Summary: In Christ and through the Holy Spirit, God has tipped the scales in our favor, so that we can overcome even the sufferings of this present life and hope in God's coming glory.
This week, the kids and Grace and Fairview learned about imagining and building with God in the Workshop of Wonders Vacation Bible School. On the first evening of Bible Study at Grace, the kids did a science project where they learned about balance. Using ordinary objects, they built a balance and then tested out different objects to compare their weight and try and create balance. I want to replicate that project this morning as a way of considering Paul’s message to the Romans here at the conclusion of chapter 8.
So I’ve got my balance set up here. As you can see, it’s made out of ordinary objects, just like the kids did; a coke bottle and a yard stick. And then I’ve got some rocks and some coins to add to the yard stick and try and make it balance. (Add rocks and coins to each side of the yard stick until it balances.) Now, balance is good, and we spend a lot of time and effort trying to keep our lives balanced; a balanced diet, a healthy balance of work and play, and so on. But what Paul is describing this morning is a complete lack of balance, one that tips the scales so completely that balance seems a near impossibility.
He begins by telling us that “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” And then Paul goes on to talk about the good that God does in the lives of believers. (With each step of God’s work, add one object to the scale.) God knows us in advance, and in advance, God has decided to conform us to the image of his son. Then, God called us, and those who were called were made righteous, and those God made righteous, God also glorified. As you can see, God’s work is pretty one-sided, isn’t it?
But the thing is, Paul understands that life happens. Even with God’s work in our lives, life isn’t ALWAYS good, is it? So Paul states the obvious question, “Who will separate us from Christ’s love?” And he goes on to list some of those awful things that happen in our lives. (With each force of bad, add one object to the other side of the scale.) There’s trouble, and distress, harassment, famine. There’s nakedness, and danger, and the sword. At times, all that trouble and distress really can tip the scales, can’t it? It can make life seem completely overwhelming. It’s like “sheep (headed) for slaughter.”
Yet still, this is not the end of the story. God doesn’t want our lives to be tipped toward the bad. God wishes for us great, wonderful, and abundant life. So when Paul asks if all these terrible things win the day, his emphatic answer is, “No! In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” And there’s the key. The love of Christ. Paul says it’s so strong that it wins the sweeping victory in our lives. (Place piece of tape over “good” side of scale.) Keeping the scales ever tipped toward the good. In fact, Christ’s love is so strong that even (Add more weights to the “bad”/untaped side of the scales.) death, rulers, things present or to come, powers, height, depth, “nor anything else in all of creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?
All of this is the hope in which we live. Because the thing of it is, even though we see God at work in our lives and the lives of others through Christ Jesus, it doesn’t change the fact that there is still suffering in this world. This is a reality we know all too well. This week alone has seen ramped up fighting between the Israelis and Palestinians, not to mention a typhoon of significant magnitude striking the Philippines. Those disasters follow on the tails of great unrest in Iraq and Sudan, not to mention the problems in Syria, and continuing extreme gun violence here in the U.S. It’s scary. And I think we can all agree that none of those things is good. But Paul says “the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us.”
So we wait. Paul compares this waiting to childbirth; painful and yet anticipatory. In this time of waiting, we are subjected to the very real challenges of this life, and it is difficult and painful. But Paul says that if we can wait through this present suffering, then we can fully experience the glorious freedom of life with God. Through Christ’s death and resurrection suffering is no longer passed on, bringing endless cycles of destruction and pain. Instead, God in Christ has absorbed and transformed our suffering, tipping the scales in our favor. Through him, the struggles we face can be transformed into endurance, character, and hope. God uses our struggles to bring us to spiritual maturity. And it is the promise of that great life that gives us hope, saving us from the present sufferings, and enabling us to wait with patience for God’s full glory to be revealed.