)
This is why God’s love prevails. This is why we know that there is hope. This is why we know everything will be alright. It is because we have a God who does all of these amazing things and cares for us, and when we feel like all your hope might be gone just remember back to all that God has done in your life.
If you are going through a tough time don’t turn away from God, but turn to God and seek healing and comforting from the greatest source of love in our lives.
1.) Hamilton, Adam (2010-10-01). Why?: Making Sense of God’s Will. Abingdon Press. Kindle Edition.
2.) New Revised Standard Version Bible
NOTE: I also used as a sermon illustration the story of Lisa and Michael Gungor and the birth of their daughter Lucie. In it I explained how even in the midst of pain we can still find God’s light. Link to their blog post http://www.gungormusic.com/blog/2014/10/lucie-is-ligh