Right now, many are asking “why.” Why is this happening to our world? Why is it being handled a certain way? Why are some of us losing jobs? Why are people so divided over this? It’s a confusing time to be a follower of Jesus, admittedly. Our world is undergoing a lot of pressure, and it’s difficult to know how to respond to it.
In Romans, Paul writes to a church facing confusing times. The Roman emperor had forced all of the Jewish people in Rome to leave, and after 5 years they were allowed to return. When Jewish Christians returned, they returned to a church community that was not very Jewish: they didn’t follow the instructions of the Torah like observing the sabbath or being circumcised. There was a lot of disagreement, and Paul is writing to them to help them through this confusing time – to tell them that the good news of Jesus exists to bring them together, not to separate them. In chapter 8, he writes:
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Romans 8:22-30 NIV)
Paul’s words feel so applicable right now. We’re in the midst of a crisis in our society, and we’re wondering what to do. The way forward is not entirely clear, and now more than ever it’s easy for us to be divided. To Paul, the good news is that God is working in it all. He’s not absent, but rather He is with us as we get frustrated, ask questions and even as the parts of us come out that we’re not proud of. He’s working through difficult and confusing circumstances, not just in spite of them.
Here’s what he says next:
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. (Romans 8:31-39 NIV)
Paul is reminding the people of God of the love that God has for them, and that there isn’t anything that can separate them from that love. He’s building on the overall theme of this letter to be unified in spite of disagreement, describing the strength of God’s love in order to invite the church to have a strong love for one another.
Paul’s words teach us that though there will be struggle, confusion and division, we are loved by God and can respond to that love by our unity: having a love for one another that reflects God’s perfect love to the world. God is present and with us during this confusing time, and He could actually be using it to teach us to love our neighbors as ourselves, especially the ones that we disagree with.