In 1964 Merv Griffin sat in the dining room of his apartment and created a game called Jeopardy. Today his idea has grown into one of the most popular quiz shows in American television history. Over the years since then, show host Alex Trebek has challenged some 5,000 contestants with over 135,000 questions in as many as 2,700 categories of knowledge. One of the contestants, Frank Spangenberg, a New York City police officer, won $144,397.
Griffin gave Jeopardy an interesting twist by giving the answers and requiring contestants to come up with the right questions. In the Jeopardy tradition, a “question” might be: “This American author and humorist said, ‘Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.’” The answer in Jeopardy is, “Who is Mark Twain?”
In Bible study, as in Jeopardy, there is benefit in looking not only for answers but also for the right questions. The Word of God can seem irrelevant and lifeless until it is read with an awareness of the questions that bring the story line to life. Information about the pharaohs in Egypt may seem like back-room museum clutter until we begin asking questions that expose parallels in our own lives to the circumstances of people in ancient times.
In these articles, we will see how the answers given in Romans 8, one of the most loved chapters in the Bible, match up with the questions that have plagued many of God’s children throughout the centuries. The chapter begins with an uplifting statement:
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (8:1).
It also ends on a positive note:
I am convinced that neither death nor life. . . will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (8:39).
What is often forgotten, however, is the fact that the reassuring words of Romans 8 are a response to the questions raised by Paul’s graphic and disturbing picture of his own spiritual struggle in chapter 7. Note his sadness and frustration:
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. . . . I know that nothing good livesin 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 (7:15,18-19).
At first these words do not seem to fit the apostle Paul, that courageous Christian who evangelized the first-century Roman world, wrote most of the New Testament epistles, and finally died as a martyr. But he is the man who penned these words, and he wrote it using the present tense. He was describing his inner struggle between his born-again self and a remaining inclination to evil that he called “the law of sin” (7:23). After describing this spiritual battle, he asked, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” He responded with a jubilant exclamation: “Thanks be to God— through Jesus Christ our Lord!” But he knew this complete rescue would not take place until he was united with Christ: “So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin” (7:25).
At this point we are likely to feel uneasy. We see too much of ourselves in this picture. We don’t see ourselves as spiritual giants like Paul. He was assured of final victory, but what about us? We could understandably be asking questions like these:
- If we keep failing, will God keep forgiving us?
- Can we stop doing what we don’t want to do?
- Can we be sure God won’t give up on us?
- Is there a way out of this awful struggle?
- Will God help us overcome the failures we experience every day?
- Can anything separate us from the love of God?
Let’s look now at each of these questions, which arise out of Paul’s struggles in Romans 7. And then we’ll see the answers he gives in Romans 8.