Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

"God Is On Our Side"

Romans 8: 28-39

Psalm 44: 17-26

      Let me introduce you to a woman by the name of Myrna.  Myrna is one of those persons you

meet who you just can’t help but to like.  She is outgoing, friendly, sincere, kind, and helpful.  When

work of any kind needs done around her church, Myrna is the “go to.”  And everything she does,

she puts her whole self into.  In terms of faith, Myrna might be described as a devout woman.  She

has a rich devotional and prayer life.  She’s a leader in her women’s mid-week Bible study group.

Myrna is recognized by everyone as a spiritual pillar in the life of her small congregation. Myrna has

the ability to light up a room with her presence.  She is of Latin descent, her deep complexion, full

features, broad smile and mildly-accented voice make everyone feel comfortable in her presence. 

      Yet behind her smile and dancing eyes is a side of Myrna very few have occasion to see: 

a deeply pained little girl who has known more than any fair share of rejection and suffering.  As a child, she

had been abandoned by her biological mother.  She was reared by kin folk who took her into their

home more out of a sense of obligation than as a labor of love.  Their brand of discipline was very

severe and abusive.  By the age of nine, Myrna had been removed from that home and placed in a

Bolivian convent orphanage where discipline was cloaked in religion, but was no less harsh. 

      At sixteen, she ran away and married a much older man who used her as the object of his and

his friends’ sexual desires.  She bore him three children, and also bore the responsibility of raising

them alone when he ran off with another woman.  Her youngest was then only two months of age. 

In her early twenties, Myrna obtained a work visa and came to the United States with her kids. 

Against all odds, she raised her family on the wages of a domestic housekeeper, and even put her

eldest son through the University of Pittsburgh where he was standout defensive end. 

      Just a year before I met her, Myrna had been diagnosed with leukemia.  After several months of

brutal treatment, the disease was driven into remission.  My first occasion to offer her pastoral

care was when her fifteen year-old son ran away from home.  It was only then that I learned of all

this pain which was so well concealed behind her bright eyes and easy smile.  It was also then that I

discovered that the God she worshipped – and genuinely loved – was in her understanding an

angry and vindictive God.  Myrna was convinced that when each of the many trials in her life came

along, they were signs of God’s disfavor; indications of God’s lack of pleasure with her lifestyle, her

behavior, her faith, even her child-rearing.  She would say in conversation: “If I could only stop messing up,

God might love me more.  I must be a terrible disappointment.  I feel like God’s punishing

me, and I guess I deserve it, right?

      Considering everything Myrna has been through in her forty years, it’s not surprising that the

only God she’s come to know is a god of wrath.  God as a merciful God is an entirely foreign idea to

her.  She’s heard plenty in her church about God’s grace and forgiveness.  But that doesn’t square

with everything her life experiences have taught her.  She wants desperately to know God in a new

way, but she is mired in a past where everyone she has ever tried to love has abused and abandoned her. 

      In the thirty plus years I’ve spent in Christian ministry, I’ve come to realize that Myrna is not an

isolated case.  It’s not uncommon to find even among the most devoted and committed Christian

folk a mindset like Myrna’s.  The church is filled with people who have been through some pretty

terrible things: abandonment, abuse, rejection, loss.  Many have sought through the church to make

sense of it all; to put in some semblance of order all the bad stuff which happens in life, even when

they’re trying to do the good and right things.  Yet how common it is to find Christians, as they

reflect upon disaster and tragedy which has beset them, or someone they know, thinking to them-

 selves:  What have I done wrong?  What is in my past which has brought this upon me?  What did

he or she do which deserves this?

      The oldest books in the Bible, and perhaps one of the most ancient documents ever written,

carries the title of Job.  This folk tale presents a man described as “blameless and upright, one who

feared God, and turned away from evil.”  As you know, Job was beset by some of the worst

tragedies imaginable:  loss of his children; loss of his property; loss of his physical health.  As Job laid

in the ashes of mourning, his friends came to him:  “Job, your God has abandoned you.  He has taken

your fortunes from you.  So what have you done?  Surely, there is something which merits this.” 

      Likewise, as recorded in the Gospel of Luke, some of Jesus’ disciples were asking Him about a

tragedy in the village of Siloam.  A tower there inexplicably collapsed killing eighteen innocent people.

  The disciples asked their teacher:  “Rabbi, do you think the ones killed were worse offenders

than the others?  Surely, there is something in their lives which brought this on.”  In effect, they were

inquiring about what these eighteen, or their families, must have done to God to cause God to revoke His love and abandon them to tragedy. 

      In the midst of or following earthquake, tsunami, tornado, fire, accident, pandemic, isn’t one of

the first questions we ask – even if only in our own minds:  What brought this on?  What have they

done to deserve this?  What does God know that we don’t?  One of the reasons the stories of Job and

the tower of Siloam have such enduring value, and are included in God’s inspired word, is that they

deal with such seminal questions:  Why do bad things happen?  Have I brought this on myself? 

Where is God in all this?  The mind set of our human condition – fallen as it is – has often construed

that trials, or persecution, or poverty, or disease, or distress are somehow indicative of God’s reject-

tion or abandonment; that when we experience life’s darker seasons, God has removed God’s love

from us.

      It is true that we frequently act against God’s will and our own well-being; behaving contrary to

what we know is right and good; violating God’s created order, acting instead in our own self-interest. 

And it is equally true that we often bring upon ourselves the natural consequences of such

action.  But to make the sweeping assumption that all ill-fortune is evidence of God’s disfavor, or

viewing suffering as a sign of God’s falling out of love with us, is a distortion of the overall message

of the Bible.  If the Bible makes clear nothing else, it should make this much clear:  God is on our

side!  God is on our side!

      Nowhere is this theology better articulated than in Paul’s letter to the Romans.  In terms of context,

Paul was writing to the church in a city where pagan worship was dominant.  It was believed by most Romans

that there were multiple gods in control of different aspects of the natural order – a

god of thunder; a god of sea; a god of fertility; a god of prosperity.  The worst one could do was to

offend any of these gods for there would be consequences.  Being struck by lightning, drowning at

sea in a storm, failure of crops, prosperity to poverty – all these were considered to be signs of divine

disfavor and rejection prompted by human misbehavior.

      Naturally, this kind of thinking crept into the mindset of the church and the theology of its members. 

If you make the Almighty mad, there’s going to be a price to pay.  This is not just some ancient thought or superstition. 

Such a mindset and theology are still dominant in the lives of many devoted and committed Christians in 21st century America.

      Paul was trying to convince the 1st century church – and is still trying to convince us today – that

this is not who God is.  God is on our side! Paul declares:  “What then shall we say to this?”  What

 shall we believe about God in the face of “the sufferings of this present time.”  Confronted with the

reality that bad things happen, even when we’re trying to do what is good and right, where do we

see God in all this?  As our adversary?  As One who is looking to abuse and reject and abandon us? 

Certainly not!  Paul asks, “If God is for us, who is against us?”  That is a clearly rhetorical question to

which the answer is a resounding No one!

      Paul goes on to reason that if God would go so far as to give up His only Son Jesus – the very

essence of Godself, for our benefit; for our salvation; for our justification – how could we for a moment believe

that God stands against us, or would ever consider abandoning or rejecting us?  Paul

then moves from the rhetorical to the practical question: “Who shall separate us from the love of

Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”

In the midst of their distress, the nation of Israel was given voice by the Psalmist reflecting a distorted perception of God. 

Paul quotes, “For thy sake we are being killed all the day long;  we are

regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”  Paul emphatically answers the Psalmist “No, in all these

things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” 

      In spite of the painful reality of all these things which befall us, we continue to have God on our

side.  In spite of our rejection of God; our disobedience to God’s will; our falling short of God’s best

intentions for us, God remains forever in love with us.  The Brief Statement of Faith developed by our

denomination in 1983 says it eloquently.  However much we rebel against God; hide from God; violate and exploit

God’s created order, we are assured that “Loving us still, God makes us heirs with

Christ of the covenant.  Like a mother who will not forsake her nursing child, like a father who runs to

welcome the prodigal home, God is faithful still.”

      In this morning’s lesson from Romans, Paul encourages us to see and understand God in a new

way.  There will be trials and tribulations in our lives.  Things like abuse, abandonment, rejection,

sufferings of all manner are inescapable realities of life.  We will be faced with unfairness, injustice,

what seems altogether senseless pain.  Even as we seek to address and redress these issues, we may

find ourselves tempted to look to God in such times and assume we’ve somehow disappointed God,

or caused God by our own behavior to reject and abandon us; to think that we do not merit God’s

love, but rather have earned God’s wrath.  Those seminal questions haunt every generation of the

human family. 

      Might I close with a suggestion.  A good passage to commit to memory is this reminder that God

is indeed on our side!  Hear again these words of assurance:  “For I am sure that neither death, nor

life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height,

nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in

Christ Jesus our Lord.”  Amen.