Forced isolation is rarely a good thing. Throughout human history, isolation has been a cardinal expression of punishment. Even a brief consideration of our literature and film arts will reveal our obsession with this dangerously powerful condemnation: The Count of Monte Cristo, The Great Escape, The Shawshank Redemption—isolations of imprisonment and social exclusion. Traditionally, the church's strongest sentence, excommunication, has been the isolation of an individual by exclusion from communion at the Lord's table. Their membership in the community is revoked—they are dismembered from the Body.
The bible also depicts some vital images of isolation. Consider the man in Mark 5, whose demons Jesus sends into the pigs to drown in the lake. Before meeting Jesus, the man lives away from the town, out among the mountains and tombs where he howls with demonic torment. After Jesus has cast out the legion of demons, he tells the man not to follow him into his boat, but rather to return to the man's friends in town and share the news.
[...] Next, let us remember some of the texts that have come before our passage. Romans 3:23—“Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” All have sinned. Rom. proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for Rom. as Adam's trespass led to condemnation for all, so Christ's act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.” And who—or what—is included in this Immediately prior to our passage in Rom Paul writes in v. [...]
[...] Are we simply supposed to sit back and trust this? Christian traditions that have embraced the doctrine of predestination have run into walls here, too. American Calvinist churches of the 17th and 18th centuries were full of believers who read the words this way: things work together for good for those who are called.” Those who are predestined. The problem began like this: even if we are good, even if we go to church every Sunday and pay our civic dues we still don't know if we are predestined or elected by God for salvation. [...]
[...] Paul is being a wonderful pastor, acknowledging the struggles of the saints and naming the presence of the Spirit in our midst. But then Paul lays down a difficult notion, a wrench into the works, what is no doubt a lovely turn of phrase but has caused no end of trouble for those of us who find this world to be an oft-broken place: We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to God's purpose. [...]
[...] But we have committed the great sin of taking things out of context. We have isolated some of your words as if they were all of God's Word. Surely you meant more than to provide a deeply distressing explanation for trials and tribulations in this world by assigning them to God's predestined will for some. Let us put this passage back into some semblance of context. Let us remember that Paul is writing to the Romans—Gentiles—who until recently had been considered apart from God's saving intent for the Jews. [...]
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