In the middle of one of the most incredible chapters in all the Bible sits a very unsettling verse. Romans 8 comes at us with a torrent of promises and reveals to us the heights of Christ’s love and the depths of God’s immovable purposes. The Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of God the Spirit pens this treasure of a chapter. At the end of the chapter we read the following:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? (8:35)
Beautiful. I’m with you, Paul. This is a great hypothetical question that obviously is answered by a resounding “no!”
Then comes verse 36:
As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
Many times when I’ve read this chapter and get to this verse, I can almost hear the sound of a record player screeching out of the record groove. This verse feels so dissonant among the glorious promises that Paul is proclaiming to us. But as I’ve meditated on what he is saying, it has brought about great comfort and only serves to highlight all the promises given in chapter 8. It has been of great comfort to me in this time.
The Apostle by quoting from Psalm 44:22 brings us smack-dab into reality. Not for a moment are Christians exempt from suffering and nor shall we be spared from physical tragedy as we follow Christ. Quite the opposite, as we all know, our lives in Christ will be full of affliction at the “hands” of so many things: cancer, accidents, old age and even death by persecution is not out of the question. The path to follow Jesus is full of crosses to carry and splinters to be endured. The cost is great and causes the most stalwart to swallow hard (see Peter’s moment in John 21:15-19). I’m swallowing right now.
Now what comfort is there in this? Why is the idea of being led to the slaughterhouse like sheep somehow meant to bring the Christian joy? How does this help under the threat of cancer? Here’s how: context.
Paul has taken us by the hand to the worst-case scenario. Even in the darkest and most daunting place possible (being led to slaughter), Paul concludes: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (v. 37). More than that, Paul exclaims these precious truths that we love so much:
For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 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 (vv. 38-39)
God does not lie to us and nor is He speaking in platitudes. This is His unchanging and perfect word to His people, and He stands by it. Christ shall uphold us in all places and at all times. He will enable us to stand firm and trust Him to even our demise or death, yes even in the slaughterhouse. I need not fear having to face the worst conditions alone. I never have to wonder, “will this all work out and be worth it in the end?” It will because God has sworn and will not change His mind.
In this six-week silence, I am learning to look even at the worst of scenarios and realize that even then and there, after the briefness of this life and affliction, I will gain Christ, who outweighs all troubles and utterly outshines any pleasure imaginable. He is worth it.
[On this day, 11 years ago, we remember those who perished in the tragedy of 9/11. Come Lord Jesus!]