The alien invaders.
Suffering and death are the penultimate specimen of God working things out for good.
I have always had a “love-hate” relationship with Romans 8. There is certainly much to love about this extravagant 39-verse opus in which the apostle Paul waxes rhapsodic on the love of God that just will not let you go. As the beloved apostle moves from thought to thought, he is inspired to pen words the have served as the foundation of countless believers’ devotion to the Lord Jesus for centuries. The inspired notion that our union with Christ makes us “more than conquerors” has done much to make faithful otherwise fickle sinners (Rom. 8:37). Many more words might be spent extolling the wonders of God’s inseparable love (Rom. 8:35, 38–39), but that is not my errand today. Rather, I want to talk about the portion of Romans 8 I “hate.”
Of course, I don’t mean “hate” in the literal sense. But there has always been a portion of this sublime chapter that has rubbed me raw, to the point where I wish it wasn’t there. It appears as Paul moves to expound the confirmatory and consolatory ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of those who are “God’s children.” He writes:
The Spirit himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children, and if children, also heirs — heirs of God and coheirs with Christ — if indeed we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. (Rom. 8:16–17)
I wish that the Spirit’s errand in assuring me that I’m a co-inheritor with Christ didn’t include the caveat of suffering. That’s the part I hate. That’s the part I could do without. Part of me thinks that, at least. Indeed, much of society would concur. Suffering and death are the twins of evil with which we have spent the majority of our history on this earth attempting to supplant. Man has tried and failed for centuries to find away to avoid suffering and stave off dying as long as possible. But in the end, suffering always wins. Everybody dies. Suffering and death are undefeated.
Be that as it may, suffering and death remain the most unnatural parts of the natural world. They did not always exist. Ours was a realm that was once perfect, crafted in unadulterated beauty. The Lord God made everything and pronounced it good (Gen. 1:31). There was no blight. Everything was pure. Everything existed in the gracious, harmonious order for which God had purposed all things. And then, sin was born and fractured all that goodness. Mankind’s sudden rebellion marred what God had blessed and corrupted the pure world God had made. And from the moment of sin’s inception, suffering and death were conceived.
Suffering and death are alien invaders in the cohort of sin. They march in the ugly, unnatural ranks of rebellion as cankers that afflict all of creation with misery and mortality. They are the ensigns that this world is not as it should be. That something is off. Something is wrong. This world of flesh and bone and wood and water was not created with suffering or death in mind. They do not belong. Renowned orator Alexander Maclaren gives exceptional voice to this reality when he writes:
Sorrow, tears, death, and all other ills that flesh is heir to are an alien and abnormal excrescence upon creation as God meant it; and He has nothing to do with them but to hate them, and to fight against them, and to cast them out, and to deliver us from them.1
For as much as I “hate” participating in suffering, that is, indeed, what connects me with Christ. Suffering and death, alien though they be, are the penultimate specimen of God working things out for good. Though we often toss around the promise of Romans 8:28 without gleaning its true intent (and context), it is Jesus himself who brings to bear this assurance in its fullness on our behalf. For it was he who came in flesh and blood — just like you and I — in order to die in flesh and blood and redeem flesh and blood from the sin by which it is utterly condemned. He shares in the same flesh and blood that is marred by suffering and death that he might “taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9–15). And by tasting death, he utterly destroys it (2 Tim. 1:10).
On [the cross] the Heavenly Healer dies Himself, that His death may be the death of sin. On it He bleeds, that His blood may drop soundness. On it He suffers wounds, that the wounded may be whole. On it He gives His body to most painful pains, that ease may be His people’s portion. On it He lays down His life, that they may have life.2
Consequently, though I “hate” the notion of signing up for suffering as a co-inheritor of the promise, I love it, because I know of the true and better Sufferer who has already suffered in my place, on my behalf. It is he who has taken up arms with this alien invader and has cast it back to shadowy darkness from which it came. It is he who assures me that there will be a day when the clutches of suffering and death will be released and peace and life will reign forevermore (Rev. 21:4–5).
Alexander Maclaren, The God of the Amen: And Other Sermons (London: Alexander & Shepheard, 1891), 136.
Henry Law, Christ Is All: The Gospel of the Pentateuch—Exodus (London: Religious Tract Society, 1864), 56.