Does God Really Work All Things "Together for Good"?
This verse, especially once someone understands God's purpose, can bring great comfort. It is possible to know that God works all things out for the good of those He calls to His purposes.
When looking at the world, full of sin and evils that people cannot fathom until they hear about it in the news, it can be difficult to understand the goodness of God. Not only do believers struggle with this apparent contradiction, many walk away from the faith or point to this truth as a reason to not believe in the existence of God. During the days of the early church, when Christians were experiencing persecution, they probably felt the same way sometimes.
The Apostle Paul makes this bold statement in his letter to the church in Rome,
"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).
This verse, especially once someone understands God's purpose, can bring great comfort. It is possible to know that God works all things out for the good of those He calls to His purposes. Throughout the Bible, God takes evil and uses it for our good, and ultimately, for His glory, the purpose to which all people are called.
What Is Going on in This Verse?
The letter to the Romans is the epistle Paul wrote to a gathering of predominantly Jewish believers, with perhaps a small percentage of Gentiles. They experienced displacement not only as Jews outside of Israel, but both the Jewish and Gentile believers would have been separated from their own culture.
For most of human civilization, religion was an integral aspect of ethnic identity, a facet of culture which can still be observed in counties today. Christianity uniquely calls people to surrender aspects of who they were for who God wants them to be, which can be difficult. In addition, persecution was beginning to mount. People were being disowned by their families, their communities, fleeing their homes, and being violently attacked. Hundreds of Christians died in the early days of the church.
Through the course of the letter, Paul addresses key doctrine, what it means to live in the world as a believer, the future "re-grafting" of the nation of Israel, and so much more. In the passage surrounding this verse, Paul discussed believers being co-heirs with Jesus Christ in His coming kingdom and the future glory in eternity. People who put their faith in Jesus will spend eternity with Him, reigning in Heaven. Paul acknowledges that it can be difficult waiting for that future glory, encouraging believers the Holy Spirit will help them through life.
It is at this point he wrote the verse in question, " And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose." After this statement, Paul goes on to affirm the everlasting love of God.
What Does This Verse Mean?
The full context of this section helps illuminate Paul's meaning. In this life, there is sin and depravity, but Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead so that people could repent, be transformed and sanctified, and spend eternity in relationship with Him. Not only can people have a relationship with God through the blood of Jesus, but "The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs -- heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:16-18).
In other words, once saved, someone receives the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit testifies that someone is reconciled with God, and therefore His child. Jesus is the begotten Son, Christians are the adopted children, and they will be glorified alongside Jesus. In light of these future glories, Paul encourages believers that suffering on this earth is inconsequential. God will redeem the evils for the good of those who are His children, and have lived according to His purposes, the promise of eternal life.
An important question from this conclusion is, what is the purpose of the life of a believer? The most succinct answer can be found in the Old Testament in the writings of the prophet Isaiah. In one of his writings that has strong Messianic imagery and messaging - meaning it foretold Jesus Christ - declares, "I will say to the north, Give up, and to the south, Do not withhold; bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made" (Isaiah 43:6-7).
The key concept of this passage is that all people were created for His glory. People who live to glorify God and have a relationship with Him through Jesus Christ are the ones for whom God works all things out for their good.
Many believers paraphrase this verse to say "God works all things out for our good and for His glory."
Where Do We See Examples of God Working for Good in the Bible?
God's Word promises that He loves us, and that He wants to bless us. He even loves people who have not accepted Him, even though they are sinners living in rebellion and sin. Even with these promises and assurances, knowing that God has used evil and abuse of good people for their good and for His glory in life, and not just the promise of future good, can be assuring. The Bible is full of testimonies of how God works in the Bible.
The life of Joseph: In the Book of Genesis, Joseph was a teenager, a young man at the oldest, when his own brothers beat him, considered murdering him, and sold him into slavery. He was falsely accused of assault and imprisoned and spent years in jail, suffering injustice. So how was he able to declare, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today" (Genesis 50:20)? Because God used his time in prison to connect him with Pharoah, to put him in a position of power, and to save thousands of lives from drought.
The life of Naomi: Naomi and her husband left Israel to live with the Moabites, who had a reputation for indulging in sin, against the will of God. They had two sons. All three of the men in her life died as a result of the very drought from which they left Israel to escape, and she became bitter, even taking on the name Mara - bitterness. God used one of her son's marriages to bring a loving daughter-in-law whose second marriage brought Naomi joy through an heir. This also continued the line that would lead to the Savior.
David's sin with Bathsheba: King David was anointed by God and received all of the blessings one could imagine. He was a rich king who succeeded at everything he tried, and God would give him almost anything. Despite this great life, he coveted another man's wife, committed adultery, and eventually murder. David and Bathsheba would suffer because of this sin, but God used their relationship to bring about the reign of King Solomon, who built the Temple and whose fame helped spread the truth of the God of Israel far and wide.
The Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ: Perhaps the ultimate story of unnecessary and unwarranted suffering, Jesus lived a life that was in perfect harmony with God the Father and the Spirit, never hurt anyone, and lived His life devoted to preaching repentance, salvation, and the Kingdom of God. As part of God's plan, He gave up a piece of His glory to live this life, and was killed horrifically on the cross. In God's plan, however, this death and suffering paid the price for the sins of the world. Jesus rose from the dead, glorified, and because of that one day there will be a bodily resurrection for all believers.
How Can We Carry This into Our Life?
There will be evil in this world until Jesus Christ returns to sit on His throne and rule and reign over all the earth. Until then, there will be people who will rebel against His goodness, committing heinous acts. People will get sick, and there will be accidents. Injustice will be the rule until that day.
Christians should take comfort in the promises of God, assurance that sometimes suffering is redeemed in this life, and that ultimately, God's justice will prevail. When it is too difficult to see God's hand, pray, and the Holy Spirit will bring comfort and peace.
The letters by Paul that are preserved in the Holy Bible are full of encouraging verses about preserving despite difficulties, trial, and the evils of this world. Take comfort in prayer, God's Word, and the promises of God which are perfect and that He will fulfill.
"Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:4-7).
Anthony, Graham. The Refiner's Fire In All Things God Works for Good. Hagerstown: Herland Publishing Association, 2007.
Graham, Billy. What Happened at the Cross The Price of Victory. Nashville: W Publishing, 2021.
Moo, Douglas. The Epistle to the Romans.
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Bethany Verrett is a freelance writer who uses her passion for God, reading, and writing to glorify God. She and her husband have lived all over the country serving their Lord and Savior in ministry. She has a blog on graceandgrowing.com.