Updated: Jun 16
Just over two decades ago, Elana and I sat with dear friends who had just lost their son. They were suffering the most excruciating emotional pain. Not just pain, but confusion—where was God? We had prayed. We had asked God to raise him from the dead. It felt like a contradiction of our faith.
I believed in healing and the power of God (and still do!), but I really didn't have a theology that allowed for suffering. The truth is that in order to be more than a conqueror—in context—you have to suffer. There's no other way. The Bible doesn’t teach that you are more than a conqueror if you don’t suffer, but you are more than a conqueror when you suffer with the right attitude.
I am a faith-oriented person. I'm always expecting God to bless. I'm always looking for his favor. But if there is one thing I've learned, it's that even believers go through great difficulties. I used to dismiss such suffering as something faulty in our walk with God. I would quote a friend, “Let your theology fit the word of God, don't make the word of God fit your theology.” Indeed, there is truth in that. But if my experience didn’t line up with what I felt the word of God said, then it was my experience that was the problem because God is perfect.
John Wesley taught that experience is one of the four ways of interpreting the Bible. You see, there was another possibility. Maybe my theology did not fit the word of God because I was reading it wrong.
I've come to the conclusion that the Bible does not promise a pain-free life. And many of those who teach it deal with their tragedies in private, lest it discredit their teaching. The Bible reveals that life is difficult.
Job suffered immensely.
David was chased by a murderer for over a decade.
Joseph was falsely accused of rape and put in jail.
Daniel was thrown in the lions’ den for praying.
Jesus was crucified.
Paul was beaten over and over again and left for dead.
Shall I go on?
Now before you stop reading, I promise you will be encouraged.
More than a conqueror?
I have heard many preachers quote this verse, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard one quote it in context. We use it to encourage people; to build up our faith.
“How are you doing?”
“I am more than a conqueror!”
That is not at all what Paul is talking about. Let’s read it:
Who shall separate us from the love of Messiah? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake, we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Messiah Yeshua our Lord. (Rom. 8:35–39)
Paul is talking about going through trials and suffering. He is not talking about mountain-top experiences. He says, “In all these things, we are more than conquerors.” In what things? Prosperity, healing? No. No one would have to encourage you that you are more than a conqueror if everything in your life was perfect. Paul could have just gone on without writing the next passage—but he didn’t. He speaks of “trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?”
That is where your faith is tested and where it is defined…not on the mountain top, but in the dark valley (Ps. 23:4). Paul doesn’t call us conquerors, but more than conquerors. We are in a unique category, what many scholars define as possessing an overwhelming victory. But the irony is that Paul is saying it is achieved by enduring suffering and persecution with grace.
God, this makes no sense!
In the midst of this beautiful passage, Paul quotes from the Psalms, saying, “For your sake, we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” (Ro 8:36). Have you read Psalm 44? It is a lament, which is a form of godly complaining. The psalmist begins by explaining how all of the great victories of the past, like the parting of the Red Sea or the conquering of Jericho, were done by the hand of God, not Israel. The reader thinks he has found a really encouraging Psalm. “Yes, God's hand is with me!”
But then the psalmist takes a dark turn. He begins to tell a story of confusing and unexplainable defeat. And before you say, “Well, they must have sinned,” they haven’t!
“All this came upon us, though we had not forgotten you; we had not been false to your covenant. Our hearts had not turned back; our feet had not strayed from your path. But you crushed us and made us a haunt for jackals; you covered us over with deep darkness.” Ps 44:17–19
He confesses that if they had sinned, their defeat would make sense. But they had been faithful to the Lord. Why, then, were they suffering? What value could come from it?
Paul quotes from Psalm 44:22 to remind the believers that people who trust in God must expect to face persecution, even death. In that psalm, the poets made the specific point that difficulties and suffering were coming to people who had been faithful. 
Paul uses their experience of unexplainable defeat to say that the believer will also go through persecution and suffering. Sometimes it’ll be clear as to why it is happening, and other times, downright confusing. I went through a season of depression that got so bad that I just looked to heaven and cried in utter confusion as to why God would allow me, the generally happy person, to suffer as I was. But I concluded it is futile to be mad at God; he is perfect. I was suffering, but I would trust him.
The next day overwhelming victory came.
There is a beauty in trusting God through the pain in the midst of the torment. The person who is more than a conqueror is the one who suffers in this life inexplicably and still has an intimate love relationship with Jesus—who forgives and doesn’t let bitterness in their hearts or allow themselves to become jealous of those who don’t appear to be suffering.
The older I get, the more people I meet whose spouses have divorced them, and they didn’t see it coming. I know precious believers whose children died at the hands of a drunk driver. I wouldn’t dare come to them to explain what they did wrong, but instead, I seek to help them overcome the pain and grief, to somehow not blame God, and to become more than a conqueror.
No, I don’t want to scare you. I don’t believe that we are to live our lives in fear. Proverbs tell us to “Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the Lord will be at your side and will keep your foot from being snared” (Prov 3:25–26). We don’t live in a precarious world where every time we cross the street, we have to be concerned about being run over. I don’t live my life that way. The lesson is that if suffering does come your way, you deal with it correctly—not that we live a life of suffering.
Value in Suffering
In II Corinthians Chapter 4, Paul talks about embracing death so that life may be revealed in others. When he uses the term embracing death, he is speaking about all of the hardships he has gone through in order to get the gospel to those in other lands (see 2 Cor. 4:8-9, 11:23-28). He seems to say that embracing these hardships releases his grace and power. Scholar Willem A. VanGemeren connects Psalm 44 to Paul’s sufferings.
The people’s suffering is not because of their sins; rather, they suffer vicariously, like “sheep to be slaughtered.” They suffer for God’s sake (cf. Ro 8:36). In their fidelity to the Lord, they receive greater abuse than if they had conformed to the pagan world. In suffering for the honor of God, they need reassurance of his love (cf. Ro 8:36–39). 
And Paul gives us reassurance of God’s love in the midst of any type of suffering by asking rhetorically, “Who shall separate us from the love of Messiah?” (Ro 8:35). He lists a litany of possibilities from death to life, the past to the future, etc. But the answer is nothing. Nothing can separate you from the love of God—not even your own failures. God loves you!
Stop lying to God’s people.
About eight years ago, my best friend Ward Simpson was asked to lead GOD TV. While GOD TV had done many great things over the years, some of the fundraising practices were not only off-putting but manipulative and unbiblical. Hired guns were often brought in to make ridiculous promises, preying on people's sincere desire to be blessed if they would give. Today, we still raise money, but we ask people to give because they believe in the mission of reaching souls through media—not so they will get some fictitious Yom Kippur blessing if ‘they give by midnight.’
When Ward was recently in India, a woman who had been sick for many years told him that she had given a gift about 15 years ago to GOD TV because the preacher said if she did, she would be healed. And here she was still sick. It broke Ward’s heart. I imagine that if she could find that original preacher, he would explain why it's her fault that she's still sick.
Another way to get a Son-Tan
The fact is we suffer. We also have great victories. But the key to walking in victory is not by never suffering—we become more than a conqueror when we embrace suffering in faith, without bitterness or blame, with grace and patience. And when we do, we reveal Yeshua to a needy world. Remember what we wrote a few weeks ago, that even on a cloudy day, you can get a suntan. And even in the midst of great suffering, you can come away with a Son-tan, and people will see his glory upon your life.
 Bruce B. Barton, David Veerman, and Neil S. Wilson, Romans, Life Application Bible Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1992), 171.
 Willem A. VanGemeren, “Psalms,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms (Revised Edition), ed. Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, vol. 5 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008), 394.