Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Hope and Pain of Romans 8:28

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His purposes (Romans 8:28).

I love and breathe and hope and live on the premise that Romans 8:28 is true. As a pastor, I am not given an inoculation against despair and grief. If I were, it is only the antidote common to all of the Church of God, and it is the passage cited above.

There is awe in this verse, and I daresay, there is horror. The horror comes because the flesh is weak. The wonder comes because the spirit is willing. This, by the way, is no superficial verse to pull out for back-patting. This verse means God is in control, and that He uses intense pain to conform us to His purpose.

To understand this verse, we have to deal with words and meaning. This is no intellectually boring exercise. It is important. Our joy hinges on understanding how God works for us and in us and through us, and how He uses every circumstance to bend and shape us to His all-consuming purpose: To unveil the fullness of His glory for all His people to enjoy.

Notice that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God. Does this mean that God is responding to everything that happens in order to bring good from evil? Is God the omni-competent responder to disaster and tragedy and sin? Is He acting as a Celestial "fix-it" man, only working with what we give Him to work with?

I am not satisfied with this picture of God. It makes Him grand, but it makes him a bit like Superman. He can show up to fix things that have gone wrong and bring about a happy ending, but the evil that has taken place is often a waste, an uncalled for and gratuitous evil.

I admit that there is mystery here. One of the grandest mysteries, in fact. It revolves around the problem of evil. Where mystery is thick, the Christian ought to be cautious and willing to yield, yet I feel as a pastor I must go behind the veil and see what is happening in Romans 8:28 so I may bring the hope to the people. The hope that God wastes no pain, that no pain is unplanned, and that in the crucible of suffering, God is sculpting something that will emerge a spotless reflection of His Son.

Coming to the brink of mystery then, we can only observe what we see. We will look at pain, suffering, and evil in a way a man looks over the world from the top of Mt. Everest. He is awed by the sight, and he fully aware than one misstep will mean death. It is as if the chasm is pulling him to the edge to fall over. It is not safe here, but the view is worth the risk.

So we observe in Scripture that God has ordained in His plan to glorify Himself certain terrible events to come to pass. He sent Joseph to Egypt by way of the wickedness of his brothers (Genesis 50:20). They meant this for evil, God meant it for good. The most glaring example of this is the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus. It was ordained that He be slain before the world was made, and yet He was slain because of the wickedness of men. It was sin to kill the Son of God, and yet His death is our only hope.

It is clear, I believe, that God is much more than a responder to tragedy. Everything is, in fact, running according to plan. He is not making things up on the fly. God is not the author of evil, neither does He participate in it. However, He certainly uses it to bring about triumph and goodness. As John Piper said in a sermon on Romans 8:28, "The rugged hope of the believer is not that we will excape distress or peril or hunger or slaughter, but that Almighty God will make every one of our agonies an instrument of his mercy to do us good" (see the entire sermon here).

Here is the hope of God being the God who sees and plans all things: Nothing surprises Him. Everything is happening for a predetermined reason. We know that reason as well; it is to demonstrate His greatness and glory. The means of our being conformed to God's image for His glory are much like the doctor's needle; yes, the shot hurts, but the cure contained inside is wonderful! Sometimes, our worldliness demands a painful cure. When the remedy comes, we can rest in the faith that it comes from the Lord and that He is working the situation to our good.

I hope to examine this verse in greater detail tomorrow. Starting with the fact that God uses "all things" for our good.


Even So... said...

Yep, to grow we must endure growing pains.

Cal Wallace said...

Hey Brad, I qouted you from this post yesterday from the pulpit. I also printed a copy of this post and put it on the board at church. I have been preaching through the book of Romans and we have been looking at 8:28 for three weeks. Keep preaching the Word brother.