Sunday, July 27, 2014

The One Great Thing I Know - Romans 8:18-39

Romans 8:18-39
18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of Godto be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[h] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all.Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[i]have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstbornamong many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
More Than Conquerors31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any chargeagainst those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:“For your sake we face death all day long;    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”[j]37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[k] neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

          Early in my ministry, I experienced one of the worst moments of my ministry.

I was visiting the home of some church members. The family had just experienced the tragic loss of a young member of their family. A nephew, six years old, had been on his way to school when a drunk driver ran over and killed the child.         

It was one of those terrible moments that unites a community in its grief. A young child, bright and handsome, snuffed out in a moment by a dirty town drunk. There was no justice in the tragedy. There was no fairness.

When I visited the family who were members of my church -- the aunt and uncle of the child who had died, the uncle told me, "Well, preacher, it was God's will. I have to believe it was God's will, it is the only comfort I have."

I look back on that experience as a bad experience, because I know now what I was just beginning to suspect those years ago, and that is that this man's comfort was probably a lie.

For the life of me, I simply could not believe that God had been sitting in heaven and decided that what the world needed was for the Almighty to make a grown man become a drunk. For God to put that drunk behind the wheel of a car and to have that mortal drive down the road until he reached the child, whereupon God made the drunk turn at just the right moment and hit and mutilate and kill that poor child.

"It is the will of God!" -- That is the comfortable lie.

A child is born with a serious defect.

"It was God's will," someone will say, but is that true?

A young  father  is  killed  by a disease that robs his heart  of the ability to sustain his life, and he dies just  days  before his wife gives  birth  to a  son  "It was God's will," someone will say, but is that true?

A family business is bankrupt.  God's will?

In the earliest teachings of the Old Testament, no one would ever look at suffering and declare it to be the will of God. It was, instead, the result of evil in the world. It was in every sense, something that was contrary to the will of God.

In the book of  Job,  the man Job suffers from a  painful  disease and  is  visited  by friends,  one  of whom reflects  this early theology that  suffering  is caused  by evil.  This friend tells Job, “I have seen people plow fields of evil and plant wickedness and evil. Like a storm God destroys them in his anger...Evil does not grow in the soil, nor does trouble grow out of the ground.  NO! Man brings trouble on himself."  (Job 4:8-9,5:6-7)

Why is there suffering?  Is it God's will?

No, says the friend of Job, suffering is the result of the evil we do.

The purpose behind this kind of suffering was to draw people BACK to God.

In Jeremiah, the voice of God is heard saying, “I will abandon my people until they have suffered enough for their sins and come looking for me.   Perhaps in their suffering they will try to find me."  (Jeremiah 6:15)

There are times when suffering is caused by the evil we do. Our sins bring the suffering upon us.

So forget about saying “it was God's will that poor Joe Blow suffered.'   Now we can say, “Poor Joe must have sinned mighty badly.  Wonder which commandment   he broke to suffer this badly."

is this always the case with suffering?

The child on the bike who is killed by the drunk driver --- what   sins did he commit? Or did his father commit some sin that caused God to kill the son in order to draw a wayward sinful father back to the Almighty.

That is not an original question.  In Luke’s Gospel, a group of people approached Jesus with this issue. Reminding him of the time when a group of devoted Galileans went to make a sacrifice to God and Pilate decided to sacrifice them, they wondered if this meant that they were worse sinners than anyone else.

"No indeed,” was Christ’s answer.  (Luke 13:lff)  In  fact,  referring  again  to Job's situation,  while  one  of his friends declares that people suffer because of   their  sins, we know that  Job  was not suffering for such a reason.  The opening passages of that book take us behind the scenes so that we can read about the conversation between God and Satan.

Job is described as a good man; "careful not to do anything evil" (Job 1:1).  God himself tells Satan, "There is no one on earth as faithful and good as Job is. He worships me and is careful not to do anything   evil." (Job 1:8)

And yet, Job suffered terribly -- suffering in ways few of us must endure.

Which raises an interesting question.  If suffering is caused by the evil we do, why do the righteous have to suffer and why do the bad guys often end up on top of the world?

In the Old Testament, the psalmist sang "I nearly lost confidence; my faith was almost gone because I was jealous of the proud when I saw that things go well for the wicked.  They do not suffer pain; they are strong and healthy.  They do not suffer as other people do; they do not have the troubles others have." (Psalm 73:1-5)


You see, this thing about suffering is a complicated matter -- as complicated as life itself. Why do we think that there is a simple answer to the issue of human suffering? Why do we think that there is simply ONE answer as to why terrible things happen to us?

It is the will of God," someone will say. And they may be right. Or they may be terribly wrong.

"It was because of the sins they did," someone will say. And they may be right. Or they may be terribly wrong.

"It is because of the nature of evil in the world," someone will say. And they may be right. Or in that particular moment they may be terribly wrong.

We look at suffering and we want to know WHY this had to happen. Maybe it was God's will. Maybe it was Satan’s. Maybe it was my own fault and no one else’s. When get out of bed in the middle of the night and I stump my toe in the darkness it was not so much God's decision or Satan’s --it was due to the fact that I was just too lazy to turn the light on.   

We   want to know something   about suffering.  And the one great thing that we want to know is WHY.

And it is the one great thing that we cannot always know.

When a child is hit by a car driven by a drunk,   and the child with a flash of understanding knows that he is about to breath his last breath -- that child   does not know why. It is one great thing he will not know.

When the mother hears the news from the police officer that her child is dead,   she and her husband will have a lifetime to consider the question   that their son may have considered in only the   last instant of life --why?  But they will not know.  They may find comfort in saying, “It was God's will." Or they  may  inflict  a  greater  pain  upon themselves  by  producing  a needless  guilt, believing  that  it was  their  own sins that caused their child's   death.  But the fact is, this is one great thing they   will never know.

God’s will, result of evil, product of sin?

Who knows? All they know for sure is that their child suffered, and they now suffer.

Suffering is a part of our life.  It is woven into the fabric of our being and into the texture of human history and none of us avoids it. The Old Testament Psalm says,   "Seventy years is all we have --eighty years   if we are strong; and yet all they bring us is trouble and sorrow; life is soon over   and we are gone." (Psalm 90:10)

A life full of trouble.  Even the best of us have friends who die.  Relatives who are sick. Even the wealthiest among us have financial fears that keep us awake at nights.

And each of us is being stalked by death.   At some future time, we will die.

We suffer.  Our loved ones suffer.  And there is never any certainty as to why these things happen.   The Bible gives many reasons behind the issue of human pain,   and any one of these reasons may apply to our particular troubles -- but who is to say which reason?

Man – what a depressing sermon this turned out to be!
But  in our  New Testament  lesson from Paul's letter to  the Romans  is a message of comfort to everyone of us who   has ever lost a loved  one, or  received a distressing report from our own doctor,   or struggled  with the pain of day to day living.

There is one great thing that Paul is able to know.  In the midst of suffering, he may not know why -- God’s will, or Satan's temptation -- but there is one thing that Paul does know -- there is one thing that he can know -- one thing that we can know.

In his letter Paul says, "I am certain that nothing can separate us   from God's love: neither death nor life, neither angels nor other heavenly rulers or powers, neither the present nor the future, neither the world above nor the world below. There is nothing in all creation that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:37-39)

This beautiful statement comes at the conclusion of a section in which Paul deals with suffering. He begins that section by saying, "I consider what we suffer at this present time cannot be compared at all with the glory that is going to be revealed to us."

Easy for Paul to say, we may think to ourselves. After all, Paul was a saint of a man. What did he know of suffering?  Did he ever lose a child to the careless driving of a drunk, or be told by a doctor that the spot on his x-ray is cancer, or have his marriage dissolve at the end of years of discord?


But Paul did know what he was talking about when he used   the word "suffering."  In one of his letters, Paul listed his own unique sufferings:
"I have worked ... I have been in prison 
·       ... I have been whipped 
·       ... I have been  near  death
·       Five  times  I  was given the 39 lashes by the Jews
·       ... Three times I was whipped by the Romans, once I was stoned.  
·       I have been in three shipwrecks, and once I spent 24 hours in the water.  In  my many travels 
·       I have been in  danger  from floods and from   robbers, 
·       in danger  from fellow  Jews  and from Gentiles;
·       there have been dangers in the cities,   dangers in the wilds,  dangers on the  high  seas,  and
·       dangers from false friends. 
·       There has been work  and toil, 
·       often I  have gone  without sleep;
·       I have been hungry
·       and   thirsty; 
·       I have often been  without  enough  food, 
·       Shelter or clothing.
·       And not to mention other things, every day I am under the pressure of my concern for all the churches."

Paul knew suffering.  Perhaps not the same pain as you, or me, but that is true of anyone. Each of us lives a different life, and we each suffer in a different manner.

Paul suffered greatly.  And yet, he still wrote in our New Testament lesson, “In all things, God works for good with those who love him." (Romans 8:28).

You  see, Paul  knew that knowing WHY he suffered  was  not  nearly  so important  as something  else  to be known. 

The one great thing that we can   know  is that  God  is with  us  in our suffering,  and therefore,  our  suffering  cannot  defeat  us, separating us from the love and comfort we can have  in  Christ.  Again, our Scripture this morning said, “What can separate us from the love of Christ?  Can trouble do it, or hardship, or persecution, or hunger or poverty or danger or death?    No, in all these things we have complete victory through him who loved us!  I am certain that nothing can separate us from his great love."  (Romans 8:34-38)

          In the end, there is only one great thing that we can know about our suffering.   We might learn why we suffer. We might be able to see what good God is able to work through our suffering. But we might not. But one great thing we can definitely know is Jesus Christ, the crucified, the one who suffered, is with us.  And none of the suffering we endure can separate us from His love and comfort.

Copyright Maynard Pittendreigh, 2014