Take a few moments to read the Psalm the Apostle Paul quotes in the eighth chapter of his letter to Christians in Rome. He references verse 22 of the 44th Psalm. But read the whole psalm, all 26 verses.
For the first eight verses the tone is very familiar—thanks and praise to God for his constant care and provision. These verses are easily imagined as songs sung by a congregation of Jews remembering their metanarrative of deliverance and victory given by the hands of their Creator.
Suddenly in verse 9, the tone changes dramatically. From exaltation, gratitude, and praise, the song turns to a dirge of complaint, angst, and despair. Past victories have turned into defeats, exhilaration into exasperation. God is even accused of selling his people Israel “for a pittance, gaining nothing from their sale (v. 12). Several verses later the accusations keep being spewed (or sung… remember, this is a psalm/song!)
“All this happened to us, though we had not forgotten you
or been false to your covenant.
Our hearts had not turned back; our feet had not strayed from your path.
But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals
And covered us over with deep darkness.” (Psalm 44:18, 19 NIV)
The psalm was probably written during Israel’s period of captivity in Babylon from 606-536 BC and during the time when the Babylonians sacked the city of Jerusalem and burned the Temple to the ground in 586 BC. The last verse of Psalm 44 cries out to God, “Rise up and help us; redeem us because of your unfailing love.”
It is from this deep emotional “psalm of complaint,” that the Apostle Paul draws verse 22: “For your sake we (the people of Israel) face death all day long.”
Fast forward six centuries to when Paul writes the letter to the Romans, around 57 A.D., approximately a quarter century after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The apostle’s emphasis to the Romans is God’s ultimate faithful provision and faithfulness, despite the dire and difficult circumstances of the present. Paul draws on Israel’s history, including their desolation in Babylonian captivity and their frustrations with the sovereignty of God. And he draws on his own experiences as an apostle, including his imprisonments and beatings. For Christ’s sake, he could earnestly imply, he had been exposed to death all day long.
Then Paul triumphantly writes, “But in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us” Romans 8:37 ERV.
And just a few verses later he confidently asserts, that “nothing shall separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” And that “nothing” Paul refers to includes everything—storms, stress, suffering, strife… and any other “S” word you can think of.
Surely, some believers today have wrestled with feelings of abandonment just like Israel during their time of captivity. Many have experienced portions of their spiritual journey dominated by the darkness of despair and grief. And in those chapters of life the presence of God and his unfailing love felt like a reality only in someone else’s story.
But the Creator God is still the author of Israel’s story and ours. And nothing shall separate us from his unfailing love. A lot of our journey of faith is figuring that out.
And I should also remind you that seven years after Paul’s letter to the Romans, the Emperor Nero began crucifying the letter’s recipients. They died knowing that nothing would separate them from the love of Jesus.
Paul D. Patton, Ph.D., is a professor of communication and theater at Spring Arbor University in Michigan. He has graduate degrees in Guidance and Counseling, Religious Education, and Script and Screenwriting, and a doctorate in Communication with an emphasis in theater arts. He has been married to his wife Beth for over forty years and has three daughters (all actresses)—Jessica, Emily, and Grace, three sons-in-law, David, Joe, and Eric, and four grandsons, Caleb Rock, Logan Justice, Micah Blaze, and Miles Dean.