Thursday, October 26, 2017

Suffering Works for Good

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).

To get the full impact of this verse so rich in meaning, and to avoid misinterpreting it, we need to see it in its context. We need to notice three things about it. First, we need to consider the meaning of “all things.” Out of context, we may think this means that all things in this world work together for our good. While this is certainly true, in context the phrase “all things” refers specifically to the things Paul has been discussing, which are the suffering and infirmities of the people of God.

The second thing we need to note is that there is a restriction. God is not promising to bring good out of suffering for all people, but for those who love God. Suffering and agony are not good in themselves, and we need to work to alleviate pain and evil wherever we can. But God promises to His children that He will bring good out of their suffering. Notice that Paul does not say “those who believe in Him” but “those who love Him.” Paul focuses on the fact that in the last analysis the dividing line between the Christian and the unbeliever is not over the issue of simply believing in some God or other, but over the issue of loving God.

The third aspect we need to see is also related to the fact that this promise is only for God’s children, those “who have been called according to His purpose.” Paul speaks not of an external call to the Gospel, but of the inward call of the Holy Spirit. In theology we term this “effectual calling.” No one will love God unless God first changes the disposition of his heart through the work of the Holy Spirit. The capacity to love God is not natural to fallen man, but must be supernaturally granted by the Father, who takes the initiative in restoring us to Himself.

Too often this verse is used as a pat answer for those who suffer. Resist the temptation to use it as an easy answer when ministering to people in the midst of pain. Often the “good” comes long after the pain. Today, focus your prayer time on those who are in pain and under stress.