It was a challenge I set myself as a young adult – to learn Romans chapter 8 by heart. Compared with the old Jewish practice of learning the whole Pentateuch (or the Muslim memorisation of the Koran) it should have been a stroll in the park, though it still took this bear-of-little-brain a while to achieve it. But even now, those rolling phrases from that great chapter frequently come to mind just when I need them: ‘There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’. ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his good purpose’. ‘If God is for us, who can be against us?’
Christian hope is at the heart of this chapter – not some false cheerfulness or mindless optimism, but a hope that is set against the darkest backdrop of suffering and persecution, and is inextricably linked with the life, death and resurrection of God’s Son and the coming of His Spirit. There is plenty of groaning along the way: the whole creation is groaning, we are groaning, the Spirit is groaning – but groaning ‘as in the pains of childbirth’, the image itself speaking of wonderful and unimaginable things to come. And following the great series of rhetorical questions at the end of the chapter, we come to the most moving verses of all, which I intoned, through the tears, at my own father’s funeral a year ago on Sunday:
‘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’.
Let’s never settle for a bargain-basement hope, the ‘Peace, Peace, where there is no peace’, which is always a feature of false prophecy. Let’s continue to be nourished by the hope of Romans 8, with all its frustration and its groanings and with its roots deeply embedded in the amazing grace of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.