Donald M. Parker
A most perplexing question of life is, Why do things happen as they do? Is there rhyme or reason to the events that go on around us every day?
A national leader is cut down in a senseless slaying. The wicked often appear to prosper more than the righteous. Christians and pagans alike starve in Biafra. Nations war against each other. Innocent children die and others are disfigured for life. To what purpose? A dearly loved wife languishes in a bed of suffering day after day. Months drag into years while death seems to enjoy toying with its victim. Why? Why all the grief, suffering and evil; all the hatred, persecution and injustice in our world? Can there possibly be an answer, a good cause or happy end to it all?
There are some people who think they’ve discovered a ground for comfort when they read from the Bible, “And we know that all things work together for good.” And so this becomes their consolation, their sole hope that somehow the tragic events in this “vale of tears” mean something better than they seem to. But they are wrong. Dead wrong! If there was ever any passage of Scripture misquoted or misunderstood, it is this statement in Romans, chapter eight, verse twenty-eight.
It is a false hope and a futile faith that lightly says, “All things work together for good.” Actually, it is the very germ which spawns the disease of doubt and despair when you learn that your child has leukemia. When cancer comes to your home, or your loved one is mangled almost beyond recognition in an accident, then that hallucination of “all to the good” will haunt you, not help you.
Well then, where does this leave us? Have we no hope for the future? Is there no comfort for the present, not even in the Bible? Yes there is, and in the very passage which we have ripped apart. And that was the trouble to start with. The statement, “All things work together for good,” was torn from that truth which alone gives it abiding significance.
Listen to what God really does say through his servant Paul: “And we know that to them that love God all things work together for good, even to them that are called according to his purpose” (ARV).
Another popular version expresses it this way: “Moreover we know that to those who love God, who are called according to his plan, everything that happens fits into a pattern for good” (Phillips).
Now do you see the difference? To those who love God all things are working out for the good. And the reason for that is because God is the One who is turning the bad things in life toward a good ending, all for those who love him. This is what the Bible says, and this is what God wants us to know and believe. To those who love God belong this blessed assurance that their heavenly Father is causing everything to work out in their favor. God, who operates the shuttle of history, weaves both the good and the bad into a glorious garment of gold for those who love him.
So then, to those who love God, and to them alone, belongs such a positive outlook on life. And this positive viewpoint is founded upon God’s gracious purpose and loving providence.
You see, God has a plan. Divine purpose is directing all that comes to pass, and so it cannot help but benefit those who know themselves to be within the stream of God’s love. Oh, to be sure, there are thousands of questions which we all have. The innocent and oft-repeated question of the young child, “Why?” becomes the philosopher’s preoccupation. Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? What’s life all about, anyway?
Now the Bible faces life squarely and answers these questions honestly. In accepting the Bible, man receives God’s answers to life’s most perplexing problems. When we hear God’s voice in Scripture then “we know,” just as Romans 8:28 says. We know God and his plan, insofar as he has been pleased to reveal it to us. We know that God is love, and that he does all things well. We know that God sent his Son into the world to die for sinners. And we know that Jesus rose again from the dead to save for time and eternity those who trust in him.
Why are there so many unhappy, bitter and disappointed people about us today? Because they simply don’t trust in the Lord. They won’t entrust their daily lives to him because they don’t love him, and they don’t love him because they don’t really know him. The Bible is true, and it seeks to lead us to God. When the Bible is read and studied with the help of God’s Holy Spirit, we’ll come to know God and his gracious plan, “who works all things after the counsel of his own will.”
Yes, “all things,” both the good and the bad, work according to his counsel and for our good. Our personal fears and failings; family grief and conflict; the ills of society and man’s inhumanity toward man—all things are used and overruled by God to work together for the believer’s well-being and God’s own glory.
Now I for one certainly am interested to know just what the “good” is—that good toward which God is causing all things to move. Is it our happiness or material prosperity? A feeling of well-being and physical security? No, something far more superior to these fleeting things. It is our moral transformation into the image of Christ—our spiritual conformity to him. God’s purpose for those who love him is that they should experience a growing and finally a complete likeness to Christ. Jesus, the only-begotten Son of God, is the focal point of the Father’s eternal purpose. It is Christ who is to have the preeminence, who is to be all in all. And by the Father’s gracious design we redeemed mortals play a part in the realization of the goal of the ages.
We are called by God to enter willingly the course of his plan to fully exalt his own blessed Son. God calls us to bask in the sunshine of his holy will and love. The Savior said, “Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” All you who are burdened down with sorrow and grief and pain, all you who find life to be filled with futility and frustation, come to Christ and he will cause you to rest in his love and triumphant plan.
What do we find when we heed God’s call and reciprocate his love? The unshakable confidence that all things do work together for our good. The father’s love guarantees it. Someday he will make it all plain. “His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding hour by hour. The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.”
When world prospects appear more dim by the day, we have this as an anchor for the soul—that God is working all things for the good of those who truly love him, for all of us who have been called to participate in the unfolding of his gracious plan and wise providence.
The entire plan of divine redemption convinces us of the good that God has intended for those who love him. He gave his only Son. The Son gave his life. The Holy Spirit leads us unto saving faith and eternal life. So certain is the entire process of God’s plan for his people’s final perfection that he states it as an already accomplished fact. The apostle boldly claims, “And whom he foreordained, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.”
God’s plan for us began in the eternal counsels of his sovereign love, before the beginning of time. He fashioned the world and molded its history. Then he brought us unto himself and set his holy seal upon our hearts. So sure of its design and fruition is the salvation which he has bestowed upon us, that he views us as even now being glorified. Those whose confidence rests in the blood of their Savior have absolute security, for they are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ. Nothing, but nothing, has the power to separate believers from the love of God. Neither present afflictions nor world crises are worth comparing to the glory which shall be revealed in God’s people when the Lord Jesus returns to earth. And until that day the Holy Spirit is ours for comfort and strength. The sufferings of this life are but a part of God’s great plan to perfect us “unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”
Why do things happen as they do? All the more to manifest the love, the grace and the glory of our sovereign God. God is the God of history. Is he the God of your life? God is love. Is he the unquestioned object of your love? Christ is history’s greatest sufferer. Has he suffered for your sins and borne away your burdens? By God’s grace and with the help of his Holy Spirit, let Christ have your love and occupy your life. Then shall there begin and continue that work of perfection in you which shall mature unto Christ’s glorious likeness.
Yes, all things can and shall work together for your good if you but place your trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and if you love the Lord God with all your heart.
A hymn dating back to the seventeenth century says:
If thou but suffer God to guide thee, and hope in him through all thy ways,
He’ll give thee strength, what-e’er betide thee, and bear thee through the evil days:
Who trusts in God’s unchanging love builds on the rock that naught can move.
Only be still, and wait his leisure in cheerful hope, with heart content
To take what-e’er thy Father’s pleasure and all-deserving love hath sent;
Nor doubt our inmost wants are known to him who chose us for his own.
Sing, pray, and keep his ways unswerving, so do thine own part faithfully,
And trust his Word—though undeserving, Thou yet shalt find it true for thee;
God never yet forsook at need the soul that trusted him indeed.
(Georg Neumark, 1641)
“And the God of all grace, who called you unto his eternal glory in Christ, after that ye have suffered a little while, shall himself perfect, establish, strengthen you. To him be the dominion for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:10, 11 ARV).
Reprinted from the Presbyterian Guardian, Volume 38, No 2, February, 1969. The OPC Committee for the Historian has made the archives of the Presbyterian Guardian available online!
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