If I see another online post featuring a pretty text box with a serene image in the background and a paraphrase of Romans 8:28 printed on top, then I’m issuing a warning right now that I might very well scream. “God works all things together for our good,” says the sign. That sounds sweet, but what does it really mean? You need to read the whole chapter to put it in context.
Two verses earlier, the Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit helps us when we are weak; in fact, when we don’t know what to pray in our distress, he even pleads on our behalf (v. 26). A few verses before that, we learn that our sufferings pale in comparison to God’s glory that we’ll experience in eternity (v. 18-21). Later in the chapter, we read about how God is on our side through every spiritual trial (v. 31-34) and that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love – no troubles, danger, or even death threats (v. 35-39).
So, with all that talk of trials and suffering, does verse 28 really mean that life is supposed to be sunshine and roses, because God works everything out for our good? I think we have a general misunderstanding of what “good” means. We’d like it to mean that things work out the way we want, so that we’ll get what we want, when we want, how we want. On the contrary, I don’t believe that’s what it means.
Look at verse 29: God has called us, and he wants us to become like his Son, Jesus. That’s for our ultimate good. When we experience trials and come out on the other side stronger in our faith, then we’re becoming more like Jesus. When we encounter setbacks or face opposition, but we don’t compromise our faith, then we’re taking more steps toward having a character like Jesus.
Living a life that mirrors Christ is for our good; that doesn’t mean we are exempt from suffering! What it does mean is that God can use every circumstance (even the gut-wrenching ones that keep us awake at night) to his glory and to help us become closer to his character. Sometimes those situations aren’t even reconciled in our lifetimes; it’s a hard pill to swallow, but you may not ever have all the answers about why things happen in your life the way they do. In eternity, it’ll all make sense, but in the here & now, it often doesn’t make sense at all. The challenge is how we handle those issues. Do we behave like the world – blaming God and cursing our lot in life? Or, do we stand firm in our faith, despite the inexplicable circumstances?