Some of you have been through the grinder over the last few months. Maybe it’s emotional, or scientific, physical or completely relational. But at some point in your struggle, someone has said something like:
God is doing something big in your life.
God doesn’t make mistakes.
God only gives his biggest tests to his best soldiers.
God does everything for a reason.
God must have something really amazing he’s going to do with your …
If you’ve been in this situation, you may have wanted to throw up, punch someone, or run screaming from the room.
These responses are an often human desire to make sense of what is going on, to give credit or blame to something so that suffering might make sense.
Paul writes about the state of the world in Romans 8 in a way that we might if we spent a half-hour watching the news. Wherever we look, we can see people struggling with pain, sickness, and even death. Paul writes, two thousand years ago, that:
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. And, in verse 28, And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Yes, I believe that there is a great Creator God of the universe who sent his son to die on the cross for our sins. And I believe that God isn’t me. [Everyone say, ‘Hallelujah!’]
But while I believe that God is over all, in all, and omnipotent, I do not believe that God causes bad things to happen.
God didn’t make Eve eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
God didn’t cause the man after his own heart, David, to make a series of bad decisions.
God didn’t put the soldiers up to nailing Jesus to the cross.
God doesn’t make us lust, steal, hate, murder, lie.
God doesn’t make us eat too many nachos, smoke too many cigarettes, or spend too much time lying on the couch.
God doesn’t make someone else get behind the wheel while they’re intoxicated or show up for work angry at the world.
But when Christians hear something like “we know in all things that God works for the good of those who love him,” we change it around to suit our needs. [Side note: How many problems in society today would be avoided if we would stop ‘prooftexting,’ that is taking the words of the Bible and adopting them for our own ends, and stick to what it actually said in context? Does it mean something that sounds like Jesus? No? Then we probably took it out of context. End rant.]
So, we take Romans 8:28 and we make it mean that “God causes everything to happen.”
We have a problem, so we want to affix blame. We want to be able to say X causes Y, that cause always comes before effect, that there must be a reason.
The deficit is looming so it’s the current president’s fault – never mind that we switch back and forth between parties and the deficit has been decades in the making.
Someone uses their murderous free will in a community so it’s mental illness or guns or drugs that need to be regulated – never mind that we are not prone to peacefully interacting with each other and that social norms are taught from parents to children.
Someone we know is sick or hurting so it’s God’s will – never mind that things are not as they should be, and haven’t been since Adam and Eve were kicked out of the Garden of Eden.
What if the real problem behind these things is me? My attitude, my actions, my beliefs.
Romans 8:28 really says that God will work good in all things – even the most unpleasant, terrible, despicable, troubling things will somehow be used by God for good. God is going to make the best of every bad situation. That doesn’t mean cancer, war, addiction, or job loss are good— of course, they’re not! But it says that we can know God works good because he’s done it before.
That means that in a natural tragedy like an earthquake or tsunami, the result of the fallen world we live in post-Eden, God will find a way to save lives and bring people together.
That means that even when person X robs person Y, the result of free will that God gave us so we could choose God over not being with God, that God will find a way to minister to both the robbed and the robber.
God is going to find a way because God loves us that much.
Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery but God used that opportunity to elevate Joseph to the Pharaoh’s righthand man to save his family.
Paul was arrested for preaching the good news of Jesus and stuck in an earthquake, but God used the opportunity to have Paul save the jailer and his family.
The truth is that this has always been true: God loves us that much. But if we’re to believe it, we need to stop saying things to people that aren’t true. We need to be more loving and more aware.
We need to stop being angry at God when things don’t work out the way we want them to. Because God isn’t done yet.
We need to stop ignoring that “sin” is actually a thing – hey, Jesus said it was! – taking responsibility for our pour decision making and irresponsible mindsets.
We need to stop expecting some miracle to happen when sometimes God has put the means in front of us to overcome the obstacle. We should pray for miracles, but we need to look for the way God wants us to act. We need to recognize the gifts and graces God has given us to do the work of the kingdom of God.
Later on in Romans, in 8:37-39, Paul writes, “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.”
I don’t know what you’re going through. I don’t know what you will go through. [Remember, I’m not God!] But I know that when you’re going through it, God will be there. When you’re in the midst of it, and it feels like the lights have all gone out and you are in the midst of your own private hell, that you are not alone.
I read that conflict or trouble is like salt. Most of us – we’re in the South! – use salt in our meals. Salt is the combination of sodium and chloride, which by themselves are deadly. But put them together and it’s why Grandma’s green beans are better than anyone else’s, and why movie popcorn is my deadly addiction. We can’t make it without some salt in our bodies.
I know God didn’t make me not wear shin guards on the day we were scrimmaging on the soccer field in seminary. I know he didn’t make a ball land in the box, make me slide for it, or make a defender kick through and snap my tibia. But God did use that opportunity to bring me closer to other people in seminary, and he did use it to make me more aware of how grateful I should be.
I know that God didn’t make the people who are unable to have children that way, but I know he’s used their love to expand ministries, adopt children, and welcome in forgotten children.
I know God didn’t cause the kind of racial unrest we’ve seen across our nation, or the violence that has happened in school settings and elsewhere, but I know he’s used it to bring people to his church, toward each other, and together in places where divisions stood before.
I know God doesn’t cause evil, but I know he refuses to let evil win.
Consider Romans 8:37-39 again. “We are more than conquerors.” If there’s nothing to conquer, how could we be conquerors? If there wasn’t something to overcome, how could we know how much we could do or grow? It’s the thought behind this old saying: “without a test, there can be no testimony.”
God can take things that are bad and put them in the crucible of His wisdom and love. He works all things together for good, and He gives us the glorious, wonderful promise that He will do so.
Paul put it in terms we could understand thanks to the witness, example, and teaching of Jesus, but sometimes, I go back to the words spoken to Joshua. Sometimes, it’s just easier for me to relate to “some dude” than it is to what Jesus said. Sometimes, it need it to be gritty, and dirty, and a bit like a guy who hasn’t shaved in a few weeks.
Here’s Joshua, just a young guy with no real experience or training, and suddenly, he’s pushed to the front of the line. Moses has been outed as the leader of the Israelites, and the Israelites are standing on the abyss heading into a hostile land that God has promised. God has literally put the kingdom of God before them and they are so scared they still think a life of slavery would be better.
And Joshua is standing there, all alone, with people staring at him and knives with his name on them being sharpened, and Moses tells him (in Deuteronomy 31):
“Be strong and courageous… The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
I hope you will remember that this week as you go into situations where the knives are sharp and the crowd is hostile, where your body betrays you and you receive criticism you don’t deserve.
Bad stuff happens – and God didn’t cause it.
But God has promised to never leave us or forsake us – and to transform everything intended for evil into something good.
Maybe you are the means of transformation for someone today. Are you ready? Are you praying? Are you clothed in the power of God?
Be strong and courageous, my friends. Go boldly and don’t look back.
I am appreciative of Larry Osborne’s 10 Dumb Things Smart Christians Think for his thought process on this week’s thing Jesus never said!