Is God Really Always Working for our Good?

What do I do when it doesn’t look like God is working for my good?

Romans 8:28 is a famous biblical passage, and for good reason. It contains a promise so bold that it can be hard for us to grasp. It reads like this: “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.”

Imagine that: in every circumstance—“all things”—God is working to produce the good of his people—those he has “called according to his purpose.” This doesn’t seem too hard to believe in some situations, i.e., for the person who gets promoted, the couple who is finally able to get pregnant, or the family that escapes life-threatening persecution.

But what about Christians who get fired, who remain childless, who don’t escape the persecution, or who are going through a thousand other difficult circumstances? Is God really working for our good then?

Here are three things to keep in mind when we can’t easily see or feel the good that God is promising:

1. God’s definition of the good may be different than our own. 

God, in his character and in the actions that flow from that character, is the very definition of good. In fact, you and I wouldn’t even have a concept of good without him. And remember, God is the person who not only created us, so he knows the purpose he’s created us for. He knows what will satisfy us and make us flourish, and, in exact detail, how best to get us there. All this means that if our definition of good differs from his at some point the error is always ours.

2. God’s promise, rightly understood, is to bring about our eventual and ultimate good, not that we will always feel good.

This means that we won’t always feel like our circumstances are contributing to our good at the time we are experiencing them. In fact, what we will often experience on the way to the good God has for us will be difficult and unpleasant—even excruciatingly painful. James 1:2-3 says that God uses trials to produce our steadfast faith. The writer of Hebrews says that God disciplines us specifically “for our good”—despite the fact that “no discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful” (see Heb. 12:7-11). Paul is given a very difficult “thorn” of some kind in order that he might embrace the Lord’s sufficient grace and real strength. Mary and Martha had the great benefit of witnessing Jesus demonstrate with power that he is “the resurrection and the life.” But while we can only imagine the joy that they must have felt at seeing their (once) dead brother Lazarus walking out of his tomb, we also need to remember the agony they surely suffered in seeing him die in the first place.

Who knows what is necessary for us to finally get to the good that God has for us?

3. What we go through will always be worth it in the end.

When all is said and done, none of us will stand before God and say something like “What you put me through wasn’t worth it.” Again, several biblical passages support this point. For example, Paul—whose trials dwarf what most of us will ever face (see 2 Cor. 11:21-29)—can say “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. Paul’s point isn’t that our present struggles aren’t difficult, but rather that they will pale in comparison to what we’ll one day experience. Likewise, Hebrews 11:25-26 tells us that Moses “chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” And speaking of Jesus, perhaps he is the best example of this principle. Given who he is and what he had to endure, no one has ever been as humiliated as he was. Because he had to bear God’s wrath for the entirety of his people’s sins, no one has ever suffered to the extent that he did. And yet, no one has been or ever will be as exalted and glorified as him (see Phil. 2:9-11, etc.). All this is good news, because it’s a picture of what our own path in following him will look like. It may through great difficulty, but it will always end in glory.

Note: this post overlaps with some things I wrote in support of a previous post. See Does God Care About My Good or His Glory? (Yes.) and comments. 

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