Author Leo Buscaglia tells this story about his mother and their “misery dinner.” It was the night after his father came home and said it looked as if he would have to go into bankruptcy because his partner had absconded with their firm’s funds. His mother went out and sold some jewelry to buy food for a sumptuous feast. Other members of the family scolded her for it. But she told them that “the time for joy is now, when we need it most, not next week.” Her courageous act rallied the family.*
"The time for joy is now when we need it the most." That is what Paul is telling the Romans at the end of chapter eight, which is the conclusion of the third section of this letter which began in chapter five. Here Paul reminds us what he has written in that section as Douglas Moo highlights: “the work of God in Jesus Christ is for us and the love of God in Jesus Christ is for us.”(2) The little word “for” not only means that God’s work and love are on our behalf, but they are also for us because God is for us. God is on our side. And since God is on our side, those who oppose us who ultimately do not matter. Paul does not minimize the present sufferings of God’s people; he puts those sufferings in the context that God is with us and for us in the midst of the trials. “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” If God is for us, who can be against us? Or as I like to say it, “If God is for us who cares who’s against us?”
But someone might ask, “How can it be said that God is for us? For many, the sufferings of this present time suggest that God is not for us, that God doesn’t care about us. Surely the psalmist in Psalm 13 is right to ask, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” In the midst of the sufferings of the present time how do we know God is for us?
Paul offers the answer. We know God is for us because of Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ, God entered into human suffering and shared our humanity and went into its darkest place on the cross. In Jesus, God took on himself the worst that humans beings can do in their inhumanity and God used it for humanity, used it as the way to salvation. No wonder Paul says, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Paul is not saying that God causes all things. Certainly not! What he is affirming is that even the worst that can happen to us can be used by God, can be redeemed by God for us and for the sake of others. In the cross, God entered into the darkness of human sin and used it for the deliverance of humanity from that sin. There is no suffering, tragedy, sin… there is no dark place that we may enter in life where God refuses to go. In God’s love for us in Jesus Christ God has already entered into the darkness of humanity bringing the divine light that dispels the darkness.
One of the things Christians must never do is take suffering lightly. Sometimes we do that when we offer bumper sticker platitudes to those who suffer. I think we do that because we feel we have to say something of comfort and so we offer platitudinal pie-in-the-sky sayings fit only for the back of our automobiles.
How can the followers of a crucified savior take the suffering of others lightly? No, just like Jesus we should be running toward the suffering in order to bring the presence of God to where it is most needed. If God in Jesus Christ has entered into our darkness, how can Jesus’ people stand at arm’s length from the sufferings of this present time?
The worst that can happen to us cannot compare to the best God has already accomplished for us in Jesus Christ. If God is for us, who cares who’s against us?
*Christopher News Notes, August, 1993