Do All Things Really Work Together for Good?

Errol Hale

Everyone has heard of Murphy’s Law.  “Whatever can go wrong will go wrong.”  O’Toole’s Commentary on Murphy’s Law states:  “Murphy was an optimist.”  Other variations on Murphy’s Law include The Unspeakable Law which asserts, “As soon as you mention something, if it is good, it goes away and if it is bad, it happens.”  The Law of Selective Gravity insists, “An object will fall so as to do the most damage.”  Howe’s Law postulates, “Every man has a scheme that will not work.”  One that we can all relate to, especially when in the grocery store, is Etorre’s Observation: “The other line moves faster.”

We snicker at these because we can relate to the feelings of doom that they each in their own way convey.  The fact is, many of us, including God’s children, expect the worst.

It is against this pessimistic backdrop that I remind you of the words of Romans 8:28.

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

And we know

Who is we?  According to Romans chapter eight, we are the ones who are in Christ Jesus and for whom there is therefore now no condemnation (v.1).  We are the ones who, filled with the Holy Spirit of God, think spiritually and therefore walk [or live] in the spirit (vv. 4-9).  We are the ones who will be resurrected and glorified someday (v.10-11). We are the children of God (vv. 15-16), heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ (v.17).  When life gets so difficult that we do not even know how to pray, we are the ones for whom the Holy Spirit of God intercedes before the throne of the Father in Heaven (vv. 18, 26-27).

And we know

We have an inner confidence given to us by the promises of scripture and the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit who bears witness with our spirits that we are the children of God.

And we know that all things work together for good

All things — even the things that are bad work together for good.  Even sickness and disease.  Even accident and injury.  Even persecution and injustice.  All things work together for good.

All things work together for good

Even the things that are not working well, or that seem to be working together to accomplish the greatest possible injury.  As children of God, we know that all things work together for good.

All things work together for good

Good is not always pleasant, or easy, or convenient, or quick, or painless.

Good is often annoyingly uncomfortable, arduously difficult, intrusively inconvenient, tediously slow, torturously painful.

Before all the facts are in, good is not easily understood.

Good is often difficult, if not impossible, to understand — until later.  Until the facts are in.  What looks good, often turns out to be bad.  And what looks bad often turns out to be good — later.

Bad people have a skewed definition of what is good.  Good people, if there were any truly 100% good people, which, according to Jesus, there are not — good people would know good from bad.  But, since there isn’t a one of us who is truly 100% good, we shouldn’t be too surprised when we occasionally mistake what is good for what is bad.  We shouldn’t be too surprised when we frequently misjudge what is bad for what is good.

God is the only One who is truly good.  Isn’t that what Jesus told the rich young ruler in Mark 10:18?  The young man ran to Jesus, knelt before Him and asked Him, “Good teacher, what shall I do that I might inherit eternal life?”  To which Jesus replied, “Why do you call Me good?  No one is good but One, that is, God.”  God is the only One who is truly good.  He is therefore the only One who can accurately discern what is good and what is bad — especially in those cases in which we are either confused, or worse, sure that something is good, when it is bad, or that something is bad when it is indeed good.

Since God is good, and since He alone knows what is good, we must learn to discern what is good and what is bad based on what He says — in spite of what we see, or feel, or hear, or believe or hope for. 

God is sovereign.  That means that there is nothing He cannot do.  He is free — free to do whatever He pleases.  God checks with no one.  He needs no one to sign off on His ideas before He implements them.  We sometimes call earthly kings sovereigns, but they are not really sovereign.  They may be free to make laws in their own kingdoms, but they are not free like God is free.  God is the only One who is sovereign in the absolute sense.

God is omnipotent.  That means He has all power.  It doesn’t mean that He has more power than others.  It doesn’t mean that He has the most  power of all.  It means that God has all power — including the power that others have.  No one who has power, great or small, has any power apart from God.  Jesus told Pilate as much, didn’t He?  As it is with sovereignty, so it is with omnipotence.  God is the only truly omnipotent, or all powerful, being.

God is good.  That God is good means that there is nothing about Him that is in any way less than good.  He thinks only good thoughts.  He does only good deeds.  He never has a bad day.  God is the only one who is truly good.

There are many more things that God is, but let’s consider these three:  God is sovereign (free to do as He pleases).  God is omnipotent (able to do as He pleases).  And God is good (he does nothing that is not good).  Because God is good, He does only good.  Because He is omnipotent he is able to do the good He determines to do.  Because God is sovereign, he is free, without restraint of any kind, to do the good that He desires.  This is a comfort to we who even partially understand it.  It is a comfort because we know that God is free and able to give us whatever He pleases and that everything that comes from His hand will be good — even if we don’t understand it.  Even if we do not see how it can be done.

But people do bad things.  People do horribly bad things at times.  People do things that are unspeakably bad at times.  When people do bad things, horribly, or even unspeakably bad things, don’t these bad things make for bad in the lives of the people who do them — and in the lives of those who are touched by the bad things people do?  Certainly — if there is no God.

But there is a God.  And He is so in control of all things, that He is able to use even the bad things that bad people do — including the horribly and unspeakably bad things that bad people do — for good.

Judas betrayed Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  In my book, if that is not the worst thing that anyone has ever done, it is at least in the top five.  God used that bad thing, that horribly bad thing, that unspeakably bad thing, as a part of

His plan to accomplish the best thing that ever happened to the human race.  Jesus Christ died on the cross to pay the penalty for the sins of His people and to provide them with His righteousness.  God did not cause Judas to devise or carry out his sinister plot.  It came from the evil in Judas’ heart.  But because God is sovereign, omnipotent and good, He employed Judas and his evil exploit to accomplish God’s ultimate good.

All things work together for good—to those who love God

People who do not love God don’t understand what this verse is talking about.  People who do not love God can’t understand.  People who do not love God only understand what they see with their eyes.  They only understand what they feel — what they personally experience.  They know only what they believe.  Since our vision, experience and beliefs are limited, and often wrong, so is what we can understand — unless we love God.

Loving God doesn’t give us perfect understanding — just way better.  Those who love God, have His Word that He loves them, cares for them and will not allow anything to touch their lives unless it has first crossed His desk, so to speak.  Those who love God are hurt when destruction strikes, but they are not destroyed.  Those who love God experience health problems.  They encounter financial difficulties and they too must deal with troubled relationships.  But those who love God know that God knows all about their trials.  They know that He hears their cries.  They know that He cares and that He acts on their behalf — even if not in the way they desire, or when they desire it.

On the days that their personal worlds collide with every imaginable catastrophe, like Job, those who love God, are able to say, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away.  Blessed is the name of the Lord.”  Those who do not love God are not heard blessing God often — if at all.  Some who do not really love God may bless God (and their good luck) on the days when God is giving.  But let God take something, anything at all, and those who do not love God will curse rather than bless.

Do you love God?  Here is a way to tell.  Examine your heart.  Listen to the words of your own mouth — not when God is giving.  Listen to yourself when He is taking.

All things work together for good to those who love God and to those who are the called

What does the Bible mean by called?  Everyone who has heard the gospel preached has heard the call, but they are not all among those who are the called.  They have heard the general call with their ears.  Some of what they have heard may have even seeped into their minds.  But those who are the called are those who are known by God.  They have heard the effectual call of the Holy Spirit of God.  Those who hear this call, respond to it.  Isn’t that what Jesus said in John 10:27?  He informed His critics saying, “My sheep hear My voice and I know them and they follow Me.”  The effectual call isn’t about hearing merely with your ears, or even with your minds.  It is about hearing God’s call with your heart and responding.

If you attend a church where the gospel is preached with any measure of regularity, you have heard the gospel with your ears.  If you have thought about what you have heard, you may have heard it with your mind.  But if you haven’t heard the call of God with your heart — if you haven’t responded to that call by following Jesus, chances are, you are not one of the called.  Chances are you do not love God.  And if you do not love God, things may be okay right now, but someday, something will touch your life that you will not be able to handle.

When that happens, you won’t just ask God, “Why?”  Even people who love God ask “Why?”  You will question God.  You will challenge God.  If the problem is big enough, you may even reject God.  Because only people who love God and are among the called know that all things work together for good.

All things work together for good to those who love God and to those who are the called according to His purpose

God has a purpose in everything He does.  He has a purpose for your life and everything in your life.  God has a purpose for everything that touches your life — both the bitter and the sweet.

There are times when good things seem to be happening.  In the times when everything is going along smoothly we tend to be confident concerning God’s purposes.  After all, if we are happy, God’s purpose must be that we be happy.  Right?  Or so we conclude.

But there are the other times — the times when nothing seems to be going smoothly.  God has a purpose for these times as well.  It is during these times that even if you love God, even if you are one of those whom He has called according to His purpose, there are times when you cannot understand, or even imagine for what purpose certain things are taking place in your life.  But because you love God, because you are one whom He has called according to His purposes, by faith, you just know that all things work together for good to those who love God and to those who are the called according to His purpose.  And it is often in the wake of these times that we are given the clearest insights into what God’s purpose for our lives really is.  And it is not that we be happy.  God’s purpose for our lives is that we be holy.  And that we trust in Him, rather than in the happy times we are so fond of.

God’s purposes are seldom fulfilled instantly.  Our lives are not made up of a fragmented succession of unrelated events.  It may seem that way to us, but not to God.  We experience good times, that are overtaken by bad times, that give way to good times again.  The cycle continues throughout our lives.  “Now Jacob loved Joseph more than all his children.”  As the favorite of 12 sons, Joseph enjoyed special privileges.  Dad loved him most.  He was provided with nicer clothing than his brothers wore.  These were for Joseph happy times.  But his justifiably jealous older brothers conspired to do him harm.  Though it was their original plan, the eldest brother, Reuben convinced his brothers not to murder Joseph.  Instead, they just sold him as a slave.  The happy times of special favor while traveling to see his brothers were rudely interrupted.  He was seized and thrown into a pit for safe-keeping while they devised their plot to be rid of him.  While he was in that pit, listening to their hate-filled talk, don’t you suppose it was a frightening and unhappy time for Joseph?

Before long, God blessed Joseph, giving him a position of great prominence in his master’s house.  Happy days returned.  But when Joseph was falsely accused of raping his master’s wife, and was subsequently thrown into the Pharaoh’s dungeon, happy days were gone more quickly than they had arrived.

The winds of circumstance shifted again and Joseph found himself out of prison and in the second most powerful position in the whole Middle East where he lived the rest of his life in unbridled affluence.  Were these the happiest times of all?  Was God’s purpose for Joseph’s life fulfilled in wealth, power and influence?

No.  It was from this position that in the midst of a famine, Joseph was able to save the lives of his brothers who had conspired to kill him but settled rather only to sell him as a slave.  Was this the ultimate purpose for Joseph’s life — including the suffering?

No.  Joseph died centuries before the purpose for His life was revealed.  You see, Joseph saved his brothers from starvation.  One of his brothers was named Judah.  It was from the line of Judah that Jesus the Messiah was born, and through Jesus the sins of God’s children were forgiven.

When we consider stories like Joseph’s we are encouraged.  We are strengthened to face the hardships we endure in hopes that someday, like Joseph, we will come out on the top of the heap.  But God’s purposes are not about the individual ups and downs of this life, or even about a grand finale that awaits us later or at the end of this life.  The fact is, things seldom work out in this life as they did for Joseph.  The fact is, most people sold into slavery die as slaves.

God’s purposes are not restricted to time.  God’s purposes are eternal.  Whether we drink more deeply in this life from the bitter cup or from the sweet, if we love God, if we are those whom He has called according to His eternal purposes, we need only to tip our gaze upward, take our eyes off of our feet and peer down the road, past time —  and into eternity.

Some people believe the purpose for their lives will be realized when they get out of school.  Or get married. Or have children.  Or when their children go off to school.  Or when their children leave the nest.  Or when they retire.  While not as exaggerated as the highs and lows in Joseph’s life, our lives will be punctuated with both happy and sad times.  But these are not the purpose of life.

When we suffer, even if we are brave in the midst of the pain, when it subsides we often want to know why we were made to suffer.  “What was the purpose in that, Lord?”  He may tell us a little.  He may even tell us a lot.  But ultimately, we are not likely to have any more than a surface understanding of God’s eternal purposes while in this life.  It is not until we transfer into eternity that we will fully know the extent of God’s purposes in our lives.

We must train ourselves to look past the short-run milestones in this life, and past this life altogether and into eternity to know the purposes of God.

It is from the perspective of eternity that while at the bottom of the barrel of life Job made a most important declaration.  He didn’t know that God was going to restore his health, his wealth and give him another family.  Job was a broken down man waiting to die in defeat when in triumphant faith he lifted his eyes past time and into eternity, and his voice toward heaven and said, “Even if God kills me, I   will   trust   Him.”

God’s purposes are eternal.  We who love God, and are among the called according to His eternal purposes, do not enjoy adversity any more than anyone else.  But because we love God and because we are the called according to God’s eternal purposes, regardless of what befalls us in this life, armed with God’s promise of glorification and an eternal inheritance:  

We know that all things work together for good

to those who love God

and to those who are the called

according to His purpose.