By Dale Porter
In my past I have thought when facing hardship, “All things will work together for good in my life.” I certainly thought the hardship I faced would work out for good in my lifetime. Maybe you have counseled someone facing a really tough time of suffering with the words from Romans 8:28. You might have quoted Romans 8:28 to give comfort and make the person feel good. You wanted things to work out for good for that person.
As years have passed, I have become uneasy about using Romans 8:28 as a “feel good” verse. I have always stressed looking at a passage in its context. Romans 8 talks a lot about heaven, the believer’s future glorification and God’s purpose for suffering. When considering those factors, Paul doesn’t seem to talk about all things working together for good in the here and now. His agenda for all things working together for good is bigger and definitely connected to Christians learning to suffer for Christ.
Ask this question when you think on Romans 8:28: “What is the good that Paul talks about in this verse?” Joseph said in reference to being sinned against by his brothers, serving jail time and becoming a leader in Egypt to help people from starving: “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20). Israel saw the benefits of good from God both materially and spiritually when they came into the Promised Land. In Deuteronomy 8:16, God says He wanted “to do you good in the end.” As Christ followers, we know suffering can make us understand God, His Word and His purposes for our lives if we respond with a Biblical mindset to our hard circumstances. Psalm 119:71 instructs us this way: “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.” These verses along with Romans 8:28 point you to understand the best is in the Son. God is interested in using suffering in our lifetimes to conform us to be like Christ (Romans 8:29).
We know from our life experiences or other people’s lives that suffering may go on for our whole lifetime, and not every story has a happy ending. Hebrews 11:32-37 teaches us that some faithful men and women had some good things happen to them in their lifetimes. Some saw kingdoms conquered, enforced justice, stopped the mouths of lions and quenched the power of fire. Yet others suffered for God and didn’t see good come out of bad. Some faced torture, mocking and stoning. One man was sawn in two! Again, not every story has a happy ending, but God was going to provide “something better” (Hebrews 11:40) for those faithful leaders and you as a Christ follower. So, you might say Romans 8:28 is pointing you to see the best is yet to come.
God is going to use everything in His arsenal to make us like Christ. Suffering is a tool He uses which many of us have a hard time coming to grips with. But if we do come to grips with God’s purposes in suffering for our lives, then we will see Christlikeness squeezed out in the here and now. We also will see glorification. God will not only work toward making us like Christ in this lifetime, He will make good on making us completely like Christ in our future bodies and spirits. You can know the best is in the Son, the best is yet to come and the best is as good as done.
Maybe after discussing what Romans 8:28 really means you are disappointed. You are thankful for heaven and glorification, but that’s in the future. You want relief and comfort now. You may be underwhelmed by how Paul addresses the good in Romans 8:28. May I stop here and do some meddling? I can do that because Paul in Romans 8:28 wants you to examine your motives. He writes to believers in Christ and says: (1) Do you love God? and (2) Are you called according to His purpose? Do you want to obey Him?
Ask yourself what are my desires or motivations for my life? Do I love God or the world’s purpose for my life? Are my items of good tied up in material blessings? Do I want to see God’s plan or purpose, even if suffering is part of it? Do I value God’s purpose for my life? You see, when suffering comes into our lives it can thwart our plans and purposes for life. The real question is whether you are going to trust God’s plan or your own. Romans 8:28 is not a promise that all will go well in your life. The “good” in Romans 8:28 may not be in this earthly life or sometime before you die, but you can bank on the fact that the best is in the Son, the best is yet to come and the best is as good as done.