Yesterday, a friend’s Facebook post quoted Rom 8:28 that “all things work for good”. And since the verse contained the words “all things” and “good”, it meant that nothing bad would come from God. Extending from this interpretation, the idea that God would “allow” bad things in our lives shouldn’t even be considered at all! Normally, I’d read and let such posts go. But for some strange reason – perhaps due to two cups of coffee in the morning – I felt an (holy?) irritation that propelled my fingers to respond, “Dear brother, however nice and encouraging this may sound, it is best to read this verse in its entire context.”
Why are we so afraid of God allowing bad things? It’s been in my heart to address this for some time. Admittedly, my procrastination is due in part to my own wrestling, just in case I might have missed something in this aspect of the nature of God. After all, why would a good God allow bad things to happen? This question is not a new one and has been around for the longest time. And because the finite-ness of man (coupled with his selfishness) cannot answer this satisfactorily, I believe the solution is simply to pass the buck and blame someone else – so what else is new? I even know of some who simply refuse to sing the bridge of Matt Redman’s song, Blessed Be Your Name, inspired by Job 1:21, “You give and take away!” That God would take anything away from them, or allow anything bad to happen to them, is utterly unthinkable. But honestly, why are we so afraid of God allowing “bad things”? Does this rock our theology so bad? Does this diminish or reduce this God we worship and serve?
What does God say? Instead of trying to defend God, let’s hear what He says about Himself through the Holy Scriptures. For those who have only a one-sided view of God, Isa 45:7 will pose a serious problem: “I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the Lord, do all these things.” Wait a minute!? I’m cool with light and peace. But God creates darkness and calamity?! Before you play the ‘Old Testament God’ card, may I urge you to consider His immutability. God never changes, so stop changing Him with our fickle and selfish minds! Now, if God says He did and does all these things, who are we to say that He didn’t? Okay, okay. I will grant some slack for we know it was the Assyrians and the Babylonians through whom the Lord brought disaster upon His people. As such, technically, God did not do it. Ah, but did He allow it? Do you understand what you are actually saying if you hold to a God-does-not-allow-bad-things position? If God did not allow it, then it simply means He was powerless to prevent the Assyrian and Babylonian invasions, amongst other catastrophes we are experiencing around the world! What does that do to all your faith claims and declaration of His power and protection? We’d have to change one of His titles from God Almighty to God Not-So Mighty. And if you can’t trust Him on that, how would you believe Him for eternal salvation?
Discipline as a Blessing As a father, I love my children and I want to bless them. And yet, embedded within that blessing is my discipline for them. Don’t get me wrong please. If it is possible, I never want to hurt them nor see them hurt. But I know that at times, I have to stand back, to allow them to make a decision, and to reap the consequences that come with that decision. Admittedly, it is painful for me and for them, but that is how they will learn – through their mistakes and through the challenges they face in a fallen world. If I didn’t allow it, I would be robbing them of the opportunity to learn, to grow and to mature. There is an old English word that describes this — spoil! Yes, I would be spoiling them and that’s the last thing I’d want to do to my children. Similarly, God doesn’t want to spoil us. As such, He will allow tribulations and trials; and for some, deep suffering. I’m sorry if this does not sit easy with you. All I can urge you to do is to read the Scriptures again; not selfishly nor lopsidedly, but rightly and contextually.
God of the good times only? Understandably, no one enjoys the pain of difficult times. Thankfully, we have a God who promises to never leave us! In tough times, I am thankful I don’t have a God who denies His involvement in anything bad, all too quick to wash His hands off anything undesirable for fear that we would stop trusting in Him. What a wimpy God that would be. And yet, unfortunately, that’s the kind of God many are attracted to these days. These love to declare Isaiah 54:17 “No weapon formed against you shall prosper, and every tongue which rises against you in judgment you shall condemn.” but entirely miss the preceding verse where God Himself takes full responsibility (credit?) for the fire and destruction. “Behold, I have created the blacksmith who blows the coals in the fire, who brings forth an instrument for his work; and I have created the spoiler to destroy.” If God has no problem admitting that He is in control and sovereign in all situations – and He is – why are we so apologetic about it?!
What then shall we say? “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” Rom 8:31 Contextually, we now understand that “these things” refer to the sufferings we face in this life when we take a stand for Jesus. With the victory that God has already secured for us in Christ, there is absolutely no problem with Him allowing trying situations to buffet us. For if we understand who we truly are in Christ, we shall overcome as more than conquerors through Him (Rom 8:37).
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28
Working for Good With this, I shall conclude with the verse this post started with. Without doubt, the “all things” mentioned in Rom 8:28 include both good and bad things which collectively work for good in the believer’s life. And what might that good be? Rom 8:29,30 provides the answer — that we might be conformed to the image of His Son, Jesus. That is God’s purpose for every believer.
If God does not allow the bad times in our lives but only the good stuff, how then would our faith be tested and refined as pure gold? (1 Peter 1:6,7) How then would we, like Jesus, learn obedience and grow towards perfection? (Heb 5:8) How then would we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified with Him? (Rom 8:17) Regardless the agents through which or through whom we experience difficulty, it seems clear to me that these all fall within God’s purpose for me to become more and more like Jesus. Now, why would God not allow that?
After commenting on my friend’s Facebook post, I wondered why there was no response from him, nor from anyone else. Out of curiosity, I checked his wall this morning only to discover that the post had been removed.