I do not have to tell you that Romans 8:28 is one of the most beloved verses in the Bible. You know that. Many of you could give testimony to that fact. You were sick and this verse was like medicine to your soul. You lost a loved one and these words somehow carried you through. You were crushed and beaten by the winds of ill-fortune and this verse—and only this verse!—gave you hope to go on.
Therefore it shocks us to know that it is often without consoling power. There are some who secretly doubt it. They hear this verse quoted and instead of a balm to the soul, it is a mocking, cruel joke. But like it or not, it's in the Bible. And it won't go away. Which brings us back to the basic question: Can we still believe in Romans 8:28?
The Emphasis Needs Reversed
We will never properly understand this verse as long as we put God at the end and not at the beginning. But some people look at life that way. They believe that after a tragedy God shows up to make everything come out right. But that's not the biblical view at all. In reality, God is there at the beginning and He is there at the end and He is at every point in between. The point is, we must see the active involvement of God. What happens to you and to me is not the mechanical turning of some impersonal divine wheels. It is not fate or kismet or karma or luck. God is actively at work in your life!!!
Is Paul saying that whatever happens is good? No. Is he saying that suffering and evil and tragedy are good? No. Is he saying that we will be able to understand why God allowed tragedy to come? No. What, then, is he saying? He is erecting a sign over the unexplainable mysteries of life—a sign which reads "Quiet. God at work." How? We're not always sure. To what end? Good, and not evil. That's what Romans 8:28 is saying.
We Need A Long-Term Perspective
Our danger is that we will judge the end by the beginning. Or, to be more exact, that we will judge what we cannot see by what we can see. Here is where Romans 8:28 gives us some real help. Paul says, "And we know that all things work together for good." That phrase work together is really one word—sunergon—in Greek. We get our English word "synergy" from it. And what is synergy? It is what happens when you put two or more elements together to form something brand new that neither could form separately.
Suppose you go to visit one of the mammoth automobile factories. What you will see is an enormous building that covers many acres. At one end they bring in the raw materials and various components of an automobile—the engine, the wheels, the chassis, the body, the windshield, the seats, and so on. Some of the parts you recognize; others are unfamiliar. But all of it is constantly being unloaded and brought inside. At the other end of the building—a vast distance away—a new car rolls out.
Paul is saying that our experience is like that. God begins with the raw materials of life, including some parts that seem to serve no good purpose. Those materials are joined with pressure and heat and then they are bent and shaped and joined together. Over time something beautiful is created. Not by accident, but by a divine design. And nothing is ever wasted in the process. That is how we must look at life. We must not judge the end by the beginning, but rather the beginning by the end.
We Must Define The Word "Good"
This is the crux of the matter. Paul says that "All things work together for good." But what is the "good" he is talking about? For most of us, "good" equals things like health, happiness, solid relationships, long life, money, food on the table, meaningful work and a nice place to live. In general, we think the "good" life means a better set of circumstances.
Once again, that's not necessarily the biblical viewpoint. Paul defines it for us in the very next verse—"For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son" (Romans 8:29). That makes it very clear. God has predestined you and me to a certain end. That certain end is the "good" of Romans 8:28. That certain end is that we might be conformed to the likeness of Jesus Christ.
When Paul says that all things work together for good, he is not saying that the tragedies and heartaches of life will always produce a better set of circumstances. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. But God is not committed to making you healthy, wealthy, and wise. He is committed to making you like His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. And whatever it takes to make you more like Jesus is good.
This, I think, is our greatest problem with Romans 8:28. Our good and God's good are not the same. We want happiness and fulfillment and peace and long life. Meanwhile, God is at work in us and through us and by everything that happens to us to transform us into the image of his Son.
We Must Understand The Limitation Of This Verse
Notice the last phrase of Romans 8:28. It is a promise "to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose." That is an all-important limitation. This verse is true of Christians and only of Christians. It is not a blanket promise to the whole human race. Why? Because God's purpose is to make his children one day like His Son.
Therefore we may truly say that Romans 8:28 is an evangelistic verse. And we can ask two simple questions: 1. Have you ever responded to God's call? 2. Are you part of God's saving purpose?
You either answer "Yes" or "No" to those questions. There is no middle ground. Until you can answer "Yes," this verse does not apply to you.
What Is Your Alternative?
Can we still believe in Romans 8:28? Let me answer the question with another question. What is your alternative? If you don't believe in Romans 8:28, what do you believe in? Fate? Chance? The impersonal forces of nature?
Yes, we can—and must—believe in Romans 8:28. It is teaching us one great truth—all things ultimately contribute to the ultimate good of those who love God.
That does not answer every question. But it does answer the big question: Does God know what He is doing? Yes he does … and we know Him … and that is enough.
—Condensed from a message by Ray Pritchard, President of Keep Believing Ministries, www.keepbelieving.com. Used by permission.