And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 NIV)
This is another of those famous “kitchen wall” verses… How many times have you said it or had it quoted to you when your world was falling apart? Sometimes it’s kind of hard to stomach. What is good about your marriage on the rocks? Or your parent with Alzheimers? Or a miscarriage?
We recently studied The Hand of God by Alistair Begg at Sunday School, and it features an in-depth study of Joseph from Genesis, using this verse as its cornerstone. This was a little different translation than I was used to– I have said many times, “God works for good,” or “All things work together for good,” implying that the events themselves were good– which they clearly are not! Or else the situations are good– which they clearly are not, either!
Here’s the deal. All things that happen are either allowed by God, or sometimes He intervenes, and they are caused directly by Him. I believe that since God is good, He does not directly cause any bad thing to happen, but since sin entered the world, bad things do happen, and He does sometimes allow them to. Why? Because He knows that through trials and troubles, we can grow closer to Him; our faith and dependence on Him can grow, and we can become more conformed to His image. Sometimes we get past the trial and say, “Oh, I see what He was teaching me.” Sometimes someone else will tell us what an inspiration we were. But sometimes we never know in this life. This too requires faith, that our suffering is helping SOMEBODY.
There are three key phrases to the understanding of this verse:
In all things — Not all things that happen are good, but in every situation, while it’s going on, God is there working, possibly behind the scenes where you can’t imagine Him to be, but He’s there nonetheless. Nothing happens without His permission. Even bad things.
For the good— Here’s where it begins to get challenging, and requires faith! What does God see as “our good?” How does it compare to our idea of “our good?” Well, have you ever told your child “NO” and he thought his world would end? Why did you say he couldn’t eat that snack, buy that toy, visit that friend, stay up past bedtime? Why did you make her get that vaccination, which hurt, or take that medicine which tasted horrible? Did she understand that it was for her good? Of course not! Sometimes it’s the same with us. We have to remember that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways. (Isaiah 55:8) We tend to see the end of our nose, while He sees way beyond. Remember Garth Brooks’ old song “Thank God for unanswered prayers?” This is where faith comes in. Father, I don’t like what’s happening, but I trust that You know better; that You can take me through it and make it for my good.
Called according to His purpose— Here’s the last part, and it requires faith in His judgment too. What is His purpose for our lives? Comfort, pleasure, prosperity? Maybe. But above all, He desires for us to grow in the likeness of Christ, and fellowship with Him, and to be His ambassadors in the world.
When we persevere through impossible situations and we still love God and our families; and maintain a Christlike attitude and heart, what do the unbelievers around us say? (Even I, a believer, am amazed at the way some of my Christian brothers and sisters handle devastating trials!) When we are able to keep our heads about us and not embarrass God by our pity parties and hissyfits, it is a tremendous witness to a watching world that we have something different– something that they might want.
So, next time you are in the midst of a trial– and you will be– ask God to teach you what you need to learn, and tell Him that you trust Him to get you to the other side more like Him and closer to Him.
Have you seen “the good” in a seemingly hopeless situation?