What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, 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. — Romans 8:31-35, 37-38
If you ever feel disconnected from the writers of Sacred Scripture, if you ever feel like you just don’t understand them or the world they lived in, I highly recommend that you sit with this passage. Let it pour over you. Imagine St. Paul, pacing the room as poor Tertius scribbles frantically to keep up with the dictation. (cf. Romans 16:2) The message was clear: urge the Roman people to remain faithful to Christ and to spread that faith throughout the world. Ever the master rhetorician, Paul poses question after question– and always Christ Jesus is the answer. But what grabs me about this passage and what makes this such a vivid and effective way to dive into Scripture isn’t the beauty of Paul’s prose, nor the way in which every word hinges on this person whom Paul never actually met in earthly life… but the sheer way in which Paul lays himself bare with these few words:
“I am convinced.”
He could have said “I have faith” or “I believe” or “I am reasonably sure.” But he didn’t.
“πέπεισμαι” a passive of the Greek: πείθω, to persuade.
“I am persuaded.”
And I wonder: by what has he been persuaded? From whence this conviction? And as Tertius scribbled those lines, what did he think? Was he also persuaded? Or did this profession belong solely to Paul? Was he just a passive, faithful scribe, or did he nod his head in agreement just as feverishly as he wrote?
As soon as I begin to ponder that, I can imagine Paul not as the great Saint in Heaven (which he undoubtedly is), but as a man on earth, sharing his faith and his love for Christ with other men (and women!) on earth. As theologically eloquent and rich as the Epistle to the Romans is, in this small fleeting verse you hear not a treatise or a theory, but a man pouring out his heart.
And it challenges me to think: would I ever be bold enough to write that? Or to even speak it? Would I ever authoritatively and unapologetically tell someone that I am convinced? That I am completely persuaded? What sort of “proof” do I need in order to be convinced? Could I put aside the “Theology 101” for just a minute and give witness to the fact that I just really, really, really love and trust Jesus? Of course, Paul still gives quite a hefty Theology 101 lesson in this letter, but at the heart of it all is not some academic, rational, logical proof. In Romans 8:38 he shows that he is persuaded by the strength of Christ’s love.
Which also begs the questions: Am I truly convinced that Jesus Christ loves me? Even if I were, what would that mean? How would that change my life? Am I truly convinced that Christ cares for me? Am I truly convinced that even if I go broke and find myself destitute, persecuted, starving, naked, and staring down my executioner that none of that will separate me from God’s love?
…Am I convinced?