One of the most arresting statements in Scripture is this one: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28, ESV). Different translations of this passage suggest different nuances: for those who love God, “all things work together for good” (ESV, KJV); “in all things God works for the good” (NIV); “God causes all things to work together for good” (NASB). In each case there’s an omni-inclusiveness in “all things.”
The context of this passage shows that in the midst of a world that groans under suffering and evil, God’s main concern is conforming His children to the image of Christ. And He works through the challenging circumstances of our lives to help develop that Christlikeness in us. We can be assured that whatever difficulty He has allowed in our lives has been Father-filtered, through His fingers of wisdom and love.
Todd DuBord pastors Mt. Lassen Community Church in Chester, California. Todd and his wife Tracy become dear friends of Nanci’s and mine over the years, and in 2019, we did an interview for his church together about suffering. Todd recently did a sermon on how to think about suffering, and shared a clip of me talking about Romans 8:28 and why God allows us to experience suffering:
Perhaps the greatest test of whether we believe Romans 8:28 is to identify the very worst things that have happened to us, and then ask if we believe that, in the end, God will somehow, truly use them for our good. Do I actually believe that’s true of everything, including His decision to not heal Nanci and to not prevent her from dying from cancer? Yes, I actually do. So did Nanci and so does Nanci now, more than ever. My pain in missing her is great, but while our relationship has been interrupted, it absolutely has not ended.
A few mornings ago I read the wonderful interaction between Jesus and Martha, whose brother Lazarus had died. It spoke to my head and heart, and I hope it does to yours:
21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”
24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”
25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Martha believed it, not understanding all it entailed. I too believe it today, three weeks since Nanci’s life ended in this present world under the Curse and began in a world that cannot be touched by sin and death. I believe it more than I ever have because for four years I had a front row seat in beholding how a faithful and loving God tenderly used my wife’s sufferings, which were sometimes intensely painful for both of us, to deepen her trust in Jesus and to increase her love for Him, and my love for Him and her. I feel like I have just seen a four-year miracle unfold. The pain is still raw, but the joy comes in waves to overwhelm it.
I can relate to the perspectives of Malcolm Muggeridge, who reflecting on his long life, wrote,
Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful with particular satisfaction. Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my seventy-five years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence, has been through affliction and not through happiness, whether pursued or attained.