Romans 8:28 – hurtful platitude or hopeful comfort?
You’ve just received some devastating news, unlike any you’ve ever received before. It feels as if you’ve been struck a massive blow, and you’re reeling with pain and confusion. Life, as you’ve known it, will never be the same again. While you are in the depths of your anguish, a well-meaning acquaintance sends a text, seeking to comfort you in whatever way he or she can. They quote the following verse –
We know that all things work together for good to them that love God… (Romans 8:28)
As you read the words, what is your reaction? Are they like a soothing balm to a wound? Or do they sting worse than salt?
This verse is deemed by many as one of the worst you could quote to people who are suffering. In fact, I even came across an online article which instructs the readers not to use this verse in these situations. If you conducted a survey and asked which verse people liked having quoted to them in times of difficulty, I have a feeling that this one might be at the bottom of the list.
Probably the main reason why this verse is so unloved is because people often misunderstand the ‘good’ that God is working in our difficulties. We love to quote it when we can tangibly see something good come out of a situation, for example, when we didn’t get the job we’d initially applied for, but we were offered one the following week which has better hours and salary. And, of course, God often delights in giving His children earthly blessings like this. But when we hit hard times, if this is the only interpretation we have of the verse, it’s going to feel like a punch in the face when someone applies it to our difficulties. How could it possibly be good to lose a loved one? To be made redundant during an employment crisis? To be diagnosed with a life-altering illness? Short answer – it’s not. Please remember that God – and your friend – isn’t calling your situation good.
What, then, does it actually mean?
We all know, but often forget, that the context of a verse is really important. So before we pull a verse out to apply it to a situation (or to dismiss it as irrelevant), we must see where it sits in Scripture. And this verse is within a passage about God’s will for believers from a spiritual perspective. To stop after the first few words of this verse will mean we lose the meaning of what God, through the apostle Paul, is telling us.
‘And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son…’Romans 8:28,29
God had a purpose for His children from the ages of eternity past, long before we ever existed, and that purpose was that we would be conformed to the image of His Son. God had much more than our salvation from judgment in mind when He saved us; He desires that we will be like His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. I’m really looking forward to that day when we will be like Him, without a trace of sin! Can you imagine a numberless multitude, every one of us like Christ? Just think of the glory that will bring to God. Our Christlikeness isn’t only good for us, but it is good for God.
But we are still on earth and not fully like Christ yet. God is working with us and moulding us, and the more pliable we are in His hand, the more like Christ we will become. This is often where our difficulties come in. When we suffer – and suffering is hard! – we learn lessons we never could have learned in smooth times. It often takes suffering to shape us and change us, to draw us nearer to God so that we can learn more about Him and develop Christlike characteristics which are lacking in us.
So do all things work together for good to them that love God? Absolutely! But don’t stop there. Read on, and you will learn about God’s care for us, His great sacrifice for us, and the many blessings we’ve received because of the death of Christ, not least of which is His love from which absolutely nothing – including the worst trials ever known to mankind – will ever separate us.
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