In verses 31-34, Paul asks three questions that extol the benefits of God’s love for His people in Christ.
First, “Who can be against us?” The answer: no one, since God is for us and has shown just how “for us” He is by giving His own Son. Second, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?” The answer: again, no one, since God has justified them. And thirdly, “Who is to condemn (God’s elect)?” The Answer: once again, no one, because Jesus has died under the deserved condemnation, has been raised, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father interceding for His own. Finally, in verse 35, Paul sums all these things up by saying, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” All the benefits of v.31-34 (indeed, all the benefits of chapter 8, which is itself an account of the fruits of the gospel laid out in the entire book thus far), are bound up in this one phrase: “The love of Christ” (or, in verse 39, “the love of God in Christ).
So, verses 31-39 are, I believe, an affirmation and explication of the fact that the Christian’s joy and security and hope in this life have a single source: they are—by grace—loved by God in Christ. Then, because the Christian’s status as the beloved of God is their sole hope in this life, Paul spends the next four verses explaining just how sure this love is. Quite simply, nothing can sever the cord of faithfulness between God and His elect. Tribulation, hunger, suffering, demonic powers, even death itself will not break this bond. However, it’s important to note that God being “for” us—that is, us being held invincibly in the embrace of His love in Christ—does not mean that we will avoid suffering. Verses 35-39 make that abundantly clear. At this point someone might ask,
“If that is the case, then what good is it to be loved by God? What good is it to have Him for us? If suffering still comes, friends still die, sickness still descends, persecution still runs rampant, what benefit do we really receive?”
The Bible is full of answers to that question, but I think we see one here in verse 37. Paul says that, far from being separated from Christ’s love because of suffering, the Christian is actually made conqueror in all these things through Him who loved them (a similar statement to the famous Romans 8:28). And that’s the point I wanted to really highlight in this image.
In this picture I’ve tried to depict a generalization of all the hardships that Paul lists from v.35-39. The horned creature near the left side of the picture represents suffering in general, the dark winged human figure represents spiritual powers and authorities, the cloaked figure with the scythe is—of course—death, and the flying cherub represents all of the created order. The Christian is depicted as riding in a Roman-style triumphant chariot similar to the ones a conquering military leader would ride. It’s important to note that the creatures representing life’s trials are actually the ones drawing the chariot of the believer on toward glory. She does not avoid hardships— in fact, they are front and center in her experience—however, the sufferings of life have been “tamed” and “mastered” and made servants of her good (8:28) and God’s glory so that, in them she is more than a conqueror.
Now, it’s crucial to the meaning of this entire picture to see that the red cords wrapped around the various creatures—the cords that bind these creatures to the victory chariot—represent the blood of Christ. Verse 37 says that the believer is made more than a conqueror “through Him who loved us.” Christ’s death and resurrection (signified by the red cords and His wounds) is the climactic act love for His own. It is through this work of love that He has overcome all opposition to God and harmonized reality to the tune of God’s glory in Himself…..and for any who trust in Him, that harmonization by love is for their benefit as well. So it is only through Christ, and His work of love on the cross, that life’s hardships are conquered and made to serve the believer.
May the Lord give us the grace to believe these things when we need them most…..