28And 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 NIV)
28And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. (KJV)
What does Romans 8:28 really mean? On the surface it seems to imply that everything that happens is a part of God’s greater plan, that life is a giant jigsaw puzzle that will make sense once all the pieces are in place. It appears to say that, given enough time, everything that happens will prove to be good.
But does it really mean that?
On the contrary it more accurately means this: No matter what happens, good or bad, God is at work… in behalf of His children… for the good. Notice the difference? It’s NOT saying that everything that happens is good, NOR is it saying that God causes everything to happen. It is actually saying that God is active in our behalf for the good no matter our circumstances. Big difference.
Those who pin ‘every’ disease, financial disaster, calmity, or personal hardship on the direct action of God are headed down a path that is logically indefensible, and may prove to be disastrous to their faith. If these bad things are really an expression of God’s goodness, they would have seen in the Garden of Eden. They would also be in heaven right now. Yet that’s clearly not the case.
How do you tell a sixteen year old cheerleader who just had her leg amputated because of bone cancer that this is God’s plan for good for her? You can’t - because Romans 8:28 does not teach that, neither is it supposed to be applied as a panacea.
Notice something else that people miss. This verse is not a promise for everyone. This promise is for those people who (1) love God and (2) have been called according to His purpose.
That leaves out a lot of people.
- That leaves out your coworker who has no interest in spiritual matters, but just found out that he has heart disease
- That also leaves out the nice guy who lives next door, is not a Christian, and just lost his job
- This also leaves out the grandmother who lives down the street and makes chocolate chip cookies for you, but has lived in disobedience to God her entire life.
Yes, God has a preferred future for all these people – He wants them to be saved, experience eternal life, and enjoy the blessing of His guidance that He can provide for them - but until they turn to Christ, Romans 8:28 has nothing to do with them. Assuring them that these hardships are part of His (jigsaw) plan may make both of you feel better, but it’s really a misapplication of this promise. God makes no such promise to those who fail follow Him, no matter how nice they are.
It also leaves out some Christians – the disobedient ones. If we live in willful, deliberate disobedience to God, Jesus said that is proof that such a person does not really love God (John 14:15-21), and therefore Romans 8:28 is not blanket promise that God will step in and magically fix the mess that our defiance creates.
I once met with the parents of a teenage girl who was on her third (out-of-wedlock) pregnancy. They came to me to figure out how to handle the situation. At one point in the conversation they said something like, “We’re not sure why God allowed this to happen, but it’s good to know He had a reason and a plan.”
I didn’t say anything. But I was thinking to myself, “Unless this is another virgin birth, God probably didn’t have anything to do with it.”
This couple was steeped in the false notion that God is directly responsible for everything that happens and, as a result of that faulty thinking, were now actually placing partial blame on Him for their daughter’s actions. They believed that God had something good up His sleeve, so He let this girl disobey Him to bring it about. Something like “the end justifies the means” I guess.
I’ve lived long enough to realize that parenting is hard work, that single parenting is even harder, and that babies are not novelty items. Babies are real human beings who have eternal souls, and they had no choice in being brought into this world. As such, the parents who DO bring these eternal souls into the world have an enormous responsibly to raise their children properly and in the fear of God. I have also come to understand that the consequences of sin can be very painful and can last for an entire lifetime – even in the presence of God’s promises. The behavior of this teenage girl was not part of God’s plan. Her actions were, in fact, thwarting God’s plan.
Can God step in and salvage what is left of our lives when we have made a mess of things? Absolutely. That's what He does. He rescues the lost and guides the misguided. He can take our runined lives and give us meaning, purpose, hope, and direction. He is the God of second chances, and everyone of us need His help.
The beauty of Romans 8:28 is NOT that God CAUSES everything to happen. Rather, it’s a promise FOR THE CHRISTIAN that no matter WHAT happens He is ALWAYS THERE AT WORK for the good.