Victory In Suffering (Romans 8)
In the midst of unbearable suffering we can say “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”, knowing that the father’s hands are the safest place we can be.
“I’m sorry, but your baby doesn’t have a heartbeat.”
We were well into the 2nd trimester of Cara’s 3rd pregnancy and everything had gone perfectly until the previous evening. On the drive to the OBGYN, I had tried to prepare myself for this outcome, but this isn’t the sort of thing a person can prepare themselves for.
I remember lying down in that small exam room and taking deep breaths, trying to prevent a loss of consciousness while holding Cara’s hand and telling her between sobs that we would be OK. I remember calling my dad to tell him the news and losing my ability to speak momentarily because I couldn’t utter the words “our baby died.” I remember walking into the same birthing unit where we had joyfully welcomed our first two children into the world. I remember my wife gently cradling our son’s tiny body in her palm and my complete lack of desire to hold him for fear that it would make the experience more real. I remember visiting the only 24-hour pharmacy we could find to fill the prescription for painkillers that my wife wouldn’t end up using. I remember picking up our son’s ashes from the funeral home where kind voices and handshakes weren’t enough.
What do we do when kind words, handshakes, and hugs aren’t enough? That’s the question that Paul seeks to answer in Romans 8. Paul is writing to Christians in the city of Rome who are enduring great suffering and who will endure greater suffering as time goes on. Many of them had recently returned to Rome after being expelled from the city (along with Jewish inhabitants) by the order of Emperor Claudius. Years after Paul’s letter to the Romans, half of Rome would be burned. The Emperor accused Christians of starting the fire and a huge persecution will break out.
What are Paul’s words to Christians in the midst of suffering? “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; We are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors though him who loved us. 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.” (Romans 8:35-39)
Paul reminds us that we are not alone in our suffering. Jesus himself is our ultimate example of how to suffer well. When others are hurting us, we must say “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”. When our struggles seem insurmountable and we can’t sense the presence of God, we can call out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”. Ultimately, in the midst of unbearable suffering we can say “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”, knowing that the father’s hands are the safest place we can be.
The very death and resurrection of our Lord is our assurance that while suffering is real, it will not have the last word. One person put it like this:
The world’s winning
People are sinning
And evil’s grinning
The soldiers nail my Savior’s hands
To the cross
They nail my Savior’s feet
To the cross
And then they raise him up
Next to criminals
But let me tell you something
Or, as Paul said it:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18)