I was not an avid reader as a child like Dad. He had numerous books going simultaneously. I was always amazed by the wide variety of subjects he read. I, on the other hand, had a difficult time even finishing a book. And there were many times I peeked ahead to find out how things would turn out and to decide if I wanted to continue the story. Knowing the outcome reduced some of the unwanted suspense I experienced. I could then sit back, relax, and enjoy the book.
I don’t really recommend reading ahead, but recently I was quickly reminded that knowing what’s in store can be a gift. Uncertainty increases anxiety and fear, while assurance brings hope and security.
On April 3, 2021 Dad suddenly and quickly passed away. Yet, a week before I had been gently prepared for it, when I was finishing up the first half of the book of Romans for a seminary class. My goal was to get through Chapter 8, and I had just finished it. It made me so happy, because I had persevered and not given up! I had always found Romans to be a little daunting, with its intimidating words, unfamiliar context, and dense theology. (But this is why I am in seminary – to learn intimidating words, unfamiliar context and dense theology). The last verses of Chapter 8 popped out at me. These words made sense of the previous chapters in Romans I had read and studied thus far.
Romans 8:31-39 is sort of a conclusion to everything Paul had talked about. It says,
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 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? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 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. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 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 (Rom 8:31-39, NIV).
Paul gives reassurance about God and assurance for the future. Knowing the outcome, as revealed in Romans 8, gives certainty, makes meaning in suffering, and provides hope for the future.
Knowing the Outcome Gives Certainty
Paul uses rich language throughout Romans to describe how people, who are loved by God, can be at complete peace with God. I am reconciled to God by the gift of Jesus Christ through faith. Paul gives complete assurance in this chapter in light of who God is. It seems too good to be true! Therefore, Paul answers a lingering question the reader may have, “Can anything in creation separate me from God? In the last hour? In the end?” The last two verses of Romans 8 say, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 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 ” (Rom 8:38,39).
In complete confidence Paul answers with a, “No!” Not only does Paul answer the uncertain question with a secure answer, but he answers the question, not in the abstract or with “religious” jargon, but instead with very personal language. He speaks of God’s personal quality of love. God isn’t a thing, or an impersonal Star Wars’ type “force.” But God is personal. God loves. To give assurance of being held securely and forever in a reconciled relationship with God, Paul refers confidently to the love of God. “Absolutely nothing can separate believers from God’s love. The apostle struggles to describe the absolute certainty of God’s love for believers.”1
Absolute. Certain. Secure. God’s love is sticky. It’s tenacious. It is because of the love of God we are secure. The love of God is central to the book of Romans. When I draw my very last breath, nothing in all of creation can separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.
Close to the time of Paul writing Romans, he penned the “love” chapter of 1 Corinthians 13 (Love is patient, love is kind …). I like how the Message translates it. “Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have … Puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end” (1 Cor 13:4-7).
Paul is convinced of God’s love. “Paul does not intend to restrict Christ’s love to the past, but rather he is emphasizing the historic demonstration of this love that gives assurance of its continuing under all circumstances. Death cannot separate the believer from that love. Neither can life.”2 God’s love is secure. For the love of God never gives up. It keeps going to the end. In that moment of reading and rereading these verses I experienced the sheer awe from knowing this. God’s perfect love had been demonstrated, was presently being tangibly communicated to me and would be certain in the future. That gives me confidence!
Knowing God’s Love Makes Meaning in Suffering
If we back up a few verses, Paul considers another question, “What about suffering or tragedy?” Dad’s death and the years leading up to his death made the study of these verses no longer just an academic endeavor. This passage in Romans mattered. Dad’s last years were really hard. It was difficult for Dad, and tough on Mom. There was pain and loss for all of us. When I heard about Dad’s death, I was shocked. He was declining, but he had fought through cancer, dementia, and various serious health issues. I knew death was inevitable, but it still hit me like I was unaware. I wept and wept. Death did relieve his suffering, but death is still death. It destroys life.
Paul speaks to this as well and considers a series of things. “The list in this verse covers the range of experience that could seem to pose a challenge to the reality of Christ’s love.”3 What about the love of God in the meantime, when life is so difficult? In the midst of it – when it feels cold, uncertain and void of meaning? “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will trouble, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword … No, in all these things we have complete victory through Him who loved us! (Rom 8:35, NET2).
Life without His love is uncertain, empty, purposeless — a cold life. We can try to make meaning in many ways, and often we are filled and warmed temporarily. Yet only the love of God in Christ Jesus makes and gives permanent meaning in the midst of the tragic. “Present trials and sufferings are no indication that God has withdrawn His love from us. Even though the Father allowed His Son to suffer, He did not stop loving Him”4 It does changes us though. Yet, I can experience His love and even deepen my love for others through it.
Soon after Dad’s death, I was confronted by a person who I wanted to avoid. I hate to say this, but I did try to avoid them whenever I could. I know they think poorly of me and that is hard for me. They have reprimanded and even berated me. At this unexpected meeting I saw them in such a different light – as someone suffering themselves. I don’t want anyone to suffer, not even this person. I want to relieve it. God’s love makes meaning in suffering.
Knowing God’s Love Provides Hope
One more time I want to back up a few more verses to Romans 8:31. Paul begins his conclusion to chapter 8 and the first half of the book in this verse. He addresses the fundamental question every person has to ask, “Can I trust God?” Paul starts with, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31). “If God.” If God is God, and all that has been said is true in the first part of Romans, then how can we not trust Him? Then he goes on to say, “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?” (Rom 8:32). As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 13, “Love cares more for others than for self.” This is God’s posture. I can trust Him. Therefore, I have hope.
On Thursday, two days before Dad’s passing, I had a video call with Dad. We didn’t normally FaceTime because Dad didn’t easily remember me at first. He needed reminding. Yet, he was delighted to see me. His illness was terrible. It stripped much of what mattered to him in life – intellect, reading, decision making power, and significance. What remained though was a best kept secret. It was always there, but often got covered by those other things.
On that video call Dad said right away, “You’re beautiful!” And he was sincere and meant it. He was kind.
“How old are you?” he asked? “You don’t look that old, but you look older than you use to!” He made me laugh.
He asked, “Do you have any kids?” When I told him, “I have four boys (young men),” he exclaimed, “Wow!” He delighted in me and my life.
He asked, “What do you do?” I told him I was in graduate school and worked for a Christian ministry which seeks to connect college students to the love of Christ and to caring communities. He was interested and was for me.
He ended with a strong, “I love you!” He was confident. There was no doubt of his love for me.
Throughout Romans 1-8, Paul recounted and persuaded that God has provided a new life through the gift of Jesus Christ for all who believe. Jesus has made a way. It is certain. Paul is convinced, because the love of God is certain. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
In the days before Dad died, I was completely amazed by God’s deep and personal love. Then reflecting on my interaction with Dad, I had a close up into what God’s love is like – it is personal. God is kind. He delights in me. God is for me. He has the best for me. I have no doubt God loves me. Knowing the outcome, that God’s love remains, gives certainty, makes meaning in suffering and provides hope for the future. I am thoroughly convinced that there is no better place to be than in the center of God’s unceasing love and care. And His love truly never ends. I am convinced.
 Earl D. Radmacher, and Ronald B. Allen and H. Wayne House, eds. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2000), 1442.
 Everett F. Harrison, “Romans.” In The Expositors Bible Commentary. Edited by Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 10 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing, 1976), 99.
 Radmacher, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Commentary, 1442.