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By Ted Schroder,
January 18, 2009

Philipp Jakob Spener (1635-1705), a German Lutheran Pietist leader once said that, "If Holy Scripture was a ring, and the Epistle to the Romans a precious stone, chapter 8 would be the sparkling point of the jewel." John Stott wrote that "Romans 8 is without doubt one of the best known, best-loved chapters of the Bible." It has been called the "inner sanctuary within the cathedral of Christian faith." (Douglas J. Moo)

What is it that is so special about these 39 verses? The theme of the chapter is hope. Paul continually mentions the importance of faith, hope and love. Hebrews 11 is the "faith" chapter of the New Testament. 1 Corinthians 13 is the "love' chapter of the New Testament. I maintain that Romans 8 is the "hope" chapter of the New Testament. It is the prescription for the hopelessness that characterizes so much of life.

What is hope? It is not wishful thinking that hopes against hope for that which flies in the face of reality. It is not just optimism, which will not face up to sober evidence. It is not the same as expectation, which implies a high degree of certainty based upon what obviously is going to happen. "For in this hope we are saved. But hope which is seen is no hope at all." (Romans 8:24) We must have some basis, some reason, to hope. Hope must be rooted in reality. That is why I call what Paul describes as "real" hope. It is the anticipation of victory over sin, guilt and death. It is the belief that, in Christ, we can be conquerors in the battle of life. It is the answer to depression and despair.

Why do we experience so much depression in our society? Dr. Armand Nicholi, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital maintains that many young people today feel that their cultures fail to provide answers to questions of purpose and meaning and destiny. "We fail, they feel, to provide some reason for hope."*

Two people who have influenced our secular society more than many others are Karl Marx and Sigmund Freud. Both attacked belief in God. Both men died bitter and disillusioned with little compassion for humanity. Both had virtually no friends. "As one reads about the ends of their lives - of how they finished the course - one notes an overwhelming sense of despair and hopelessness....Though they experienced extensive hardship and adversity, they apparently lacked the spiritual resources to enable them to finish the course with any sense of hope."*

Dr Nicholi analyzes what he considers to be the causes of depression and hopelessness. "What often appears to be the cause of despondency in many today is an awareness of the gap between what they think they ought to be and what they feel they are. That is, there is a discrepancy between an ideal they hold for themselves, and at times think they measure up to, and an acute awareness of how far short they fall from the ideal."

"Other causes of depression are associated with loss: loss of a friendship, a job, a loved one, or a broken engagement or marriage, etc. Loss usually results in grief or mourning, a normal type of depressive reaction, relatively short-lived, self-limited, and not usually requiring medical help. Many, however, suffer depression without an associated loss. And in these people the cause often appears to be the disparity between what they ought to be and what they fear they are."

"An additional characteristic of depression is the feeling of hopelessness: the feeling that there is no way out, that things will only get worse, and that one is completely helpless."*

Dr Nicholi asks, "What causes these universal feelings of worthlessness?.... In our society, moral and ethical guidelines have become less and less clear, and people's consciences less and less discerning. People nevertheless feel guilty about their behavior...I have observed many college students who express surprise that their actions produce feelings of guilt. They say that they have thought clearly about what they are doing and can give good reasons why they think specific behaviors are not wrong. Yet for reasons they don't understand, they feel guilty and worthless when they break the traditional moral code. We have already begun to accumulate clinical data that clearly demonstrate that this moral code which has survived the centuries provides guidelines that enhance individual dignity and ensure the greatest pleasure and the greatest good to the greatest number of people. One thing we know: when a person transgresses these guidelines, he or she will, sooner or later, experience feelings of guilt and worthlessness."*

All these symptoms of our spiritual condition are addressed by St. Paul in Romans 8. The gap between what we ought to be and what we feel we are is the theme of Romans 7.

"I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the [moral] law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself [my new Christian nature] who do it, but it is sin living in me [my sinful nature]. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law [principle] at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's [moral] law; but I see another law [principle] at work in the parts of me, waging war against the law of my mind." (Romans 7:15-23 NIV)

What is the prescription to remedy this spiritual condition of depression and hopelessness?

"I've tried everything and nothing helps. I'm at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn't that the real question?

"The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different." (Romans 7:24,25 The Message)

In Romans 8 Paul gives us his remedy to the human condition. His diagnosis in the preceding chapters leads to his treatment of our condition of spiritual schizophrenia, the war between good and evil in us, the weakness of our moral center, and the continuing infection of self-centeredness that causes our hopelessness and despair.

"With the arrival of Jesus, the Messiah, that fateful dilemma is resolved. Those who enter into Christ's being-here-for-us no longer have to live under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. A new power is in operation." (Romans 8:1,2 The Message)

Over 39 verses Paul expounds how this power furthers the purpose of God in us and in all creation. It is a staggering vision of a universe remade and our part in it. It is meant to reassure us of our future and our hope. It takes us from our individual struggles to our cosmic destinies. It shines light on what God is doing in a suffering world. It encourages us to persevere in the face of difficulties and discouragement. If God is for us, who can be against us? Then we can know the unexpected and incredible truth that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." (Romans 15:13)

*Armand Nicholi Jr., Hope in A Secular Age, in Finding God at Harvard, ed. Kelly Monroe Kullberg, IVP, 112-120


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