Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined he also called; and those he called he also justified; and those he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30)
I planned on taking the summer as a hiatus from weekly reflections, but then I opened up this coming Sunday’s Scripture passages and had no choice but to pop open the lap top and get to writing. It’s been a tough few weeks for many of our choir members and those in our community. Family sufferings, cancer diagnoses, unexpected funerals… for many of us, we’re standing under a cloud that just won’t stop pouring down rain. For some of us in this season of life, we may hear the phrase from well-intentioned people, “Don’t worry, God is using your loved one’s death, your cancer, the loss of a child, etc. for good.” And while it is meant to comfort, sometimes it just leaves us more angry and disillusioned, allowing us to shift our blame to the one who we now assume caused the whole mess, God. Romans 8:28 is one of the most widely used Scripture verses in today’s Christian culture. It can be found on paintings, pillows, and an abundance of Pinterest pages. And yet it’s also one of the most widely misunderstood and hurtful passages for a variety of people in a place of suffering.
“We know that all things work for good for those who love God.” Let’s get two things out of the way from the beginning. This verse does not mean we can live any way we choose and God will fix the messes. “Well, I guess I can go cheat on my spouse because God will use it for good!” “Not really a fan of my neighbor – maybe I’ll murder them and I know God will use it for good.” You may laugh, but there are people in this world who have taken this verse to the extreme. It also doesn’t mean that if you love God, only good things will happen to you. Sadly, on the ‘good things happening to us’ scale, Christians don’t win out over non-Christians. Psalm 73 details this narrative. “For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” (Psalm 73:3) In fact, if we are truly walking the path of Jesus, we are promised we WILL face trials and we WILL suffer. Why would we expect anything less? It’s the path of Jesus.
I do believe there are times that we will see good come from our suffering in this life. The Bible gives us many examples: Joseph was abandoned by his family, thrown into a well and taken as a slave, only for God to bring him up as a ruler to help Egypt during a time of famine. The Apostle Paul was repeatedly on trial or imprisoned and was able to use his platform to lead others to Christ (even his guards!). Our life is a mixing bowl and God can use some pretty revolting ingredients (you just go try eating a spoon full of straight baking soda) to create a delicious cake, or in the words of verse 28, “for good”. But what does “good” mean?
Kathy Howard explains, ‘“Good” does not mean our happiness, physical comfort, or material abundance. The larger context of the passage refers to our spiritual condition and sure hope of one day sharing in Christ’s glory. Verse 29 specifically says God’s purpose for us is to be “conformed to the likeness of His Son.” This is our calling, God’s goal – and “good” – for us. In His power and sovereignty, God is working through the circumstances of our lives to make us like Jesus and to bring us to our eternal glory.’
It’s important when we read Scripture not to choose one verse out of a passage, but to read that verse in the context of the entire passage, letter, etc. The Book of Romans is about salvation and this particular section is entitled in many of our Bibles: “Present Suffering and Future Glory.” Verse 18 begins: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Verse 23: “Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.” Verse 31: “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Verse 38 and 39: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
You WILL find suffering in this life. You may or may not see the fruits of your pain in this world. But we have a God who stands beside us in our suffering, who takes our pain and weaves it into a beautiful tapestry of grace, who is busy creating a place for us, who has promised us that no amount of suffering is able to separate us from His love.
So as we walk this path of suffering, we rejoice in knowing that we have an example for how to walk ahead. Jesus’ cross was heavy. He suffered physically and emotionally. He literally cried for relief and didn’t get it. Yet he was humble, full of grace and love. He woke up early and stayed up late to spend time with God, the Father, knowing that without staying close to God, he would not have the strength to withstand the suffering. He was silent in time of personal persecution, accepting his fate with sincerity of heart. He kept his friends near him, staying in community even until the end. He planned his affairs well, making sure that his mother would be taken care of by his disciple. He was present with those around him, always choosing to pour himself out for those he loved. What better way for us to live?
If you’re in a time of suffering, know that you do not walk alone. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. Strive to walk the way He walked. And know that if you love Him, God is working all of this out for our future redemption and glory with Him. Now THAT is GOOD News.