Saturday, July 14, 2012

Rhetorical, eh?

Part two begins with one of my favorite scenes from The Simpsons. We join as Homer overhears Lisa and Grandma singing a hippie classic:

Grandma: How many roads must a man walk down before you can call him a man?
Homer: Seven!
Lisa: No, Dad, it's a rhetorical question.
Homer: Rhetorical, eh?  Eight!
Lisa: Dad, do you even know what "rhetorical" means?
Homer: Do I know what "rhetorical" means?!

Ahem. Rhetorical questions are a powerful, um, rhetorical device. A particularly strong use implies that the answer is so obvious, only the most ignorant or foolish could possibly disagree. The apostle Paul was a huge fan of this technique, perhaps never more prominently than at the end of Romans 8. You may have heard of the Golden Chain of Salvation from 8:28-30 - that those who are foreknown are predestined, the predestined are called, the called are justified, and the justified are glorified.

What immediately follows that is something I like to call the Golden Chain of Rhetoricals. At the apex of Paul's magnum opus on the glory of salvation, he hammers home the point with a series of five rhetorical questions. For each one, an answer is assumed (and sometimes stated outright, because people as a rule are dense and spare no expense to avoid the undeniable conclusion), and Paul finds it inconceivable that anyone could think otherwise.

1) If God is for us, who can be against us? If God has forknown/predestined you to be called, justified, and glorified, what enemy can possibly stop it? Those whom God has chosen will be born again, come to faith, persevere, and be glorified.

It's worth pausing to reflect on the amazing idea that God could be for you! Consider how this letter starts off back in 1:18ff, where God's wrath is completely and justly fixed on us because of our unrighteousness. Our only hope is to have righteousness - the very righteousness of God - credited to us, which, incredibly enough, God does (1:17). Now that is gospel worth proclaiming without shame (1:16)!

2) He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? I was going to link to Piper's chapter on this verse in Future Grace, but apparently that's not available free online. Bummer. Oh well, go buy the book and read it, it's great.

This question amplifies the previous - there is no way God could be more "for you" than by giving Christ. Paul's point here is that for the Father to send the Son to the cross was the most difficult thing imaginable. Compared to that, giving you all things - which in this immediate context, includes ordering the entire universe so that all things (including persecution and death itself!) work to your ultimate benefit - is trivially easy. If the Father gave Jesus up for you, it is utterly inconceivable that He would withhold anything which is for your good.

3) Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies.

When God declares someone righteous, which He ultimately does for all He has chosen, who can dispute that? What higher authority exists that can overrule God's declaration?

4) Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died - more than that, who was raised - who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

Suppose we skipped the last question, and someone was bold enough to bring a charge against God's elect. What would he find? Jesus, who was delivered up for our tresspasses and raised for our justification (4:25), at the Father's side interceding on our behalf. In order for this accusation to be successful, the Father would have to ignore Christ's death and resurrection on their behalf, and value the accuser's argument over his Son's. This case could never be brought, and even if it could, it could never win.

5) Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, 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.


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