NORMAN — How’s your suffering meter? Senseless violence, the threat of war, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, the ever-present bully, failure, rejection, more bills than money, illness, an adulterous spouse, a rebellious child, a broken friendship.
Suffering is a part of life. So, how do we suffer and still find meaning, love and joy? How do we suffer and not lose hope, especially when the suffering seems to never end and each news report brings more bad news? Suffering challenges our faith. So, where can we turn for help?
Romans 8:28 is a place where many Christians have found comfort and understanding during times of suffering: “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
First, this verse does not proclaim that “God causes all things.” Rather, the passage declares that God takes “all things” and causes them to work together for good. Yes, there are some who want to promote the sovereignty of God to mean that God causes “all things” (good and evil). But, others understand God’s sovereignty as God allowing good and evil to transpire in light of our “free will.”
The good news, however, is that in the midst of evil and suffering, God unceasingly works to redeem, renew and reconcile. Wherever there is pain and suffering, God is present, not helpless and indifferent, but purposefully working for good. Even in unspeakable suffering, God invites us to a faith and a hope that is greater and to believe that our suffering does not have the final say.
Second, this promise is given to those who “love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Jesus taught that those who love God are those who obey His commandments.
Reducing the law and the prophets to two commandments, Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all of your heart, soul and mind and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. Thus, God’s purpose is that we love Him with all that we are and that we love others in the selfless, compassionate way that Jesus did. In other words, those who love God practice these two commandments and discover that in “all things” God is working for their good.
Finally, what is the “good” that God is working toward in the lives of those who love Him? The “good” is described in the next verse (Romans 8:29), when we learn that those who are called are continually being “conformed to the image of His Son.”
Now, the passage comes clear. God works in the lives of those who love Him to mold and shape them into the image of His Son, especially during times of suffering.
So, how’s your suffering meter? Can you fathom anything good coming from your suffering? God can. It just takes a little faith. Love God and discover His good purposes working out in your life.