Reflections on Romans 8:31–39

By Helmut Koester

At the celebration of the 50th anniversary of my ordination  (2006)

Ever since I was a teenager, Paul’s Epistle to the Romans had a special attraction for me. For my confirmation in 1942 I chose Romans 1:16—“I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ”—as my biblical verse. It was also at that time that I decided to become a Lutheran minister. Then, in the third year of World War II, I lived in a world of confusion and chaos. Confusion, because of the conflict between the demands of my country and faithfulness to Christ. Chaos, because of the war and the disturbances it brought to our lives, though little did I know the dimensions of the chaos into which Hitler had been leading Germany. The immensity of that chaos became clear only in the following years through nights filled with fear during bombing attacks, service in the German army, months in British and American POW camps, through the devastating revelations of the horrors of the Nazi government, and through years of studying at the university with never enough to eat and rarely enough fuel to protect us from bitterly cold winters.

Today, we like to think that we can live comfortably in a secure, orderly and just world. But at this very time not only those who have access to international news and know about the horrors of torture and about prisoners of conscience all over the world, but also many others in this country have realized that even our American government can lead us and others into chaos. But, whether or not we knew it, chaos has always been at the door, is always threatening, as is always fed by the irresponsible acts of human beings, who torture people, push them into poverty, abuse and pollute natural resources, and start wars in order to enhance national power and pride—not to speak of the very evident fact that we are all human beings threatened by misfortune, disease, and eventually by death.

The apostle Paul was a realist. He saw life as threatened by powers beyond human control. He saw even all creation longing for wholeness and salvation. Whatever these powers, manmade or beyond human control, what is there that can save us, make us whole, confident, hopeful and joyful? For Paul, there is only one thing: and that is the love of God that has been revealed through the giving of God’s Son, who died for all human beings. Nothing is said here about virtue and morality, or about law and judgment, or about power and strength.

What can we embrace to strengthen our life so that we can be free from fearing the powers of chaos and death? It is not national power and armies, not morality and virtue, not family values, not even advancement of medical research—there is only the love of God. It is not a sentimental inclination of the divine, but it is God’s action in the giving of the Son into a chaotic world. It is God’s own dangerous adventure to demonstrate that love is the only force that can liberate from the powers of chaos and overcome our fear. “If God is for us, who will be against us?” The very center of God’s love is Christ, “whom God gave up for us.”  Only love can fight the powers of chaos. Thus love must become our own dangerous adventure to combat the threatening and overwhelming powers chaos. Loving each other and loving others in spite of their different sexual, political, and religious orientations. Only in this way can we be assured that we are able to fight the powers of chaos and be secure in Christ Jesus, embracing each other and welcoming all others into the love of God in Christ. If we stay in this love, nothing can separate us from the God, whose action is love.

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