Five times here in Romans 8 the apostle Paul has asked questions to draw out the amazing privileges of belonging to Jesus Christ. Verse 31: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Verse 32: “How will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Verse 33: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” Verse 34: “Who is to condemn?” And now from today’s passage — Romans 8:35–39 — in verse 35: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”
The answers are so plain and so wonderful, Paul lets us supply them and rejoice in them. Verse 31: No one can be successfully against us — not even terrorists. Verse 32: God will supply everything we need — even when all seems lost. Verse 33: No one can make a charge stick against us in the court of heaven — no matter who accuses us. Verse 34: No one can condemn us. And today in verse 35: No one and nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.
And what makes this text so relevant near the anniversary of 9/11 is that Paul spells out the kinds of things that cannot separate us from the love of Christ, and they are the sort of things that happened that day: “Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” The reason Paul chose to mention so many terrible things is to make sure we knew he was not saying: well, there are some things so horrible that they really could separate us from the love of Christ. No. Nothing can separate us from Christ’s love.
Christ’s Moment-by-Moment Love
Christ is loving us now.
“Christ’s love is not a memory. It is a moment-by-moment action of the living Son of God.”
A wife might say of her deceased husband: Nothing will separate me from his love. She might mean that the memory of his love will be sweet and powerful all her life. But that is not what Paul means here. In verse 34 it says plainly, “Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”
The reason Paul can say that nothing will separate us from the love of Christ is because Christ is alive and is still loving us now. He is at the right hand of God and is therefore ruling for us. And he is interceding for us, which means he is seeing to it that his finished work of redemption does in fact save us hour by hour and bring us safe to eternal joy. His love is not a memory. It is a moment-by-moment action of the omnipotent, living Son of God, to bring us to everlasting joy.
Christ’s Particular Love
This love of Christ is effective in protecting us from separation, and therefore is not a universal love for all, but a particular love for his people — those who, according to Romans 8:28, love God and are called according to his purpose.
This is the love of Ephesians 5:25, “Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.” It is Christ’s love for the church, his bride. Christ has a love for all, and he has a special, saving, preserving love for his bride. You know you are part of that bride if you trust Christ. Anyone — no exceptions — anyone who trusts Christ can say, I am part of his bride, his church, his called and chosen ones, the ones who verse 35 says are kept and protected forever no matter what.
Christ’s Preserving Love
This omnipotent, effective, protecting love does not spare us from calamities in this life, but brings us safe to everlasting joy with God.
Paul makes this crystal clear in verse 35: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?” No. But someone might say, “Oh, but what he means is that God will not let these things happen to his bride.”
Two things prove that this is not the case.
One is the reference to death in verse 38 (“Neither death nor life . . . will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus”). Death will happen to us, but it will not separate us. So when Paul says in verse 35 that the “sword” will not separate us from the love of Christ, he means: even if we are killed we are not separated from the love of Christ.
The other is verse 36, where Paul quotes Psalm 44:22 and applies it to himself and Christians in general, “As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’” This means that martyrdom is normal Christianity. It is happening all over the world — Pakistan, Nepal, Sudan, Indonesia, and Vietnam. An estimated 164,000 Christians will die this year because of their faith. This is what Paul has in mind. And it is what Jesus meant when he said, “Some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake” (Luke 21:16–17). Our season of peace and tolerance in America is an anomaly and should drive us to greater and greater care for the suffering church (Hebrews 13:3).
So the sum of the matter in verse 35 is this: Jesus Christ is mightily loving his people with omnipotent, moment-by-moment love that does not always rescue us from calamity but preserves us for everlasting joy in his presence even through suffering and death.
Now let’s let Lisa Beamer bear witness to this sovereign love. Her husband Todd was on flight 93 that went down in Pennsylvania. He was the one who said, “Let’s Roll!” He left behind Lisa and three small children.
Ten Insights on Sovereignty and Suffering
1. Embracing the sovereignty of God brings strength and hope.
Lisa: “God knew the terrible choices the terrorists would make and that Todd Beamer would die as a result. He knew my children would be left without a father and me without a husband. . . . Yet in his sovereignty and in his perspective on the big picture, he knew it was better to allow the events to unfold as they did rather than redirect Todd’s plans to avoid death. . . . I can’t see all the reasons he might have allowed this when I know he could have stopped it. . . . I don’t like how his plan looks from my perspective right now, but knowing that he loves me and can see the world from start to finish helps me say, ‘It’s ok.’”
“If we believe wholeheartedly, each moment, that our destiny rests in the hands of Jesus Christ — the one with ultimate love and ultimate power — what do we have to be concerned about? Of course, our humanity clouds this truth many times but hanging on to glimpses of it keeps everything in perspective.”
2. Don’t presume to know better than God how to run the world. It is pride.
Lisa: “My faith wasn’t rooted in governments, religion, tall buildings, or frail people. Instead, my faith and my security were in God. A thought struck me. Who are you to question God and say that you have a better plan than he does? You don’t have the same wisdom and knowledge that he has, or the understanding of the big picture.” (World Magazine, August 2002)
“Faith means that we take God at his word that he loves us.”
“We also aren’t privy to the perspective he has and shouldn’t claim to know better than he does what should happen and what shouldn’t. . . . Faith means that, regardless of circumstances, we take him at his word that he loves us and will bring us to a good result if we just trust and obey him. Obviously, the ramifications of this understanding have been tremendous for me since 9/11.”
3. God has a good purpose in all the hard things that happen to his people.
Lisa: “God’s sovereignty has been made clear to me. When I am tempted to become angry and ask ‘What if?’ and, ‘Why us?’ God says, ‘I knew on September 10, and I could have stopped it, but I have a plan for greater good than you can ever imagine.’ I don’t know God’s plan, and honestly, right now I don’t like it very much. But I trust that he is true to his promise in Romans 8:28: ‘We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.’ My only responsibility is to love God. He’ll work out the rest” (Decision Magazine, September 2002). Beneath her signature Lisa writes Genesis 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.”
4. Death and suffering press in on us the perspective of eternity.
Lisa: “September 11 has shown me the reality of eternity in a dynamic way these past few months. When I’m overwhelmed with sadness at what I’ve lost in this life, he is quick to give me his eternal perspective. ‘Lisa, this life is just a blip on the radar screen compared to your future with me in heaven.’ He says, ‘The best thing that you can imagine on earth is garbage compared to what awaits you.’” (Decision Magazine, 8)
5. God’s distribution of suffering is not equal, and one hard thing may prepare for another.
When Lisa was 15 her father suffered an aneurysm at work and died the next morning in the hospital. Lisa: “When my father died, faith wasn’t so easy anymore. . . . I spent five years asking why, expressing my anger saying it’s not fair, before God helped me realize that he is who he is all the time — in good circumstances and bad. He is all-powerful and all-loving, but that doesn’t mean that as a citizen of this fallen world he protects us from every ‘bad’ event.”
What a witness to God’s goodness and sovereignty the world would be missing today if God had not prepared Lisa Beamer for this loss by the death of her dad!
6. God’s love takes care of us right now in our suffering, not just later.
Lisa: “He knows that I am hurting and in need right now. Every day he provides encouragement and resources just for me. Little things show me that he is with me: a Scripture with just the words I need to hear, a call from a friend when I feel lonely, help with a task that I can’t do alone, or a hug and ‘I love you’ from one of my children. God’s love is truly sufficient to meet any need that I have.” (Decision Magazine, September 2002)
7. Calamity calls for quick practical love like meals and babysitting.
Lisa: “The picture of the church as the hands and feet of Christ, with each person having a special gift, has been well portrayed to me these last months. In the beginning, it was immediate and practical help. I needed meals, child care, managing phone calls, and mail. Now that we’re out of the crisis mode it is rebuilding help. I need counseling, encouragement, prayer.”
8. Quiet confidence in God’s power and goodness through suffering creates occasions for witness.
Marilee Melvin said of Lisa, “Her disarming quiet confidence in God’s purposes must be the reason Larry King has had her on his show eleven times.”
9. Trusting in God’s sovereign care in all circumstances frees you from greed and releases love for others.
Money started to flow in to Lisa Beamer. Some letters were simply addressed, Lisa Beamer, New Jersey, and got to her.
Lisa: “I didn’t feel comfortable keeping this for ourselves when there were many unknown families who should share.” So she started the Todd M. Beamer Foundation to assist children who lost a parent in the 9/11 calamity.
“We are sinners who deserve only death. The fact that God has offered eternal life is amazing.”
Her freedom for others comes out in another way: “My family and I mourned the loss of Todd deeply that day . . . and we still do. But because we have a hope in the Lord, we know beyond a doubt that one day we will see Todd again. I hurt for the people who don’t have that same hope, and I pray that they will see something in our family that will encourage them to trust in the Lord.” (World Magazine, August 2002)
Lisa’s way of encouraging people to trust in the Lord is sometimes so straightforward that Newsweek magazine called it “stern and even a little grim.” She wrote in her memoir, “You think you deserve a happy life and get angry when it doesn’t always happen like that. In fact you are a sinner and deserve only death. The fact that God has offered you hope of eternal life is amazing! You should be overwhelmed with joy and gratitude.”
10. Without God, the world is hopeless.
With hundreds of others, she attended the memorial service in Shanksville, Pennsylvania at the crash site where her husband died. The Christ-exalting memorial service for Todd had been on Sunday, the day before, and had strengthened her. “On Monday,” she said, “as I listened to the well-intentioned speakers, who were doing their best to comfort, but with little, if any, direct reference to the power of God to sustain us, I felt I was sliding helplessly down a high mountain into a deep crevasse. As much as I appreciated the kindness of the wonderful people who tried to encourage us, that afternoon was actually one of the lowest points in my grieving. It wasn’t the people, or event, or the place. Instead, it struck me how hopeless the world is when God is factored out of the equation” (World Magazine, August 2002).
So, together with Lisa Beamer, the apostle Paul, and Jesus Christ himself, I plead with you: don’t factor God out of your life or Jesus Christ who died and rose and reigns and intercedes for all who trust him that we might have eternal joy with him in the presence of God.