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Thank God we didn’t write Romans 8.
In Romans 8, Paul says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good.” But if we had to write this passage right now it would probably sound more like this: “we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, except the spread of Covid-19!” A potentially deadly virus is spreading through the country with no end in sight and the numbers are taking off. It’s not a curve anymore, it’s a spike with no apparent ceiling to it. And just about everyone now knows someone who has it or has come into contact with it—or at least knows someone who knows someone who has had it.
Or, if we had to write this passage right now it would probably sound like this: “we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good, except the loss of our individual freedoms!” I mean, people are overreacting and holding the whole country paralyzed, and now I can’t even go to the store without wearing a mask, and I can only go one way down certain aisles. Why should I have to change my life because of someone else? If they’re so worried, then let them stay inside. But don’t make me do what I don’t want to do.
The world has changed for all of us, suddenly. We didn’t see it coming and we can’t see how it’s all going to end. And so, because what has happened is so shocking, it’s really easy for us to think that what we’re going through is the one thing that can’t be redeemed by God, that what we’re going through right now is the one thing God can’t work for good.
It’s really easy for us to think that all things work together for good, except the spread of Covid-19, or except the loss of our individual freedoms.
But thank God we didn’t write Romans 8, because if that’s what it said, how could it ever sustain those who have it much worse than we do? Like the Lutherans in Wittenberg in 1527, when the bubonic plague, which had a mortality rate of 30 to 90% moved into town. Everyone had someone close to them die. If all things work together for good, except the spread of Covid-19, what hope would they have had?
Or how could it sustain Christians in the early church who didn’t just lose their freedoms, but were systematically persecuted by Nero and the Romans, rounded up and thrown to the lions where they were torn apart before a cheering crowd in the Coliseum. Or how could it sustain our fellow Christians in China today, where the government has demanded that sermons conform to the president’s communist teaching and that the cross and pictures of Jesus be replaced with communist symbols? If all things work together for good, except the loss of our freedoms, what hope would they have?
We’d have to rewrite Martin Luther’s great hymn A Mighty Fortress to read, “A pretty mighty fortress is our God, a fairly trusty shield and weapon.” And “were they to take our house, goods, honor, child or spouse, then life itself has been wrenched away and all is lost!”
But thank God Romans 8 says what it does: We know that for those who love God all things work together for good! Thank God Romans 8 says what it does because it’s assurance that there is nothing that God can’t redeem, and nothing that God can’t work for good!
And Paul give us a simple but powerful reason why. If God is for us, who can be against us. Now think about that. God isn’t another thing within creation. God isn’t like a tsunami, or an earthquake, or the force of gravity, only much, much stronger. No, a tsunami or an earthquake or the force of gravity aren’t even on the same level as God. God is the creator. The only reason the waves of a tsunami have power or an earthquake moves the earth or the force of gravity exists is because God commands it. And that means that God isn’t in competition with the corona virus or the government or anything else, as if the corona virus or the government or anything else could keep God from having his way. No all things constantly depend on God for their existence like a newborn depends on its mother. So, if God is for us, who can be against us? What is going to get in God’s way? What is there that can’t be redeemed by God, and what is there that God can’t work together for good in the end? If God is for us, who can be against us?
And how do we know that God is for us? Again, Paul gives us a simple but powerful reason. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” How do we know that God is for us? Well look, God gave up his own Son for us. While we were still sinners Christ died for us. How do we know that God is bound and determined to give us what is good in the end? Well he already gave us the greatest thing he has to give—his own Son, the one through whom all things have come into being. And if God has given us his Son, his own life, how could we ever think that God is going to hold back on us? How could we ever doubt that God will give us what is good in the end?
And if that wasn’t enough, Paul continues. “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.” Who is at God’s right hand, interceding for us, pleading with God for us? Who has God’s ear? You see, it’s not like in the book of Job, where the devil has God’s ear, where the devil stands and accuses us before God and pleads with God to put us to the test. No, it’s Jesus who is interceding for us—Jesus who loves us and has given his life for us and will never let us go. This is the one who has God’s ear.
That’s why Paul tries to make a comprehensive list of anything and everything that might get a hold of us in all of creation—tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, sword, death or life, angels or rulers, things present and things to come, powers, height, depth, you name it—and he puts it all in the category of creature. Those things are not God. And so in the end, they cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. We may go through them all, but still we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. There is nothing in all of creation that God can’t redeem, and nothing in all of creation that God can’t work for good in the end.
As the psalmist writes, “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but remains forever.” Or as Luther’s hymn says, “A mighty fortress is our God, a trusty shield and weapon.” And, “were they to take our house, goods, honor, child, or spouse, though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day.” Yes, we know that for those who love God, all things work together for good.
And that gives us some perspective. It’s easy to wake up every day and think only about ourselves—what danger we’re in, what’s being taken away from us, how life isn’t going the way we planned or the way we want. And frankly, that’s all the news, and the media, and Facebook talks about: us, what danger we’re in, what’s being taken away from us, and how life isn’t going the way we planned or the way we like. It’s a simple fact that they don’t talk about God and what he’s done in Jesus Christ. And if that’s all we’re listening to, if that’s all we can think of, then of course we’re going to despair and get angry at the world.
But Romans 8 reminds us that life is finally in God’s control. And no matter what danger we’re in and no matter what’s been taken away from us, we can trust that God will work things together for good in the end. We can trust that God will not fail to give us what’s good in the end.
And that frees us to do what we couldn’t otherwise do right now—love one another. If all we can do is think about ourselves—what danger we’re in or what freedoms are being taken away, we can’t help but see the other side as the problem and the enemy. But when we know that no matter what happens, God will work it together for good in the end, we can stop worrying about ourselves and start caring about each other. After all, we’re all in the same boat of trying to make sense of all this the best we can right now. None of us saw this coming and none of us can see how it’s going to work out in the end. But that’s why God has made us one in Christ, so that together we can be confident in God, and together we can care for each other, bear one another’s burdens and faults, and love one another—so that we can live in the hope and the promise that the One who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all will work all things together for our good.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
31 What then shall we say 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 with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? 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. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 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.