“… For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord.” 

 

What we have here is a bold statement from St. Paul – the kind that makes one wonder whether, in making this assertion, St Paul was in fact unaware that precisely inherent in sin, is the characteristic that estranges man from God. By the disobedience (sin) of our first parents - Adam and Eve - the bond of communion between themselves and God was effectively severed.

 

God himself, through the mouth of His prophet Isaiah, as if cementing this position spoke in all eloquence: “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, so that He does not hear.” (Is. 59: 2).

What then are we to make of St. Paul’s statement (above)?

I would propose for our consideration that out of full awareness of the effects of sin - particularly, sin’s capacity and ability to cause a rift between God and man - did he actually so boldly speak; the intended understanding of the statement (in my view) being that no external element, whatever (although it had the potential so to do) could be the cause of the severance of the relationship of love between God and man.

Could this really be a correct position to adopt, you ask, given our knowledge and understanding – founded on the truth contained in scripture – that all men have sinned and are therefore deprived of the glory of God; or even, the reality of our human weakness and frailty, well attested to and given expression by the same apostle – St. Paul – when in the same letter to the Romans (Rom 7:19) he says” “for I do not do the good that I want but the evil that I don want is what I do.

His awareness notwithstanding, scripture also lets us in on the truth that St. Paul spared no effort in his resolve to lead a holy and upright life: “I discipline my body and subdue it” he says, “lest in preaching to others, I myself should be disqualified.

Are we to assume then that at the point in time when St. Paul made the statement under our consideration, he had attained such perfect mastery of self and environment as to be rendered unaffected by their influence? Not at all! For scripture says that even the just man falls seven times a day; but was he united with God? Most certainly! “How?” you ask:

There are two degrees of union with God. The first [which belongs and is available only to God – and in this case, the God-man, Jesus Christ] and wholly perfect degree of union is achieved through complete and perfect abstention from every sin. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus, our High Priest, was tempted in every way, but without sin; we see this practically played out in the Lord’s agony in the garden of Gethsemane – he struggled against sin (the great temptation of doing his will as opposed to doing the Father’s will) to the point of sweating blood.

The other degree of union with God which is possible and therefore available to human beings here on earth (to you and to me and to St. Paul – during his time in the body) is that which is brought about by the action of God’s unfettered love - his mercy - on a repentant soul – hence the Lord’s invitation through his prophet: “come now let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins be like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be white as wool.” (Is. 1: 18)   

A meditation on the revelations of the Lord’s merciful love led St. Therese of the Child Jesus to say: “it is not merely because I have been preserved from mortal sin that I lift up my heart to god in trust and love. I am certain that even if I had on my conscience every imaginable crime, I should lose nothing of my confidence, but I would throw myself, heartbroken with sorrow into the arms of my saviour. I remember his love for the prodigal son; I have his word to Mary Magdalene and to the woman of Samaria. No there is no one who would frighten me, for I know too well what to believe concerning his mercy and his love.

Granted, and it is true, through sin, man’s relationship with God is broken; what is equally, if not more true, is the reality that through God’s gracious love, revealed to us in the Sacred Heart of his divine son, Jesus, the severed bond of communion is restored. It follows therefore, that while sin is a great evil, an even greater tragedy would be for one to persist in a state of sin, that is, to stubbornly resist the loving invitation to have recourse to God's mercy made available to us in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. 

To the extent then, that God’s love is understood as his mercy in action, we can emphatically assert with St Paul, that nothing – indeed not even sin – can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord!