Romans 8:28 is arguably the most hopeful verse in all of the Bible when it comes to living in this fallen world. It’s so hopeful that it can actually come across as trite and cliché when offered to someone who is suffering. The hope in this verse, however, is a deep well of truth that’s anything but cliché. When we dig deeper into it, we find it to be an even greater source of riches than we could even imagine. Let’s take it one step at a time.
The truth of this verse is matter-of-fact for the Christ-follower. It is something we know, like gravity. It is a reality that we exist in and cannot deny since we practice it. Like we know that the sky is blue and grass is green, we know the truth that is to follow.
This incredible truth starts with God being at work in all things. He is the One who spoke creation into existence, formed you in your mother’s womb, and has numbered the hairs on your head as well as the days of your life. This God has not left you here to flail helplessly through life. He is at work in your circumstances and situations. His hand has not left the steering wheel of your life. If it’s bumpy, rest assured that He’s been here and has navigated these rough roads countless times. He will see you through it.
God is not laboring in vain. He is not digging a hole only to fill it up again. He is not moving things around only to put them back, over and over again. He is intentionally working toward an end goal. God is accomplishing something that will be good for you. Remember, you can know this. You can be certain that Creator God is at work in your every situation, to bring about something good for you.
So far, we’ve assumed that this promise is for you, but it may not be. This promise is not available to everyone. This promise is reserved for God’s children – those who love God, and those who have been awakened to the reality that God has a purpose and they are a part of it. Does that describe you? Do you acknowledge that God is using you for His purpose and that His plans are bigger, and much more important than yours?
For those who love God and have been called to His purpose, He is working out something good for them, in everything they are a part of. This is not just a trite “everything happens for a reason.” There’s no hope in that statement. People steal because they want something – that’s the reason they take something from you. They wanted it. But them having a reason doesn’t make it good. Romans 8:28 says that God will use someone stealing from you to bring about something good for you. While that’s hopeful, the real hope comes from understanding what this "good" is.
The good is described in verses 29 and 30. The good is that God’s children will be glorified, like Jesus, as His brothers and sisters, for eternity. In the same way that God has forgiven your sins, He has prepared an eternal blessing for you that you are enduring towards. There is a reward at the end of your faithful perseverance. People work out to feel better and look better. As they see the benefit of struggling, sweating, and suffering in the gym, they continue to push toward a desired end goal. If they don’t see the results they desired, they often give up. If they see the results, they may even become addicted to working out. They can’t get enough of the benefit. God is saying there is an eternal benefit to enduring the suffering in this world.
Candidly, at the risk of sounding calloused, your suffering won’t matter 100 years from now, except for how you’ve benefited from it. To sound even crazier, you will be glad that you endured it. You will somehow see that it produced good for you and in you.
Last Tuesday at the Porch, a very gifted painter completed a work of art on stage in a matter of minutes. When he was done, everyone looked at it and most people just saw something ugly. Because he was an artist on stage, they probably assumed it should be good, and many even tried to make sense of the shapes. They tried to see good in it. So many Christians do this, with trite responses like “everything happens for a reason.” It’s like they're saying “I’m sure there’s good in this, somehow.” But in reality we only see an ugly circumstance or bad situation.
I then flipped the painting to reveal a beautiful face of Jesus. It couldn’t be seen earlier, but when I flipped it, people gasped in awe and applauded. The artist had painted a beautiful face of Jesus; it was just upside down. What looked ugly, was actually beautiful. What appeared to be bad was actually good. This is the promise of Romans 8:28. When you get to the other side of glory, you will see that what appeared as bad was actually good. “How can my situation be good?!” “How can this breakup be good?!” “How can you call cancer good?!” I don’t know how it is making you more like Jesus, but I know it is.
How can I know this? Consider this: on the worst day in history, God’s only Son was struck with the worst “cancer.” He was publicly tortured and endured a “breakup” worse than anyone could endure. He suffered unimaginable pain, to the point of death. This all happened on a day that we have the audacity to call “Good Friday.” We can only call it that because we’ve received more good from that event than any other in history. God flipped the painting.
Some people had seen the painting trick before, and they felt very different emotions than those who had not. They knew that what was coming would be beautiful. They knew it would work out. They didn’t watch on and feel embarrassed for the artist. They felt the hopeful anticipation of the awe of the crowd. They knew it would all work out for good. This is how Christians go through life. We know it will all work out for our good.
This doesn’t mean that we can’t be sad. It doesn’t mean that we can’t hate the result of sickness, disease, and sadness in this fallen world. Jesus wept at the grave of His friend Lazarus. We are called to mourn with those who mourn. What Romans 8:28 means is that we can’t lose hope. We know that any trouble we face will produce a good that lasts forever and ever.