Saturday, October 24, 2009

Rom.8:28 - the Most Misunderstood Verse in the Bible

I think that most Christians have grown up with a wrong picture of God and life that has been nurtured through Sunday school and church. The picture is a God who is absolutely loving and in absolute control, and because He loves us He will make sure nothing wrong will happen to us. If ever something does go wrong, it could be because we weren’t obedient or we were living in sin, but if we repent then somehow God will correct whatever went wrong and put everything right and it’ll all work out somehow. And we just need to try and bury our past and move on.

A favorite verse in the Bible among Christians that lends to this picture is Rom.8:28 :

“We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose”.

The “good” in this verse is usually understood from the human perspective; not God’s perspective. We think that God will somehow work everything out in our favor and everything will be alright. But Paul is actually saying the very opposite. The “all things” Paul is referring to, is suffering, and the “good” and "purpose" is explained in verse 29 – that we would through the suffering be molded to become like Jesus – God’s highest purpose for us. Rom.8:28 must be read in its context which begins from verses 16 – 39.

Begin reading from verse 16 and follow through Paul's thought until the end of the chapter and you will see why from verses 31–39 Paul says that no matter how bad it gets, no matter how condemned and abandoned we feel, and even though God does not deliver us, he is nevertheless convinced that God’s love for us is not diminished one bit. Instead, it is through the suffering that we are molded to become overcomers and conquerors :

“What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died--more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

"For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered."

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 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.”

In other words, one of the best things that God can do for us, to mold us to become more like Him, is to send us suffering or to allow suffering to come into our lives. Quite shattering when we think about it! But let's face it. The problem with most Christians’ rosy, benevolent and benign picture of God is not only that it does not square up to scripture, but that it flies in the face of the harsh realities of life. It is far easier and more realistic for us to accept that God is not our servant to answer every prayer the way we would like it, nor is He always there to get a parking spot for us and cater to our comfort, but that He has far higher purposes for us than to make sissies out of us.

Rest in the Security of His Sovereign Love

How then are we to interpret all the trials and difficulties of life in general? Are all suffering therefore ordained by God with this purpose in mind? Is God sitting up there just waiting to strike us at our next turn? I don’t think so. Although there are times when God either directly sends or indirectly allows suffering for a purpose - when God judges sin or when He wants to discipline us, and He does it with His utmost love (see my other post “Further Reflections on Suffering”), I believe there may be times when suffering has nothing to do with punishment or discipline nor is it due to any fault on our part. Jesus was clear that when bad things happen to someone it may have nothing to do with sin or fault : Lk.13:1-5, Jn.9:2-3.

We live in a fallen world where accidents happen and we may become victims to bad weather and natural disasters or to sin and wickedness in the world. Even so, we may take comfort in this – that whatever it may be, it is still in the sovereign control and purposes of God. God has His purpose in everything that happens to us (Eph.1:11). No matter how bad it gets, for us, as God’s people, the simplest and most profound prayer that we can pray is to say to God, “You are God and I am not”, and rest in the security of His sovereign love :

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isa.55:8-9

God is Sovereign

Scripture is clear that God is always in sovereign control and nothing can happen without His will. Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them can fall to the ground without the will of My Father” : Matt.10:29. This means that whatever it may be, and wherever the source of the suffering may be, and difficult as it may be, God is still in control. There are also numerous places in the Bible where God’s sovereignty extends to using the enemy for His purposes (email me for the references if you need them). We therefore need not fear what the devil can do because he can do only what God allows him to do and no more.

I have to put a caution here that there is a lot more that needs to be said on this subject. Please do not run away with what is said in this post as the "be all and end all" about suffering. I have written a longer article on the subject of suffering that is too long to post in this blog. If you would like to have a copy, email me for it. This is my email address :

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