Romans 8:31-39 NIV
31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 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? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered 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, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,39 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.
July 16, 2023 – The Congregational Church of Easton
A friend of mine once asked children in her Sunday School class to draw pictures of God. I found a website that shows kids doing the same thing. Here are some wonderful things children said about their drawings:
- God has giant ears so he can hear everything we are saying.
- God is either a woman or a man. I’m not sure which…, so I drew God half woman and half man.
- God doesn’t sleep because he watches over us all the time.
- God lives inside every living thing. So, my doctor has seen God when he cuts people open.
- When God gets mad he lets out the thunder and throws lightening around.
Such creative images of God! What kind of picture would you draw to express your image of God? [pause to let people think]
It’s important for you and I to think about this. The way we imagine God has a big impact on how we look at life and how we behave.
Lots of people imagine God as a punishing judge. An example is Jonathan Edwards’ fearsome sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God?,” which he wrote in 1741. Listen to this!:
The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, [that God] abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked. … Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell, O sinner!
I can imagine children in his day drawing pictures of people dangling over the flames of hell, held only by thin threads.
Here’s a contrasting image of God by one of my favorite teachers, Father Richard Rohr:
If God is Trinity and Jesus is the face of God, then it is a benevolent universe. God is not someone to be afraid of but is the Ground of Being and [is] on our side.
Or, another of Father Richard’s images:
To the degree you have experienced intimacy with God, you won’t be afraid of death because you’re experiencing the first tastes and promises of heaven in this world.
Pretty different, right? An angry God who might drop us into hell at any moment or a God who is on our side, revealing the possibility of heaven on earth.
It’s very important that we become aware our image of God.
You know how they say people come to look more and more like their pets? The same is true with our ideas about God. As we grow older, we become more and more like our image of God.
There’s a book called “Good Goats, Healing our Image of God,” by Dennis Linn, his wife, and son. Dennis talks about all the years that he struggled with a self-righteous, judgmental streak in his personality. He prayed for healing, but his prayers seemed to go unanswered.
As he grew older, he noticed his self-righteousness had almost disappeared. He wondered why, and then something dawned on him. Here’s what he writes:
I changed when my image of God changed. Most of us recognize that we become like our parents whom… we adore, even with all their faults. We may not realize that we also become like the God we adore.
Unfortunately, the God I grew up adoring was German. My God was a self-righteous German who sat on his… judgment throne. Being a self-righteous German, my God could see all the mistakes and errors in everyone else….
And if my God could be a self-righteous German, then no matter how many [prayers for healing] I prayed, I would probably never change. I became like the God I adored.
Dennis said that image of God changed away from this judgermemtal German. As a result, zhe changed, as well.
Genesis says that you and I are created in the image of God. But what IS that image for you? What do you imagine God to be like? Think about it for a few moments. [Pause] Is your God a judge or a passionate lover?
The Bible has all kinds of images of God. Here again is Paul’s image of an infinitely loving God in our passage from Romans:
I am convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.
At the other end of the spectrum is Hebrews chapter 10. It sounds like it influenced Jonathan Edwards’ sermon:
26 …if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will destroy those who oppose God…. For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay….“ The Lord will judge his people.” Yes, as the author of Hebrews goes on to sauy, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
Well, which way of imagining God is the ‘right’ way? Sneak preview: As in all questions of biblical interpretation, the life and teachings of Jesus are our best guide.
Listen to Romans 8:31-35 once again: Paul is talking to people who are being accused by their fellow Jews of straying from orthodox Judaism.
31 …. If God is for us, who is against us? He didn’t spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. Won’t he also freely give us all things with him?
Who will bring a charge against God’s elect people? It is God who acquits them. Who is going to convict them? …. It is Christ Jesus who also pleads our case for us.
Who will separate us from Christ’s love…?
And yet Hebrews says “It is a fearsome thing to fall into the hands of the living God. So what are we to believe? What can we hold on to that tells us what God is like?
A better question is WHO can we hold on to? The answer is Jesus. Jesus is our infallible guide, helping us interpret scripture. When we look at almost everything Jesus does and almost everything the Gospel reports him to say, we see God’s amazing love shining forth.
His story of the Prodigal Son is the definitive image of what God is like. Remember the story? The son asks for his inheritance early and then goes out and squanders it and ends up starving. He decides to go home and beg his father to take him in as a lowly servant.
God is like the boy’s loving father. When the father sees his son approaching the house, he rushes out to embrace him, even before the son has a chance to say he’s sorry. He told the servants to kill the fatted calf and prepare a great feast – a joyous celebration.
Such astounding love! We worship a god who invites us to God’s party.
It is important to add that the image of God that Jesus shows us includes suffering. Jesus weeps. God in human form suffers on the cross. The father in the Prodigal son story suffers when the boy disrespects him and leaves for a far country.
Life is full of suffering. Love makes you and me vulnerable to suffering. Who do you know who doesn’t have a family member or close friend who is either suffering themselves or stirring up suffering in others?
Members of the Christian community in Rome who read Paul’s letter were suffering. He wrote in the chapter before today’s reading:
18 I believe that the present suffering is nothing compared to the coming glory that is going to be revealed to us…. We know that the whole creation is groaning together and suffering labor pains up until now. And it’s not only the creation. We ourselves who have the Spirit as the first crop of the harvest also groan inside….
Again, “We know that the whole creation is groaning….” “We ourselves who have the Spirit… also groan inside.”
Let me sum up by reading again these amazing lines by Paul:
I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.
Through Jesus we are given this astounding image of God – a God who loves us and is with us no matter what difficulties life has in store for us.
The theme in so many images of God is judging, rather than accepting and forgiving. Most of us grew up in homes and went to schools in which there was a lot of judging. Good/bad, right /wrong. As we reflect on Jesus’ image of God as the Father in the Prodigal Son, and as we listen to Paul’s resounding cry that nothing can separate us from the love of God, I, and perhaps you, need to remind ourselves to be aware of our judgmental thoughts and try to catch ourselves when they start to get the best of us.
I want to be more and more like the father in the Prodigal Son story – more accepting of others whose politics are different than mine – more forgiving of my own faults and frailties. As you become more aware of your judgmental thoughts, perhaps you will wish for the same.
Let us Pray.
Abba, Father God, we thank you with our whole hearts for your love for us revealed in the actions and teachings of your son, Jesus. How amazing it is that nothing can separate us from your forgiving, non-judgmental love. Amen
 Good Goats, Healing our Image of God,” by Dennis Linn , page 7. https://www.amazon.com/Good-Goats-Healing-Our-Image/dp/0809134632/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=