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In All Things

Have you ever had something happen in your life and you wonder, “God, what could you possibly be thinking?” I think we all have those experiences. Those things range from daily frustrations that are just annoying to major tragedies that alter our lives. Whether it is things we experience or things we see in our world that look unimaginably terrible we wonder about God’s purposes. We wonder how anything good could possibly come from it. It looks like everyone loses all around and that the bad wins.

Romans 8:28 is one of the greatest promises in all the Bible. It is a verse we can stand on when we face challenges and trials. One person called it a life preserver on a troubled sea. It tells us that God will make all things work for our good.

All things. Good things, but also hard things.

Let’s be very clear about what this verse says. And let’s be clear about what Romans 8:28 doesn’t say.

It does not say all things are somehow good. The Bible never calls evil, tragedy, disease, hurt, or violence good. There are plenty of things that are not good, and never will be good. God doesn’t wave his magic wand and what was bad somehow becomes good.

Romans 8:28 does not say all things are inevitable. All things don’t have to happen. Fate is not a thing in the Bible. The Bible says we live in a broken world that is in rebellion against God. If bad happens it doesn’t mean it was God’s will.

This passage does not say all things will work themselves out for good. Everything is not evolving toward something better. There are things that will always be painful, evil, and hard. Sometimes they reverberate for a lifetime.

It does not say that if we love God nothing but good will happen to us. There are plenty of people who have loved God with all they are and have experienced bad things. All we have to do is look at Jesus, the very Son of God, and how he was opposed, betrayed, tortured, and crucified.

It does not say if we love God that we will be able to look back someday and say that it was good. Sometimes we can see how things actually were a blessing in disguise. But there are some things in which we will never see anything good and will always wonder “why?” This does not promise that there will be resolution in our lives.

Romans 8:28 does not mean that adversity will make you a better person. Again, that may be true in certain cases. But there are things that happen which seem to have no redeeming value. Sometimes they make us just hurt more. These happenings wound us and we never really recover.

Nor does this say that God sends things into our lives to develop our character. Yes, God can and does do that at times, and other Scriptures speak to that. But sometimes what happens in our lives isn’t from God to build our character. Some things can come from the evil one to break our faith.

But, let’s now be clear on what Romans 8:28 does say. It does say that God works,

…in all things,

…toward good.

And he does this for those who love him.

This verse can read different ways in different Bibles because the wording in the original language, which is ancient common Greek, is difficult to translate into modern day English. I point this out because what it meaning can seem different to us depending on the version we might read.

For example, the New International Version reads, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…” The emphasis is on God working.

In other Bibles it reads, “that all things work together for good to those who love God…” Do you hear the difference? One is God works in all things for good, and the other is all things themselves work together for good.

Other Bibles read “in all things God works together with those who love him to bring about what is good…” In that reading the suggestion is that God works with us to bring about good. There are different nuances in each.

I like the New International Version: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” The emphasis is on what God does. God is working for those who love him in all things. God is ceaselessly, energetically, attentively, purposefully working on our behalf.[1] That is what I want us to understand this morning.

“All that is negative in this life is seen to have a positive purpose in terms of God’s eternal plan.”[2] Nothing is beyond the scope of his providence.

There are a lot of questions we will never be able to answer. There are things that will also be unclear. But God, in his providence, sees the purpose. And he is using everything for his good purposes in our lives.

There are things in my life that I wish had not happened. I still don’t understand how they could in any way be good, but I have to trust God knows and sees more than I do. I have to stand on Romans 8:28-30 and trust that he is greater and can make those things work for my good.

Hear it well: it says God is working for our good, not necessarily our comfort.

Like a tapestry. If you only see the back of the tapestry, you see loose threads, knots, and the tangled mess. It looks hopeless. There is nothing attractive about it. Turn the tapestry around and you see how all that looked messy and disconnected actually works into something good. You see the patterns. You see the design. You see the colors. It doesn’t look like a mess but is a beautiful creation.

Or, take cooking. Sometimes I try a recipe that is a bit more involved than opening a can of soup and heating it up. And there are ingredients all over the place. None of it looks appetizing or orderly. It can look like chaos. But by the time it is placed on the dinner table it looks and tastes wonderful, like it was meant to be. All the ingredients which by themselves don’t work, were worked into something good.

God takes all the things in our lives and puts them into the service of his good purposes for our lives.

We can’t see how things might work for our good, but God sees what we cannot see.

There are things that happen that are not what God wills. But listen to this: what happens contrary to God’s will does not happen apart from his will.[3] Something can happen that God did not want to happen, but he can make it work for his will in our lives. Joni Eareckson Tada, who became paralyzed from the neck down after a tragic accident when she was very young said, “Sometimes God allows what he hates to accomplish what he loves.”

God is above evil, and he can make even what is evil work for our good. Satan can strike but God can take that blow and use it for good.

We see this in the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis. Joseph was treated cruelly by his brothers. They sold him into slavery. That led to him being taken to Egypt where he was thrown into prison when someone set him up and lied about him. He lived for years in chains. Then someone who said they would get him out of prison forgot about him. It was one thing after another in Joseph’s life.

Eventually he got out of prison and he became second in command in Egypt. When a famine hit the world, his brothers came to find food for their families. They ended up coming to Joseph whom they did not recognize, though he recognized them. When he eventually revealed himself to them they were afraid. But Joseph said this, “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good…”[4]

Hear that: Even though you intended it for my harm, God intended it for my good. Joseph had matured, grown, and trusted God enough to see that all he suffered was meant for his good by God.

This is what we mean by God’s providence. God is over all things, controlling all things, watching over every detail of our lives.

You may have heard the word “predestined” in the Scripture reading from Romans. Maybe your ears went up. Predestination is a biblical truth, but it stirs a lot of debate. Presbyterian Christians are particular associated with this because John Calvin, who was the founder of our tribe, said a lot about this.

Predestination bothers some people because they think it means that God chooses some and doesn’t choose others, and it doesn’t matter what we do because God already has it all mapped out. But that is not what is meant by predestined.

Predestination is not predeterminism. We are not puppets. What it means is that we are not thrown into this world and left to ourselves. God knows us and our way. God accompanies us and watches over us but does so in a way that respects the integrity of who we are. We are still people with free will. But God also has a future for us that is secure. He has a plan. That plan can take different paths and turns. It can be altered. But he has a purpose and path for us.

Predestination is meant to be an encouragement and to give us peace because it means that nothing can take us from our Father’s hand. Our lives are not governed by random forces. It doesn’t answer why some things happen, but it does tell us that God knows even if we don’t.

Think of it this way: God builds a large supermarket, which is this world. He arranges the various shelves as attractively as possible. Some Christians think that God leaves us alone and goes to the checkout counter to wait for us. When we get to the checkout counter that is when God will judge us. Because we are left alone and unattended in the store, we are free to wander up and down the aisles and make choices as we desire. We have total free will. If we choose the package of faith then we are saved. If we choose the product labeled “unbelief,” we are not saved.

But then there is this view: We are in this large supermarket that God has made and we are children of God who are never left unattended in the store. Our Father always walks beside us. While in some sense the shopping cart is ours and we can choose from the lower shelves, some goods are up high and beyond our reach. For example, salvation is too high for us to reach up and get for ourselves. But God created that and other good things for us, and when we ask him he puts them in the cart for us.

We can be thankful that God accompanies us every step of the way. The Father not only provides the supermarket but also the special help that we need as we go through.[5]

Because we belong to God, God is with us in our decisions, which we are free to make, and he is with us in our tragedies. We are never outside of his Fatherly care.

Paul writes that we are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ. God takes everything in our lives to shape us to be like his Son.

If there is something I hope happens here at American Fork Presbyterian Church it is that we are all shaped more and more into the image of Christ. We may have to do major excavation to unclog our pipes. We may have building repairs. We may grow in numbers or shrink. But I hope that our lives reflect Jesus and look like him more and more.

Paul also writes that because we are predestined it means that we are also called and justified, in order to be glorified. Which is all to say whatever happens to us, in all things God’s plan is for us to ultimately share his glory. And that’s a pretty good thing.

Everything must fit his purpose for our salvation. We aren’t left to chance but are being held by our Father’s hand. So, we need to learn to be patient in adversity, grateful when we experience blessing, and to trust our faithful God and Father for the future.[6]

It’s all to say we have a good Father watching over us, caring for us, working for us.

And this promise that God works all things together for our good is for those who love God.

We mostly hear about God’s love for us, but this is one of the places in the Bible we hear about our love for God.

Do you love God?

We want his love. We want to hear that we are loved by God. But do we love him?

Not just believe in God. You can believe God exists and never give your heart to him.

Do you think about Jesus? Do you think about how he wants you to live, and what he wants you to be? Do you reflect on his life?

Do you pray? Read the Bible – not just for knowledge – but to feed your relationship with the Lord? Do you want to come to worship and do you want to have a stronger sense of God in your life?

Do you willingly and cheerfully give to the work of the Lord and the needs of others?

Do you treat others as you would the Lord?

Do you seek the approval of the Lord? Do you have a desire to please him?

The more we love God the more we will want to trust him.

Last thing: Can God work all things for good? Look at the cross. At Calvary, it all looked bad. It looked like evil had won. No one who saw Jesus on that cross thought the Father was working good. But that is the mighty thing about our God. He reigns over everything, including death.

God is with us. God is leading us. God can take the worst and make it for our best.

And that is what we remember and claim at this table. It is the victory we celebrate.

[1] John Stott, Romans, p.247 [2] Ibid, 247 [3] Augustine [4] Genesis 50:20 [5] Encountering God, Christian Faith in Turbulent Times, p.110 [6] Heidelberg Catechism, Questions and Answers 1, 27 and 28

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