Friday, April 18, 2008

Misfortune, Wickedness, and Hope

Top 12 Scripture Texts: Number 4A
Romans 8:28
Bob Rakestraw

When I was a new Christian I heard often in church services and meetings that “all things work together for good for those who love God.” Because I was in good health, enjoying my college classes, and reveling in my new faith—especially the knowledge of forgiveness from sin and acceptance by God—I received the teaching of Romans 8:28 gladly and easily. Surely the verse made solid spiritual sense coming from my understanding of an all-powerful, all-loving God.

Over the years my belief in the truth of this verse has been thoroughly tested. Job and career issues, the pursuit of education, financial matters, parenting, health problems, temperament/personality concerns, and spiritual struggles have been part of the “all things” covered by Romans 8:28. This has been one of my all-time favorite Bible verses, but I have surely questioned its meaning in my life when circumstances have been hard.

What, exactly, is the text teaching? How does the immediate context—the verses before and after our scripture—help us to interpret the passage? What about cancer, tornadoes, and sexual assaults? Do these—even the last mentioned—actually “work together for good” in our lives? What about the remainder of the verse: “for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose”?

In this posting, and in the next two as well, I intend to consider this very well-known scripture passage. I trust, by God’s grace and wisdom, to be able to unpack—at least a little—the amazing truth within this verse. It is my firm belief that God gave us his written Word for the purpose of helping us with daily living. Even though some biblical passages—such as this one—are full of mystery, God gave us the scriptures to enlighten us, not to confuse us. This we know (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

And this is where we will start—with what we know. The first four words of Romans 8:28 in English are “And we know that.” By saying “and” the apostle Paul wants to connect verse 28 with the previous two verses, where he teaches the glorious truth that the Spirit of God prays for us “with sighs too deep for words” and “according to the will of God.” Whatever else we discover about our text of the month, we know that God’s working everything for our good is in conjunction with the Spirit’s powerful prayers for us. In fact, the Spirit’s prayers are part of the “working together for good.”

Perhaps the most startling (and even, to some, objectionable) words in the text are “all things.” It is one thing to say that God can make a car theft or a broken leg work together for our good, but it is a wholly different matter to say this of a lifetime prison sentence for an innocent person, a childhood of terrible abuse, or being defrauded of one’s life savings in one’s retirement years.

Sometimes a person is able to see the good effects of a misfortune. For example, you may come out of the car theft with an even better car, or your broken leg might put you in the hospital where your nurse or therapist turns out to be the person you will marry. Other experiences, however, appear to be so awful and evil that no good can come out of them, and it seems artificial (at best) to try to explain them as something good.

In the midst of misfortune and wickedness, is there reason for hope? The “all things” cannot be brushed aside. In addition to Romans 8:28 we read, “give thanks in all circumstances (I Thessalonians 5:18), and “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything” (Ephesians 5:20). If we believe the good parts of the Bible, such as John 3:16 and Psalm 23, we must believe these more difficult scriptures as well. May God help us to understand them and give us hope.

This article is one of a series presenting my all-time favorite Bible passages. My criterion for selecting these texts—one for each month of 2008—is the practical benefit/nourishment/help I have received from God through these scriptures over the four and one-half decades of my Christian life. I am who I am today because of some key people and because of the truths in these twelve scripture texts. There are many other Bible verses that could fit well in this series. The Word of God is a well-stocked gold mine of truth.
If you wish, start your own list, and share some of your stories on this blog—to help us all live well, help us all to serve others, and help us all to prepare well for the remainder of this life and for the next.

Note: I may use more than one posting to consider some Bible texts, but I will try to keep the related postings within the same month.


Anonymous said...

Hi, Bob,
I have been planning to send you a message for some time--my fatigue gets in the way!
Although I have not suffered anything close to what you have endured over the last few years, I have in some way identified with you, especially in the area of a reason for being. Because of the diagnosis, my doctor fully expected my demise in 2006. Now that I am still here and more or less "stable" in 2008 is somewhat bewildering to him, and I believe it is a kind of healing. Maybe it isn't the kind of healing people mean when they use the word, but I still believe it is appropriate. We usually think of healing as being restored to former levels of activity and productivity, and I am a long way from that. This makes me sad in a way, and yet the emphasis on being God's person may be a way of doing God's work which I have not considered before. Barb Klem and I have discussed this at length and have concluded that there is a reason for us (you, Barb, me, and others) to be here in our "stable" mode. We may not in this life know what that reason is. I am coming to a greater appreciation of the mystery of the gospel. I think I have come to an acceptance of what has happened and a growing trust that God will use all of us for purposes known only to him. And when I say "I think" I mean that this is something which must be dealt with every day. Thank you for the insights you share with us month by month. They are truly a benediction!

Robert V. Rakestraw said...

Hi Bev,
Earlier today I wrote you, but it hasn't seemed to go through. I will try this short one to see what's working or not.

Robert V. Rakestraw said...

This is a test

Anonymous said...

Bob, I would love to hear from you if the techies don't get in the way!