No tragedy can trump the sure love of God. | Read: Romans 8
Karen Russell | Bible Explorations
Hope that does not disappoint
There is no lack of suffering in the world. Natural disasters, human-created disasters, human-aided natural disasters—there is an endless supply of disaster and its accompanying heartbreak. In the face of such suffering, faith is tested and hope can be fragile.
Study: Paul’s message of hope
The apostle Paul spent considerable time pondering the question of suffering. Although his postconversion life was dedicated to preaching the good news of Christ, it also was marked by beatings, imprisonment, death threats, and just plain being disliked. It would have been easy for Paul to become mired in doubt and self-pity. Yet Paul never saw his circumstances as punishment or allowed them to get between him and God. For Paul, suffering was what strengthened his hope in Christ, not what weakened it. Paul urged believers to remember who they were, to remember their true identity as adopted sons and daughters, beloved children of God, called to God’s purpose and heirs of God’s promise.
Paul urges us to define ourselves by the only thing that is immune to the suffering and disasters that are part of life: God’s love for us. Tragedy, suffering, and loss may change the world around us but can have no effect on our identity as beloved children of God. From prison, Paul wrote a letter of joy and thankfulness to the church at Philippi. In it he affirms his identity in Christ and the hope and confidence which come from it: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).
In Romans 8, Paul outlines the promise of God in light of the “sufferings of this present time” (v. 18). This remembering who we are, while not insulating us from or sufficiently explaining suffering, can provide the power to get through suffering: hope. And hope, Paul says, does not disappoint (Rom. 5:5). In fact, Paul’s hope is actually strengthened by his suffering—the more he needs to rely on his hope in Christ, the stronger that hope becomes. It is this hope that allows Paul to proclaim that we can overcome any circumstance (Rom. 8:37).
Focus on Romans 8:31–39 by reading the passage aloud. Verse 31 says that if God is for us, who can be against us. Given what Paul is telling the Romans in the rest of chapter 8, should we take this verse to mean that if we are on the side of God, we are immune from trouble, suffering, and tragedy? What is Paul telling the Romans? How can this verse comfort us in times of trouble?
Pray: Remembering God’s love
Paul’s words to the Romans remind us that God is God, and God will never forsake us. A prayer of praise and adoration in times of trouble can remind us that our true identity is that of a child of God. The Book of Common Worship has various prayers that can be used in these times, including this prayer for a time of distress:
God of compassion, you watch our ways,
and weave out of terrible happenings
wonders of goodness and grace.
Surround those who have been shaken by tragedy
with a sense of your present love,
and hold them in faith.
Though they are lost in grief,
may they find you and be comforted;
through Jesus Christ who was dead, but lives
and rules this world with you. Amen.
(Westminster John Knox Press, 1993, p. 836)
Romans 8:38–39 can also be prayed in such times, as a reminder that God’s love for us is unshakable.
Remember: Romans 8:38–39
“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.”
Live: In hope
Paul urges us to remember who we are and what God has done to show love to and for us. In times of distress, it can be difficult to remember that even when everything changes, God’s love for us never does. Paul’s words remind us to live in the hope provided by that promise, moving through whatever troubles come our way.
Karen Russell is program associate in the PC(USA) office of Theology and Worship. This article is part of the Invitation to the Word initiative: pcusa.org/theologyandworship.