I can think of two verses of Scripture that must be read together. When only the first one is read, quoted, and believed, life does not make sense. The verse sounds wonderful, even makes a great platitude, but it is so easily misinterpreted. To understand it properly, the next verse is necessary. Without it, much of life does not make sense. These verses are:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:28–29)
When tragedy happens, well-meaning people often say that everything will work out for good. Most of the time, ‘good’ is understood as comfort or a happier situation. But if that does not happen, how then does the suffering person respond? If God is mentioned, what do they think of Him? Isn’t He supposed to turn a terrible event into something that makes sense? But what if comfort does not happen?
In other words, what does this platitude do for parents whose child is diagnosed with cancer and dies? Or for those whose teenage son is addicted to drugs and eventually overdoses? Or an elderly person whose spouse is maimed in a car accident and dies? What good came out of those events?
The second verse explains the first. In this promise made by God, ‘good’ is not our human version of good but God’s. For Him and for us, the very best He gives is a transformed life. This is not necessarily a comfortable life, but a life that is like He intended in our creation, a life that reflects the image of Jesus Christ.
When I was a new Christian, God gave me these two verses. I remember the giddy delight of realizing that everything that happened to me had a purpose and not only that, such a lofty purpose. I considered myself such a mess that becoming like Jesus was extremely appealing.
One day, I was standing on a platform hanging laundry on a line and dropped a clothes pin. I giggled thinking even that brief instance God could use for His good in this incredible plan for my life. It could give me more patience in annoying circumstances.
Of course there were greater trials to come, trials that seemed harmful and destructive. Without this promise from God and without knowing He would use these ‘all things’ for the good work of conforming me to be like Christ, I would have bailed. However, He taught me to stop trying to get out of hot water. At first, embracing the trial was difficult, but eventually God led me to appreciate even the most difficult because He was not abandoning me, but helping me grow.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2–4)
To be like Jesus means to deeply trust God in a trial so that joy sustains me in the trial, not just after it is over and bears fruit. This joy is there in the beginning when meeting the trial, waiting to bubble up in the heart of someone who can confidently say, “God, I know what You are doing and I will gladly cooperate with You.”
Not all people experience the same tests, but thankfully God knows what is vital for each life, what will do the transforming work and turn the thing from trial to testimony, from unimaginable struggle to the very deepest peace, and from a marred image to a clearer reflection.
Thank You, Jesus.