This week my church studied Romans 8:28-30, which contains the popular truth that God works all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. I had the privilege of writing devotions for the week on this passage. I grew up hearing evangelists claim that problems were solved by coming to Jesus, but I personally didn't find that to be true in my own life. In fact, life got a whole lot more complicated when I did. As I wrote the devotions, I came to the conclusion that God is concerned about the trials people endure. Christ groaned, sighed, wept, and got angry when people were struggling with weaknesses, in bondage to sin, suffering, and being misled or taken advantage of. These verses assure us our suffering doesn't prove God is displeased with us, nor prove God has deserted us in our need. We can trust He has a two-fold plan in our suffering--our good and His glory. By our good, I mean the process of growing in His image. Suffering has a way of exposing hidden sin that needs cleansing, of exposing our deepest heart desires to know Him, and of showing us when our faith is weak or misplaced.
I realized God doesn't author stories of perfect people, He authors redemption stories of imperfect people just like you and me. He is glorified when sinful, dead hearts come alive. when ugly pride melts into humility, and when rebellious spirits give birth to obedient ones. He is glorified when shattered hearts are stitched together by His hands and when broken relationships are restored. He is glorified when doubts are dissipated by faith growing strong, when our weaknesses drive us to our knees so His strength can be manifested in us, and when the strong desire to sin is thwarted by a choice to hang onto Him in our ambivalence until victory is secured. He is glorified when unforgivable things are fully forgiven, when His image in us that is so deeply marred by sin begins to shine through our messiness, and when praise is found on our lips during times of suffering.
The Bible is full of stories of people whose suffering was used by God to both mature and reveal God's glory to them. There was Abraham and Sarah, the infertile couple living in a culture worshiping fertility gods. After years of intense longing and years of living with a dream unfulfilled, they were given a baby in their old age--a baby who allowed them to see God is the God of life, The God who would not share His glory with false idols of stone gave them the baby named "Laughter." Laughter--because their laughter of unbelief was turned into laughter of ecstatic joy!
Then, there was Daniel and his three friends. The first faced a den of lions for his faith and got to see the mouths of hungry lions held shut by God's own hand. The other three were cast into a raging inferno after bravely declaring their faith in the face of great persecution. In their suffering, they got to see God who joined them there, preserving their lives in such a way that when they were taken from the furnace they didn't even smell like smoke. What a beautiful picture of Salvation we were given in their story of hard. God not only worked it for their good, but ours as well.
There was a man born blind who encountered Jesus, who made mud from dirt and saliva and anointed his eyes, instructing him to washed in the pool of Siloam. He came back seeing, finally free from a sad life of begging. But, instead of rejoicing with him, the religious leaders did all they could to discredit the story he was living. When he should have been rejoicing, he was being harassed. Yet, the more they questioned him, the more he pondered the One responsible for his miracle. He went from understanding Jesus was a good man, to grasping He was a prophet, to fully embracing the truth that He was the Son of God.
Then there was the woman who met Jesus when she came to a well midday to avoid harsh words, judgmental stares, and clicking tongues that came with the scandalous life she lived. He knew she had been publicly declared an unfit wife five times and that it left her brokenhearted, craving to be loved with a love strong enough to stay. Jesus led her through a spiritual discussion, preparing her heart to receive Him by faith. He gave purpose to her suffering by helping her see that it was Him she truly craved and by using her--a scandalous woman--to bring salvation to the community that despised her. Her passion and her willingness to share Him with those who looked down up on her tells us how completely she trusted Him and that Jesus can use this sinner to bring others to Him.
Then, there is Jesus. His darkest days were filled with persecution, betrayal, desertion, illegal trials, and ambivalence that rocked Him to the core. His suffering included being mocked, beaten, stripped, and suffering the cruelest death one could ever suffer. But it was in His suffering when all looked the most hopeless that Hope was bought. For, as He hung on that cross the Enemy was defeated, the wrath of God was satisfied, and a divine exchange occurred--our sin for His righteousness.
I could tell you many stories of how God worked things to my good. Like the time He had His faithful servant, Reuben, call me to remind me God was greater than the Enemy, not knowing how badly I needed the reminder. Like the time God used a prayer director to defeat a lifelong stronghold of believing I was invisible to Him, and showing me how intimately He was involved in my healing journey. Even the traumas I experienced in childhood have been redeemed by Him, to deal with pain. They have been used in miraculous ways to bring God's truth and love into the lives of hurting women in ways that leave me humbled by His work.
Finally, verse 30 contains past tense verbs that drive home the truth that God works all things for good. "And those who He predestined He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified, He also glorified." I love the past tense verbs! All the messy we see from this side of heaven is seen so differently by God. He is proclaiming to us that He doesn't just see the messes we are now, He sees us as we will be when He glorifies us. The mess we see from here is Him weaving the clothes of glory that we will wear at the Marriage feast of the Lamb.