Neither Life Nor Death
For I am convinced [and continue to be convinced—beyond any doubt] that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present and threatening, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the [unlimited] love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Nagging doubts can rob us of peace-sometimes, they can rob us of our sanity. Some of us are sensitive and reflective, more susceptible to a questioning ember flamingo to an inferno of doubt. Did I do the right thing? we wonder. Did I do enough? Do the problems I’m facing show that God is angry with me? Has He turned His back on me? Will I ever feel confident again?
Chapter 8 in Paul’s letter to the Romans is one of the most encouraging sections of Scripture. It begins with the promise of “no condemnation” and it ends with the promise of “no separation” from God. He holds us tightly in His hands, and He never lets go. To make a point, Paul gives us a list of physical, spiritual, and temporal boundaries that can’t block God’s transcendent love for us. No matter what we face, no matter where we go, no matter what powers are lined up against us, no created thing can come between us and the all-encompassing, never-ending love of God.
One of the most wonderful feelings in the world is a sense of profound relief when our doubts and fears evaporate in the warm glow of fresh confidence in God’s greatness and grace. If we live long enough, even the most stouthearted among us will be tempted to doubt God. Paul’s summary statement at the end of this faith-filled chapter is that when everything else around us crumbles, we can stand strong, knowing that the love of God never fails. As far as I can see, that covers it all, and if we’re not separated from the love of Jesus Christ, then He who has the power to save us not only will save us, but will keep us forever secure.
I have come upon the happy discovery that this life hid with Christ in God is a continuous unfolding.
Sometimes in our attempt to understand and relate to God, we make Him too human. In everything we humans come short of the mark, even with our best efforts. Paul is telling us that nothing, absolutely nothing can ever cause God to cease loving us. When we read scripture, we find that even in the Old Testament as God punished Israel for her sins, He never ceased loving her. Hosea paints a picture of this overwhelming love of God. Hosea marries a prostitute, buying her from her owners and brings her into his home. After some time she disappears and when he finds her again she has gone back to her old lifestyle and he has to buy her back again. Most of us could not love to this level. Many would have walked away and washed their hands. Our sense of right and just and love would have given us permission to cease loving the one who betrayed our love and trust.
Think about how many times Israel turned away from God. To be sure, they suffered, but every time they turned back to God and sought a relationship with Him, He received them. Love beyond comprehension.
Paul is not suggesting that we can’t separate ourselves from God for God has given us and we retain free will. Though I honestly can’t comprehend anyone who has truly met Jesus walking away, I’m aware that some do. We are not held in bondage to God as slaves who have no choice. Instead, we have the privilege of a living, love-based relationship. 1 John says it this way:
“We love, because He first loved us.”
1 John 4:19
What Paul is teaching us is that God’s love is not conditional. He chose to love us even before we were created and that love never changes. In the parable of the prodigal, Jesus taught us about this love of the Father. After the son separated himself from the father and went his own way, we learn that the father never ceased loving him. I can imagine there must have been tense moments during the separation and no doubt the rebellious boy had some harsh words for his father. I think that perhaps some of the reaction of the elder brother was the hurt that his father had been made to suffer by the conduct of his brother. That’s us. Sometimes we find it more difficult to forgive those who have wronged a loved one than it is to forgive those who wrong us. Like us, the elder brother couldn’t grasp how the father could still continue to love such a character for he didn’t even get how much he was loved. He literally says that although he has been diligent in working and serving the father, he hadn’t really felt loved or accepted. He says to the father that he had never been given a party. Maybe that’s you. Maybe you have been faithful, maybe you have given and served and you don’t feel that God has ever recognized you. Maybe you’ve seen others celebrated but you’ve just been overlooked. If that’s the case hear what the father says to the elder brother and you:
The father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.
To the prodigal, the father went overboard to demonstrate his love. Why? Because this son no longer felt that he could ever be a son again and like his brother, he thought that at best he might be accepted as a servant. That’s us. By the time most of us come to Christ fully, we have left a trail of broken promises, broken dreams, and are dragging a baggage of sin that increasingly weighs us down. We are haunted by our failures and sins and our shame and reproach. We understand that we don’t deserve mercy and sometimes acknowledge that we wouldn’t give mercy to another who had done what we are doing. But one day, into the depths of our despair comes the grace of God and we realize that the only place of hope is to run home to the Father. We expect to be chastised or lectured about our wrongs. We hope that we might find enough mercy to be able to find a place to work for our keep. Our biggest dream at that moment is that we will be given food to eat and perhaps a change of clean clothes. We don’t expect the best and we would be thankful for a piece of bread and a cup of water. We don’t anticipate the Father’s response for we know nothing of His love. He has been painted as demanding, strict, and one with high standards. Often He has been viewed as uncaring and unapproachable by those covered in the stench of the pigpen. But when He sees us coming, He doesn’t stand on the porch. Instead He runs to us and His words are beyond anything we can imagine. Kill the fatted calf! Draw the bath! Bring clean clothes and shoes! Put the ring of sonship on his finger! My son who was dead is now alive! And God will do exactly that and more to every wayward child who chooses to run home. No probation period. No trial to see if it works out. No earning or payment for wrong! As one songwriter puts it:
“Oh the overwhelming, reckless love of God!”
No, we will never deserve the love of God. Yes, we may let things separate us from God. But nothing can ever separate us from the love of God that He demonstrated through Christ.
Today if you have come to Christ and your past is still holding your sins and failures over your head, read again what Paul says in Romans 8:38, 39.
Some years ago, I was struggling with forgiving myself for some sins and failures. As I was praying about it for the fifty-eleventh time, God spoke to me. He asked me if I truly believed that when a sinner confessed their sins that they received forgiveness. I replied that I did believe that. So He said, “If I have forgiven you and cast your sin into the sea of forgetfulness, who are you and who is anyone else that would dare hold against my child what I have forgiven.” I sat that day in astonishment, realizing that though God had given me grace and forgiveness, I hadn’t received it. Like the prodigal, I had only hoped to be received as a servant. But like the father, God had accepted me as a son. I confess I do not understand such love as this but I have chosen to accept it because God has decided to love me this way.
You don’t have to understand why God loves as He does, you only have to love Him back.
Dr. John Thompson