Special photo: Susan Bennett
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? … 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.
The bottom line to this famous passage in Romans 8 is very simple: Life is hard. But we have hope.
Life is hard. That’s why there are grief support groups. That’s why people are truly desperate to find the perfect vacation spot, and that’s why there’s an entire medical profession. In real life, we get sick, we get sad, and bad things happen to good people. And every single bit of it is stressful.
That’s bad enough. But what really bothers me is folks who try to convince us that, because we’re Christians, we’re not subject to the tribulations that life brings down on other people. Or somehow the hard things shouldn’t bother us as much, because we have the Lord. Well, we do have the Lord, and his presence and love are what get us through the hard situations. But generally, God doesn’t make it all go away. God gets us through it, and teaches us and helps mature us along the way — but he rarely just makes it all disappear.
The older I get, the more I value simple authenticity. I’m against anything that makes us feel like we have to lie or fake our way through, or pretend everything’s fine when it isn’t. God knows all about grief; he knows all about loss. Our sadness doesn’t surprise Him or make Him think we have no faith. No, in fact, Jesus lived through enormous sadness and loss, and He reaches out to us in perfect understanding and love. We never have to pretend in front of Him. Jesus absolutely knows that life is hard.
In fact, John 16:33 says, In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. You see? Life is hard; that’s a promise. But we have hope. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
If there’s a way to avoid loss and stress in this life, I honestly don’t know what it is. But our hope is actually two-fold: we have the comfort of God’s presence now — and the promise of life with him forever.
Where does God’s help usually come from? It usually comes from PEOPLE: family and friends and others who love us and stick with us. And sometimes a stranger will come along somehow and be a messenger of God in our lives.
For many people, nature is a great comfort — a reminder of God’s power and glory and love.
Lots of people say they can actually feel the prayers of the saints or the presence of God in new and stronger ways than usual.
When I was a hospice chaplain and met a patient for the first time, I usually began by listening while they told their story: the moment of diagnosis, the months of treatment, the realization that nothing was helping — that’s their story, and they need to tell it again and again. It’s part of grieving. And then I wanted to know: Who is in your life? Who loves you and supports you? Who understands and is not afraid to travel with you on this journey? Sadly, many times family members just couldn’t handle it, and the stranger, the hospice chaplain turned out to be the only one who fit the bill. But still, God supplied someone, even me. And sometimes YOU will be the person God’s supplying. Other times you’ll be the one who’s receiving God’s help, which can be humbling. But God never leaves us alone in this life. Sometimes we have to ask, but one way or another, God will help us. Nothing can separate us from His love.
But that’s not the end of the story.
I heard a woman say once that she’s usually more concerned with vacuuming the carpet in her living room than she is with thinking about heaven! Most of us are like that. We’re earthbound! We forget that this life isn’t the end; in fact, it’s barely the beginning. I believe with all my heart that the moment will come when we close our eyes in death, and open them again to see the Lord. What a moment! It’ll be warmth and love and joy and safety and wholeness and welcome. And it does help to think that even though we’ve lost someone we love and we’re terribly sad about it — and we have a right to be — that still, the person we love is now very much alive, and in the midst of all that joy and homecoming.
Life is hard. It’s filled with moments of joy, but also all kinds of loss. And loss is always stressful. But we have hope! NOTHING can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus not only comforts us in this life but promises us eternal life — where there is no loss or stress at all, and the joy isn’t just for MOMENTS — but forever.
Rev. Susan Bennett is pastor of Stockbridge Presbyterian Church. She and her husband live in Stockbridge with two giant Rottweilers and a 15-pound rescue dog who is the boss of everybody.