Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ!
Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ!
But what does ‘separate’ mean?
It must mean that we no longer know or experience the love of Christ.
But what does it mean in the first place to know the love of Christ, to know the love of the Father, to know the love of God?
Of course, we can know intellectually that God loves us. As the song goes, ‘Jesus loves me this I know, because the Bible tells me so’. But how can we know that he loves us in our hearts?
How can we have heart knowledge rather than just intellectual knowledge of Christ?
Firstly, we can know that he loves us from our experience of his faithfulness to us in crises, how when we pray, when we are desperate coincidences happen or ‘God-incidences’ (as I prefer to call them) so often which lead us to know God’s loving care for us. We can look back on the wonderful and very unlikely things that he has done in our lives.
But can we know that he loves us in a more tangible way?
This quesiton slightly reminds me of a conversation I read about between John Wesley, who as we all know established the Methodist church and a leader of a charismatic Christian church from Germany, called the Moravians.
The conversation came after an almost calamitous sea journey across the Atlantic to Georgia in the eighteenth century, during which there was a severe storm during evening worship, the water was cascading between the decks of the ship, all the English were screaming with terror, but the Moravians just went on singing Evensong!
‘Was you not afraid?’ Wesley asked the Moravian leader afterwards, when calm had been restored, ‘I thank God no’, replied the Moravian, ‘But were your women and children not afraid?’ ‘No our women and children are not afraid to die’, the Moravian answered.
Arriving in the Americas, Wesley shared accommodation with some of the Moravians in Savannah Georgia. He wrote as follows about them:: We had now an opportunity, day by day, of observing their whole behaviour. For we were in one room with them from morning to night….They were always employed, always cheerful themselves, and in good humour with one another; they had put away all anger and strife, and wrath, and bitterness, and clamour, and evil-speaking; they walked worthy of the vocation wherewith they were called, and adorned the Gospel of our Lord in all things.
The Moravian asked Wesley ‘Do you know Jesus Christ?’
Wesley was very uncomfortable being asked this question…as I know many of us would be uncomfortable also….He replied “i know that he is the saviour of the world’. But the Moravian responded ‘True..but do you know that he has saved you’
Wesley replied ‘I hope that he has died to save me’ Again the Moravian replied, ‘But do you know yourself?’ Wesley replied ‘I do’ but afterwards noted ‘But I fear that these were vain words’
It took another three years before Wesley understood what the Moravian was talking about and actually experienced a strange warming of the heart in Aldersgate Street and knew for himself the love of God…..
The Moravian had pointed out to Wesley something really important. The love of Christ enables the Christian to face any kind of adversity and to overcome it. As theologian Robert Mounce writes: ‘Christians are not grim stoics who manage to ‘muddle through somehow’. They are victors who have found from experience that God is ever present in their trials and that the love of Christ will empower them to overcome all the obstacles of life’
Christians know that they are loved by the Creator of the Universe, what could be more amazing than that?
In a world where, in a recent UK survey referred to in Christianity Magazine last month 89% of 16-29 year olds say that their life lacks purpose or meaning, what could be a better solution for so many of the troubles that beset our world than for us to know in our hearts that God our creator loves us and that our lives have meaning because he made us for a purpose?
I believe that it is this sort heart knowledge, knowledge of the love of Christ that Paul is talking about and from which we can never be separated, once we have encountered it, by the long list of catastrophes which Paul describes in Romans ‘hardship, distress persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword’. Paul who was very familiar with suffering was convinced that no suffering, indeed nothing could separate us from this knowledge, from this experience of the love of Christ.
But here’s a puzzle….we know that on the Cross even Jesus seemed to be conscious of a complete cosmic separation from God. He cries out, as we all know, in Mark 15:34: ’My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” Jesus clearly could no longer feel the presence of God. Does this mean that Christ could be separated from appreciating the love of God, from feeling the love of God and if he can be then how can what Paul writes in Romans be right?
I think that there is one thing that can actually separate us from the love of God but unlike Paul’s list of hardships, it is something entirely under our control….It is sin
When Jesus died, he carried on his shoulders the sin of the whole world, the sin of all humanity both present and future, it blocked him off from experiencing the Father’s love and it is thus our own unforgiven un-repented sin, which blocks us from knowing the love of God also.
So when Paul says ‘who will separate us from the love of Christ’ and then lists things which are imposed on us by circumstances or by others: hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril or sword, he does not include our own sinfulness.
If we want to know the love of the Father, the love of Christ, then nothing else in the whole of creation can prevent us from doing so, except ourselves; our stubborn unwillingness to recognise and repent of our own sinfulness, to which the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit continues to draw our attention, unless we have become so hardened to that voice that we no longer hear him.But the solution is entirely in our own hands….
31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33 Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 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.
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Ro 8:31–39). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.