New American Standard Bible (NASB)
28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
I believe next to John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believed in him would have eternal life.”) Romans 8:28 is the most important verse in the Bible. If you can get this verse then many of the struggles that this world gives you can be endured. It is the key to blooming where you are planted and the key to understanding many of life’s mysteries. It is not for the faint of heart, though. You need to be a mature Christian to really ‘get’ this verse, but oh when you do . . . it can bring the greatest of comfort to your weary soul.
Let’s break this verse down, shall we?
“and we. . .”
Who is the ‘we’ in this passage? All believers really. Paul refers to “children of God” “those that live according to the Spirit” and “those who are in Christ Jesus.” But this particular passage begins with “I consider our present suffering (18).” So Paul is talking specifically to those of us who have suffered. For some time I believed that this was reserved for those that suffered for Christ, the persecuted, but now I am not so sure. This passage doesn’t mention being persecuted in Christ, but only the general groaning that all of us, including creation, suffer because we are eagerly awaiting our redemption. When I imagine this passage I can hear my groans and the creaks of my bones every time I get up from sitting for a long time. There is a certain amount of pain and suffering that comes with living. Then there are the special times of intense emotional or physical suffering that comes at particular times in every one’s life. It is these moments that turning to this passage can provide the most comfort.
“. . .know. . .”
We don’t think it or wish it. We know with the certainty that goes well beyond our circumstances. During times of suffering it is important to define our circumstances by our faith, not the other way around. This is the true meaning of hope. It is like Paul says earlier, “But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”
“that God causes. . .”
It isn’t us, mere humans that do the work. We can’t make things work out by our own force of will. We aren’t in control. And isn’t this what suffering does? It rips the thinly veiled façade of control right off of life until we are forced to admit that God is in control. And who better to be in control than the creator and author of the universe, the one who knows all and can see how it can all work out for our good and His glory?
“all things. . .”
Not some things, not good things, not the things we choose, but ALL things. Even those things that we see as messy, confusing, even downright evil can be used for good.
“to work together. . .”
This reminds me of a huge jigsaw puzzle. When you first start you have no idea on how things are going to work together to form anything resembling the picture on the box. And in life, we don’t even have the picture on the box to go by either. In fact, a lot of times I’m trying to fit the pieces of my life together to form this picture of what I think it should be. The thing is God has something even more beautiful in mind, beyond anything we could even imagine. It all just looks like unrelated pieces to my imperfect eyes. I couldn’t even work it together if I wanted to. Only God can because only he can see the final picture, the perfect picture of how we will appear when we finally meet him face to face.
“for good. . .”
This verse doesn’t say that everything that happens will be good, just that is will work together for good. But how can the ugly painful, messy parts of our lives do that? That is the beauty of God’s transformative power. He took an ugly, shameful instrument of death, the cross, and transformed it into the greatest love letter of all time. Don’t you think he can take whatever pain and suffering in our lives and transform it? There is nothing that is beyond his power to use it for our good and His glory.
“for those that love God”
It is so tempting to be bitter and angry when something bad happens in our lives. But God is big enough to handle those feelings if we just hold on. We are going to suffer any way, why waste it pushing God away? He can give such comfort and joy to our hearts if we just let him. He loves us so much that he died for us. He suffered for us and all he asks is that we allow Him to suffer with us, to comfort us. After all “We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).”
“to those that are called”
A lot has been written about this simple work called. Some believe they have been called to their ministry, their job, etc. The word called reminds me to listen to God’s voice when making decisions, letting him guide me. It reminds me of the verses that say that the sheep will know the sound of the master’s voice. It is an intimate thing. I only recognize the voices of those closest to me, the ones I’m used to hearing from and listening too. I don’t ever want to go so long in not listening to God that I cease to recognize his voice, his leading. In the toughest moments of my life I need to hear that voice even more. In the storms of life, God’s voice still rings true; listen with your heart if your ears won’t.
“According to His purpose.”
Notice this doesn’t say for our purposes. The things that happen in life aren’t to make us happy or content or peaceful. They are to make us grow. Grow to be more like Christ. Grow to attract others to Christ and to give glory to Him. Growth doesn’t happen if there isn’t any rain. Strength doesn’t increase when there isn’t any wind. The garden doesn’t bloom by us simply looking out the window. We have to get our hands dirty.
The greatest lessons of life are learned in the hardest moments of life. This is where you learn how great God’s love is. This is where the dross is burned away to produce the most precious of metals. This is where are all the pieces of life are brought together to form the “good,” the best really, that God wants to give us.
Another part of the Bible puts it this way: In Gen 50, Joseph says to his brothers
20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
Joseph suffered greatly in his life, but he was able to see how all the pieces fit together so that his whole nation was saved from famine.
I am sure that many would say that cancer is evil, and for all intents and purposes it is. But what Satan wanted to use for evil, God intends for good. Yes, even cancer can be used for my good and His glory. I am here to tell you that you can praise God through anything. I choose to thank him in advance for all the good he is going to do through even the most horrible of circumstances.