“In all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). Faith is like a forward memory, allowing us to believe as if what is promised has already happened. One day we will see how Romans 8:28 was true all along, even in those moments we most doubted it. Joseph, after suffering through years of persecution, enslavement and wrongful incarceration, saw it. In Genesis 50:20, the Romans 8:28 of the Old Testament, Joseph said, “You intended it for evil but God intended it for good.” (Notice Joseph didn’t merely say, “God made the best of bad circumstances.”)
In this two-minute video, I share an analogy that can perhaps help us better understand this verse:
Here’s a question: how long will it take living with God on the New Earth before you say, “At last, all that suffering has been worth it”? Five seconds? Five minutes? Five years? Maybe you’re a pessimist and you think, “It would take 500 years before it would be worth it!” Even after 500 years, you’ll have an eternity of unending, God-centered happiness in front of you, paid for by the shed blood of Jesus. Can you anticipate anything better?
Have you ever thought, I would never do to my child what God has done to me! He must not care”? Picture Jesus stretching His nail-scarred hands toward you, and asking, “Do these look like the hands of a God who does not care?” God’s Son, by taking upon Himself our sins, suffered far more than any other person in history.
If God decided all the suffering of history is worth the price paid, who are we to say otherwise? He knows everything and took upon Himself the lion’s share of human suffering. Hasn’t He earned the right to be trusted?
Take some time to list the worst things that have ever happened to you, then list the best things. You’ll be astonished by how many of those best things came out of the worst things. Trust God to do the same with things that don’t yet make sense. In the hands of a God of sovereign grace, our sufferings will give birth to future happiness beyond our wildest dreams. Jesus said our sorrows will turn into joy—not just be followed by joy, but transformed into joy! (John 16:20). For God’s children, our pain will ultimately be transfigured into both glory and joy.
Benjamin B. Warfield, world-renowned theologian, taught at Princeton Seminary for thirty-four years until his death in 1921. Students still read his books today. But most of them don’t know that in 1876, at age twenty-five, he married Annie Kinkead. They traveled to Germany for their honeymoon. In an intense thunderstorm, lightning struck Annie and permanently paralyzed her (some biographers are uncertain of this but believe nonetheless she was traumatized by the storm, with permanent physical results). After Warfield cared for her for thirty-nine years, she died in 1915. Because of her extreme needs, Warfield seldom left his home for more than two hours at a time during all those years of marriage.
Imagine how this event, occurring on your honeymoon, might affect your worldview. So what did this theologian with shattered dreams have to say about Romans 8:28?
The fundamental thought is the universal government of God. All that comes to you is under His controlling hand. The secondary thought is the favour of God to those that love Him. If He governs all, then nothing but good can befall those to whom He would do good.… Though we are too weak to help ourselves and too blind to ask for what we need, and can only groan in unformed longings, He is the author in us of these very longings…and He will so govern all things that we shall reap only good from all that befalls us.
Really, Dr. Warfield? Only good from all that befalls us? Even from a personal tragedy that deeply hurts your beloved wife and dramatically restricts her personal liberties and your daily schedule for the rest of her life and for most of yours? Warfield spoke not from the sidelines but from the playing field of suffering, answering an emphatic “Yes!” to the loving sovereignty of God.
You cannot have a Christian worldview unless you believe that God has a plan, the ability to carry it out, and the loving-kindness to do it not only for His glory but our good.
This means that for God’s child there is no pointless suffering. Of course, much of it may appear pointless, since finite fallen creatures are incapable of understanding the point. But God is all-wise and all-loving and never pointless nor off-point! That’s why Job could cry out in agony, “Though he slay me yet I will trust him.”
There is only one answer bigger than the question of evil and suffering: JESUS. If we, as Dr Warfield did, see God as He really is, as He is revealed in Scripture, we can trust in His loving sovereignty even in life’s greatest hardships.For more related to the subject of suffering, see Randy’s book If God Is Good, as well as the devotional 90 Days of God’s Goodness and book The Goodness of God. Also, the booklet If God Is Good, Why Do We Hurt? deals with the question and shares the gospel so that both unbelievers and believers can benefit.
Photo by Emmanuel Phaeton on Unsplash
Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries.