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 said that this verse is one of the bedrocks of my Christian hope, and it is. If the anchor of Romans 8:28 could not hold through the tempest of life, I fear that I would be washed away forever. One of the major reasons that I take comfort in this verse in times of despair is because it teaches me that nothing that happens to me or my brothers and sisters is ever wasted. Whether it be good or bad, the things which befall us in this life are a part of a larger, wonderful plan: our ultimate glorification. We learn that in verse 29. The 'purpose' of God in everything that happens to us is leading us to our glorification. One day, dear reader, the pain or joy that you feel today will lead to your reflecting a radiance and majesty that would be powerful enough to shake the world.
The natural question then is whether or not the "bad things" that happen to us are a part of the "all things" that God is using to conform us to this image. I am persuaded that they are. I believe that "all things" means that every occurance, no matter how we perceive it, will be used of God to purge us of our worldly addictions.
One of the most memorable debates that I had in seminary came on the heels of the 9/11 attack. One of my professors, one of my favorite professors, said that the attack was a prime example of gratuitous evil. That is, he believed that some evil things happen for no purpose other than to be evil. I was highly unsettled by this, and I questioned his statement vigorously. I saw then that if his statement were true, then I would have no ground to counsel hope to anyone undergoing terrible, painful circumstances in my pastoral ministry. I could not tell them that their pain and loss was working for their good and God's ultimate glory, because I would not know if this were indeed the case. It may have been for nothing, and that is too terrible a thing to imagine.
I am not suggesting that in counseling through tragedy that we ought to pull out Romans 8:28 flippantly. The pain is real in tragedy, and so is the confusion. Romans 8:28 will not chase that away, but I believe that it gives us the strength we need to bear the weight of despair that threatens to crush us.
When I meditate on Romans 8:28, I inevitably think of Job. In one day, the man lost his possesions and his children to tragedy. Eventually, he lost his health. The sores were so awful upon his skin that you could see to the bone. This man suffered terribly, and his friends were no help at all. They were convinced that he had brought this suffering upon himself, but the first chapter of that book tells us that Job was "blameless and upright, and one who feared God and shunned evil" (1:1).
Job was a righteous man who suffered tremendously under the cruel hand of Satan. But we know that Satan did nothing which God did not allow. God allowed the slaughter of Job's children, the theft of his property, and the failing of his health. Why? Why would God allow such a thing to happen to a good man? I tremble at the answer, for I have a child myself. I am healthy. I do not desire to feel the pain that Job felt. Not on your life.
Job was rightly upset. He wished that he could have a meeting with God and talk to Him about his troubles. He wanted to know why it happened. He wanted to know what he had done to deserve such treatment from the God he so dearly loved. God, in His mercy, granted Job an audience. This is Job's response to God:
I know that You can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You. You asked, 'Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. Listen, please, and let me speak; You said, 'I will question you, and you shall answer Me.'
I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.(42:2-6).
This is the answer of a man who lost everything in this world for no apparent reason. All of his rage and grief and indignation fled from him at the sight of the King of Kings. One glimpse of the glory of God caused Job to hate himself. How is that possible? What sort of God do we worship?
How much is it worth to you to see the glory of such a God? Not enough, I daresay. That is why God does not ask permission from us before He takes the things we love. He wants you to see His glory more than you do. Because He knows that His beauty and love and grace are far more satisfying than any gift He has ever given you. If need be, He will prove it to you. In the end, Job was not satisfied with the "why" explanation. We are never told that he received such an explanation. Rather, he was satisfied by simply seeing the Holy One. That was enough to assuage his pain and bind his wounds.
God did not waste Job's suffering. He recorded Job's magnificent responses for generations to draw strength from in times of despair. He blessed Job by showing him His glory.
Pain is not the only thing that God uses to perfect our faith; He also uses pleasure. At the birth of every child, we learn to love God more deeply. We learn to love Him more in every sunset, sunny beach, moonlit stroll, and fishing trip if we understand them correctly. His mercy is found in every earthly embrace and kiss. He delights in the pleasures that I find in my wife and that she finds in me, and I am most grateful for His mercies and grace in these things. I have grown because of the good things that God continually gives to me, and I have grown through the purging pains He has brought as well. I am confident, absolutely confident, that no pain or pleasure is ever wasted. This is why I find joy in weddings and in funerals, in good news and in bad; because God is working in them for our good and for His glory.
We Must Do the Impossible
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