rhetorical questions

(by Pastor Joe)

The Word for Today: Romans 8:18-39

Here’s the scene:
It is the beginning of a hot, humid day. You are getting on a crowded subway.
Cue narrator:
“Aren’t you glad that you use Dial?…”

The subway sputters forward a little ways and then stops unexpectedly. It looks like you are going to be there for a little while.
“…don’t you wish everyone else did?”

This silly little commercial is an example of a rhetorical question, which is simply a question posed not to obtain information, but rather for effect, because the answer is obvious. In this regrettable commercial, there is no doubt that when trapped on a crowded subway, there is no such thing as too much soap, or deodorant, or mouthwash for that matter. (Working with students, especially middle school boys, I could care less about the actual brand. The question simply becomes “Aren’t you glad that you use soap? Don’t you wish everyone did?”)

Rhetorical questions are all around us, from the pedestrian “Is the Pope Catholic?” or “Do I look like some sort of idiot?” to the sublime “If you prick us, do we not bleed?(1)” And four times in today’s passage, we see the Apostle Paul use a rhetorical question to drive his point home.

But as we proceed, we do so humbly and with caution, because Romans in general, and chapter 8 specifically, deal with the highest summits in the entire Bible. Here we have multiple key verses on the nature and work of God- Father, Son, & Spirit. We see the basics of sin and the Law, life and death, condemnation and justification, prayer, providence and the work God does in our lives. And we are reassured of God’s complete and unshakable love.

Note the 4 rhetorical questions:
v. 31  If God is for us, who can be against us?
v. 33  Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect?
v. 34  Who is to condemn?
v. 35  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

The answers are so simple and so implied that Paul does not even bother answering them. (Remember, that makes it rhetorical!)

Know that these words from Paul are not soft, untested theoretical pontifications. Nothing from Romans 8 has anything to do with some sappy and overly sentimental Hallmark card. No, these truths have been tested and lived out by many, especially the author. Paul knew what it was like to be opposed, and charged, and condemned, and even cut off from everyone around him (2). Yet it was in those times that God showed Himself strong (3).

But beyond what Paul and many other heroes in the faith have shown us, there remains an even greater proof. Look back to verses 31-35. Nothing ultimately can be against us because Christ did everything possible for us. No one can ultimately bring a charge against us because the only one qualified to do so has already justified us. No one can ultimately condemn us because Christ Himself was condemned that we be set free. (That’s why we have more in common with Barabbas that we’d cared to admit (4).)  Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, because Christ Himself went through tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger , and the sword for us.

(1) William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice
(2) see 2 Corinthians 11:21-29 and 2 Timothy 4:9-18
(3) 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
(4) see Matthew 27:16-26

About Stand in the Rain Blogger

Trying to be who God made me, I am wary of my influences. I avoid the culture that surrounds me, for the most part. I soaked up that crap for 40 years. I am trying to replace the word of the world with the unvarnished Word of God.** I like people, but I like solitude just as much. Go figure.** I adore Jesus Christ. I am flipped-out, flamingly and fervently in love with Him. I count it a privilege to draw breath in His universe. All my springs are in Him.** I am crazy about my wife, Shelley. She outshines the sun. I can't help it if I'm lucky.** My heroes are my kids--Caitlin, Gwenlyn, Frankie, & Eddy. I aspire to be like them when I grow up.
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