We sat around the tables, Bibles open to Romans 8. I usually dread classes on this book because it so often comes across harsh and heavy-handed. But this chapter, soaking up the reassurances of God’s love and His promise to co-opt the bad that happens and bring good out of it.
We read verses 31-33.
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. (NIV)
The leader asked our class who is against us, and suggested that a better sense of what Paul wrote there is “Since God is for us, who can be against us?”
I raised my hand and answered, “Satan.”
Another in the class said, “The world, the devil, and our flesh.”
Then a woman across from me spoke. “God used to be against us before we were saved. He was both judge and prosecutor. Once we are declared righteous, He is no longer the prosecutor against us, and as judge, He declares us not guilty.”
Everything about what she said bothered me. I have never seen anything that sets God, who we believe to be just, up as both judge and prosecutor against sinners. How can that be, if he is just and fair? You can’t fairly judge a case which you are also prosecuting or defending. That’s a conflict of interest. And doesn’t the Bible state that Satan is the one who accuses us? Wouldn’t that make him the prosecutor in this analogy? The whole thing was deeply unsettling.
Normally, I would raise my hand and ask about it. I’ve joked that asking questions no-one else is willing to say out loud is my spiritual gift.
But I didn’t say anything. The leader didn’t correct her, so he seemed to be comfortable with the analogy. I know that the ramifications of such a discussion extend into one’s understanding of the atonement – what exactly happened when Jesus died for our sins. And I further know that some churches take their view of the atonement very seriously, particularly those who hold to “penal substitutionary atonement” (that links to more detail – I’ll not go into it here). At this point in my life, I find “Christus Victor” more compelling (think of the story line of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, written by C.S. Lewis).
I didn’t say anything because I don’t know how comfortable they are discussing other views of things like this. I’ve been criticized harshly for bringing things like this up in the past. Maybe it depends on the leader. Probably it depends on the topic. I don’t want to cause trouble. I guess it boils to not knowing if it’s safe. The only way to find out, I suppose, is to try. But I’m afraid to.
I also didn’t say anything because part of me is tired of all the thinking and analyzing and debating and drawing lines in the sand. I’m becoming more “live and let live” about things like this. If they want to see God that way, and if they love and trust him and do what he says, that’s fine, right? I just want to love and trust God as I should. I want to do better at living how He says to live. And I don’t think such debates help me in that endeavor.
So I kept my thoughts to myself. I read the words of the chapter again, reminding myself that even when the clouds of depression close in, even when my grief crashes over me like high tide again, even when my son’s nosebleed brings back haunting and traumatic memories of Elli’s blood-everywhere nosebleeds, God is trustworthy and He loves me.
So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:
They kill us in cold blood because they hate you.
We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.
None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us. (The Message)
When do you ask questions, and when do you keep them to yourself? How important is settling some of these debates to actually doing what God asks us to do?