The scene is all too familiar. Difficulty has come and hopelessness is near. The problem could be the effect of any number of causes: a job loss, an auto accident, a diagnosis of cancer, a failed marriage. Whatever the initial cause the result is the same; a cry of despair and a questioning, why me, why now, why this? An individual finds themselves in a desperate situation with little hope at the present moment and little desire to move on. It is usually at this point when some good well-meaning Christian decides it is time to quote scripture and often Romans 8:28 comes to mind; “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” It is comforting to know that God is working and that he will bring about good even in the midst of tragedy, however, this passage does raise some questions, at least in the way it is often applied.
Typically when this passage is applied the message is clear. “I know you are sad but God is in control and he only does good things so somehow this is going to be alright.” Again, while it is comforting to know that God is working, I think our theology may be slightly skewed.
The verse says that in all things God works together for good. The verse does not say that God causes all things to happen for good reasons or that sometimes bad things need to happen for good things to come. It is true that sometimes true growth only happens after one fights through the valleys of pain and heartache. And it is also true that God can use any event, any situation to help bring about his purposes, including pain and tragedy. However, to insinuate that all bad things that happen are within the will of God seems to go against the very heart and love of God. While God can do whatever he wants, I do not believe that God wants his people to suffer or to be hurt or to be in pain. I do not think that it is within God’s will for the drunk driver to swerve across the road and kill innocent people. I do not think it is within God’s will for a child to be abused or for a woman to be raped. I do not even think that it is necessarily God’s will for someone to lose their job or for their car to break down or for them to miss the bus and fail to arrive in time to take a final exam in school. And I do not think that Paul was insinuating as much when he wrote to the Romans and said, “we know that all things work together for good…”
So what does Romans 8:28 mean? I believe God is grieved when we hurt. That just as a parent suffers along with a child who has been hurt God suffers alongside his people when they suffer abuse or scorn or pain. And just as Jesus wept at the tomb when he saw his friend’s grief over the death of Lazarus (even though he knew that he was about to raise the dead) God weeps when he sees our tears and our grief and our pain. God does not cause the evil (he can’t because he is good) but he weeps and hurts with us and suffers alongside us in our agony and pain. And then what God does is amazing. God crawls up into the midst of our hurt and pain. He places himself right in the middle of the situation, a situation that seems hopeless and dark and he does not change the situation but instead somehow changes his plan for our lives in such a way that redeems the hurt and allows us to keep moving towards Kingdom life. God doesn’t cause the struggle but works through the struggle towards his ultimate purpose for the world and for us which is always good.
I take great comfort in knowing that when tragedies strike that are often life changers, God loves me enough to not only weep along with me but to also crawl up into the midst of my pain and take a situation that appears to be a dead-end and somehow work through it to redeem it and bring about good not only for me but for the whole world.