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Nothing can Ever separate us from His love

The passages below are taken from Max Lucado’s book “Come Thirsty,” published in 2004 by W Publishing Group.

 

Nine-year-old Al trudges through the London streets, his hand squeezing a note, his heart pounding with fear. He has not read the letter; his father forbade him to do so. He doesn’t know the message, but he knows its destination. The police station.

    Young boys might covet a trip to the police station. Not Al. At least not today. Punishment, not pleasure, spawned this visit. Al failed to meet the family curfew. The fun of the day made him forget the time of day, so he came home late and in trouble.

    His father, a stern disciplinarian, met Al at the front door and, with no greeting, gave him the note and the instruction, “Take it to the jailhouse.” Al has no idea what to expect, but he fears the worst.

The fears prove justifiable. The officer, a friend of his father, opens the note, reads it, and nods. “Follow me.” He leads the wide-eyed youngster to a jail cell, opens the door, and tells him to enter. The officer clangs the door shut. “This is what we do to naughty boys,” he explains and walks away.

Al’s face pales as he draws the only possible conclusion. He has crossed his father’s line. Exhausted his supply of grace. Outspent the cache of mercy. So his dad has locked him away. Young Al has no reason to think he’ll ever see his family again.

He was wrong. The jail sentence lasted only five minutes. But those five minutes felt like five months. Al never forgot that day. The sound of the clanging door, he often told people, stayed with him the rest of his life.1

Easy to understand why. Can you imagine a more ominous noise? Its echo wordlessly announced, “Your father rejects you. Search all you want; he isn’t near. Plead all you want; he won’t hear. You are separated from your father’s love.”

The slamming of the cell door. Many fear they have heard it. Al forgot the curfew. You forgot your virtue. Little Al came home late. Maybe you came home drunk. Or didn’t come home at all. Al lost track of time. You lost your sense of direction and ended up in the wrong place doing the wrong thing, and heaven knows, heaven has no place for the likes of . . . Cheaters. Aborters. Adulterers. Secret sinners. Public scoundrels. Impostors. Church hypocrites. Locked away, not by an earthly father, but by your heavenly one. Incarcerated, not in a British jail, but in personal guilt, shame. No need to request mercy; the account is empty. Make no appeal for grace; the check will bounce. You’ve gone too far.

The fear of losing a father’s love exacts a high toll. Al spent the rest of his life hearing the clanging door. That early taste of terror contributed to his lifelong devotion to creating the same in others. For Al---Alfred Hitchcock---made a career out of scaring people.

You may be scaring some folks yourself. You don’t mean to. But you cannot produce what you do not possess. If you aren’t convinced of God’s love, how can you love others?

Do you fear you have heard the clanging door? If so, be assured. You have not. Your imagination says you did; logic says you did; some parent or pulpiteer says you did. But according to the Bible, according to Paul, you did not.

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels can’t, and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away. Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38—39 NLT)

 

The words are the “Eureka!” at the end of Paul’s love hunt. He initiates his search with five life-changing questions.

Question one: “If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” (v.31). The presence of God tilts the scales of security forever in our direction. Who could hurt us?

Question two: “Since God did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t God, who gave us Christ, also give us everything else?” (v. 32). Would God save our soul and then leave us to fend for ourselves? Will he address eternal needs and ignore earthly? Of course not.

Question three poses: “Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? Will God? No He is the one who has given us right standing with himself” (v. 33). Once God accepts you, what other opinion matters? Every voice that accuses you, including your own, sounds wimpy in the tribunal of heaven. God’s acceptance trumps earthly rejection.

Question four continues: “Who then will condemn us? Will Christ Jesus? No, for he is the one who died for us and was raised to life for us and is sitting at the place of highest honor next to God, pleading for us” (v. 34). Adjacent to God, within whispering distance of your Maker, sits the One who died for you. He occupies the place of high authority. So let your accusers or your conscience speak against you. Your divine defense attorney mutes their voices. Why? Because he loves you.

Question five asks the question of this chapter, even the question of life: “Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love?” (v. 35). This question crests the top step of a great staircase. As we stand with Paul at the top, he bids us to look around for anything that can separate us from God’s love. Can you name one element of life that signals the end of God’s devotion?

Or as the apostle asks, “Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or are hungry or cold or in danger or threatened with death?” (v. 35). Assembling adversaries like a jailhouse lineup, Paul waves them off one by one: “not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture” (v. 35 MSG). No one can drive a wedge between you and God’s love. “No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us” (v. 37). Earthly affliction does not equate to heavenly rejection.

Paul is convinced of this! He turns to the musician who holds the cymbals and gives him the nod. “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love” (v. 38). He uses the perfect tense, implying, “I have become and I remain convinced.” This is no passing idea or fluffy thought but rather a deeply rooted conviction. Paul is convinced. What do you suppose convinced him?

Maybe the disciples did. Paul gives no clue, so I’m just speculating, but maybe he asked the followers of Jesus to describe the length of God’s love. In quick response they talked of the Passover party. It promised to be a great night. Good food. Good friends. Uninterrupted time with Christ. But in the middle of the meal, Jesus had dropped a bombshell: “Tonight all of you will desert me” (Matt. 26:31).

The disciples scoffed at the idea. “Peter declared, ‘Even if everyone else deserts you, I never will.’ . . . And all the other disciples vowed the same” (vv. 33, 35). “Abandon Jesus? Impossible. He’s the flypaper; we’re the flies.” “In his corner, in his pocket. You can count on us, right?”

Wrong. Before the dark became dawn “all his disciples deserted him and ran away” (Mark 14:50). John. Andrew. They ran. Bartholomew. James. Thaddaeus. They scooted. When the Romans appeared, the followers disappeared in a blur of knees and elbows. Those mighty men who are today stained-glassed in a thousand cathedrals spent the night crawling beneath donkeys and hiding in haystacks. They abandoned him and ran away. When the kitchen got hot, they got out. Amazing.

But even more amazing is this. When Christ rose from the dead, he never brought it up. Never. Not even one “I told you so.” Entering the Upper Room of vow violators, he could have quoted to them their own words, reminded them of their betrayal. “Boy, Andrew, some friend you are. And, John, to think I was going to let you write one of the Gospels.”

He could have left them hearing the sound of a closing door. But he didn’t. “That evening, on the first day of the week, the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders. Suddenly, Jesus was standing there among them! ‘Peace be with you,’ he said” (John 20:19).

They outran the guards. But they couldn’t outrun the love of Christ.

Did Paul hear this story? If so, it would have been enough to convince him. Desert Jesus, and he’ll still love you.

Peter might strengthen the verb. He might upgrade desert to deny. Deny Jesus, and he’ll still love you. For while Christ faced a trial, Peter faced his own. As he warmed near a fire, “a servant girl came over and said to him, ‘You were one of those with Jesus the Galilean.’ But Peter denied it in front of everyone. ‘I don’t know what you are talking about,’ he said” (Matthew 26:69—70 NLT).

Oh, the bouncing faith of Peter. It soared so high, Christ nicknamed him the Rock (Matthew 16:16—19 NLT); plummeted so low, Jesus called him Satan (Matthew 16:21—23 NLT). Who promised loyalty more insistently? Who fell more inexcusably?

Others we might understand, but this is Peter denying Jesus. His feet walked on water. His hands distributed the miracle food to the five thousand. His eyes saw Moses and Elijah standing next to Jesus on Transfiguration Hill. His lips swore allegiance. Remember what Jesus told him? “‘Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.’ ‘No!’ Peter insisted. ‘Not even if I have to die with you! I will never deny you. (Matthew 26:34—35 NLT).

But he did. Thrice. Salting the air with vulgarity, he cursed the name of his dearest friend. Then the rooster crowed. Don’t you know the crowing of the bird had the effect of a cell-door clang? “At that moment the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Then Peter remembered that the Lord had said, ‘Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny me three times.’ And Peter left the courtyard, crying bitterly” (Luke 22:61—62 NLT).

Jesus will never look at me again, Peter must have thought.

    He was wrong. Days after the resurrection Peter and some other disciples decided to go back to Galilee and fish. Why? Why would a witness of the resurrection go fishing? He may have been hungry. Or he may have been unconvinced. Christ can defeat death, but can he love a two-timer? Maybe Peter had his doubts.

If so, the doubts began to fade when he heard the voice. Jesus called to his friends, urging them to cast their net on the right side of the boat. The fact that they didn’t recognize Jesus didn’t keep them from trying. After they pulled in a large haul of fish, John recognized the Master. “It is the Lord!” (John 21:7 NKJV). Peter barely got his britches on before he bailed out of the boat and swam toward Christ. Before long, the two were standing, of all places, next to a fire. Peter had denied Christ at the first fire, but he couldn’t deny the love of Christ at this one.

Maybe Peter told this story to Paul. Maybe by the time he finished, Paul was brushing away a tear and saying, “I’m convinced. Nothing can separate us from God’s love.”

“Deny Jesus,” Peter testified, “and he’ll still love you.”

“Doubt Jesus,” Thomas could add, “and the same is true.”

Thomas had his doubts. Didn’t matter to him that ten sets of eyes had seen the resurrected Jesus. Or that the women who had watched him being placed in the tomb watched him walk into the room. Let them shout and clap; Thomas was going to sit and wait. He wasn’t in the room when Jesus came in. Maybe he was out for bagels, or maybe he took the death of Jesus harder than the others. In one of the four times he is quoted in Scripture, Thomas pledges, “Let’s go, too---and die with Jesus” (John 11:16 NLT).

Thomas would die for Christ. Surely he’d die for the chance to see the risen Christ. But he wasn’t about to be fooled. He’d buried his hopes once, thank you. Not about to bury them again. No matter what the others said, he needed to see for himself. So for seven days he sat. Others rejoiced; he resisted. They celebrated; he was silent. Thomas needed firsthand evidence. So Jesus gave it. First one hand, then the other, then the pierced side. “Put your finger here and see my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!” (John 20:27 NLT).

And Thomas did. “My Lord and my God!” (v. 28).

Only a God could come back from the dead. And only a God of love would come back for a doubter.

Desert God---he’ll still love you.

Deny God---he’ll still love you.

Doubt God---he’ll still love you.

 

Paul was convinced. Are you? Are you convinced that you have never lived a loveless day? Not one. Never unloved. Those times you deserted Christ? He loved you. You hid from him; he came looking for you.

And those occasions you denied Christ? Though you belonged to him, you hung with them, and when his name surfaced, you cursed like a drunken sailor. God let you hear the crowing of conscience and feel the heat of tears. But he never let you go. Your denials cannot diminish his love.

Nor can your doubts. You’ve had them. You may have them even now. While there is much we cannot know, may never know, can’t we be sure of this? Doubts don’t separate doubters from God’s love.

The jail door has never closed. God’s love supply is never empty. “For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth” (Psalms 103:11 NLT).

The big news of the Bible is not that you love God but that God loves you; not that you can know God but that God already knows you! He tattooed your name on the palm of his hand. His thoughts of you outnumber the sand on the shore. You never leave his mind, escape his sight, flee his thoughts. He sees the worst of you and loves you still. Your sins of tomorrow and failings of the future will not surprise him; he sees them now. Every day and deed of your life has passed before his eyes and been calculated in his decision. He knows you better than you know you and has reached his verdict: he loves you still. No discovery will disillusion him; no rebellion will dissuade him. He loves you with an everlasting love.

 

I wrote parts of this chapter while staying at a Florida hotel. Early one morning I spent some time seated near an Olympic-size swimming pool. After reading the verses you just read, I lifted my gaze to see a bird swoop down out of the sky and park on the edge of the water. He dipped his beak in the pool, took a drink, and flew away. “Is that an image of your love?” I asked God. The gulp of the bird didn’t diminish the water volume of the pool. Your sins and mine don’t lower the love level of God.

The greatest discovery in the universe is the greatest love in the universe---God’s love. “Nothing can ever separate us from his love” (Romans 8:38 NLT). Think what those words mean. You may be separated from your spouse, from your folks, from your kids, from your hair, but you are not separated from the love of God. And you never will be. Ever.

Step to the well of his love and drink up. It may take some time to feel the difference. Occasional drinks won’t bedew the evaporated heart. Ceaseless swallows will. Once filled up by his love, you’ll never be the same.

Peter wasn’t. He traded his boat for a pulpit and never looked back. The disciples weren’t. The same men who fled the garden in fear traveled the world in faith. Thomas was never the same. If the legends be true, he carried the story of God’s love for doubters and deserters all the way to India, where he, like his friends and Savior, died because of love.

The fear of love lost haunted young Al. But the joy of a love found changed the disciples. May you be changed. The next time you fear you hear a clanging door, remember, “Nothing can ever separate us from his love” (Romans 8:38 NLT). (133-142)

 

Notes

1. Patrick McGilligan, Alfred Hitchcock: A Life in Darkness and Light (New York: HarperCollins, 2003), 7—8. There are many variations to this story, and some believe it may he apocryphal.

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