Today was my first Sunday back at school. It was so good to be back! Friends, the congregation, pastors–all whom I haven’t seen in months. We sang a couple songs that really impact me, but one phrase stuck out today. It comes from Romans 8:28–“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
Most of us love that verse. After all, it is a great promise. God will work everything together for our good. Though I recognize that this verse doesn’t mean we will never experience pain or evil, it is easy to believe that the promise means we are protected from all harm. Today I heard it a little differently. I was reminded of Job’s words to his wife: “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10).
Instead of seeing Romans 8:28 as a promise from evil, I recognized it as a promise for good. I was rather overwhelmed by the implications of this. Even though I knew these things and have been taught them, today I was strongly reminded of the truth that evil is a part of this world. We are fallen. We sin. We say stupid things, misinterpret people’s actions, stick our feet in our mouths. We hurt and are hurt. Sin is here. We do not live in a separate world shielded from sin but remain in a land permeated by the Fall. Life will never be perfect here.
But that doesn’t mean it can’t be good.
God’s promise in Romans 8:28 is all the more sweeter for that truth. If there were no evil in our lives, the beautiful would only be so good. Because we experience pain and darkness, the joy and light we see here on Earth are that much more wonderful. The glimpses of God that we see are more striking against the backdrop of suffering.
Don’t get me wrong. If we could live in a pain-free world, I would be all for it. If I could go through life without ever having a loved one die or a friendship shatter or an orphan go hungry, I would grasp for it. If we could heal all disease and stop all crime and encounter only beauty and joy, I would take that in an instant. But that’s Heaven. I long for Home, but for now, I will trust the promise that all things–even death and pain and hunger and prison and disease and tears and misunderstandings–will work together for good for those who love God, just as the promise says.
I want to give a good example of a man who has lived this, but the more I think, the more names I consider. Joseph, Job, Paul, Jesus Himself! Abraham and Sarah. Jacob and Rachel. Their lives didn’t go as planned. Jonah. Isaiah. Jeremiah. They all experienced evil. They lived in danger. Life wasn’t what they expected. Peter, John, Thomas. I could go on. Over and over again, men and women accepted everything God gave them. They didn’t always trust, but in the end, God always worked things for the good. Sacrifice was important. Many of these I have listed died for their surrender to God. Trust was essential. Not one of these Biblical heroes–nor any of us–could feel peace without choosing to believe that all things, no matter how painful or strange, are being used by God for the good of those who love Him.