If I created a list of the most popular “out-of-context” bible verses, Romans 8:28 would have to be somewhere near the top of that list. Typically, the scenario goes something like this: A tragedy happens (death, bad news, disaster), and a nearby, well-meaning Christian realizes that he has been Providentially placed to fix it. Without hesitation, he reaches into his spiritual tool-belt and pulls out the fix-all, duct tape equivalent of bible verses. With eyes of compassion, he builds the confidence to insert awkwardly, “well, at least we know that all things work together for good…” He really means well, but after having been on the receiving end of this phrase a few times myself, it probably would have been better to just say what he was thinking, something like “just hang in there,” or even not say anything. Yeah, saying nothing would have been better than using this doosie. All things don’t work together for good. People die. People get cancer. AIDS and human trafficking still exist. Not everything is working out good. There is legitimate terribleness in the world. And this terribleness isn’t fixed by trite coffee mug theology.
So then what does this verse deal with? Paul spent all of Romans 8 explaining that God has worked out the crucial matter of Justification (absolving us of our sins by applying them to Jesus) in all those who believe the gospel. Now that we have been declared righteous and have been brought into peace with God, there is nothing that can come between us and God. Even the Holy Spirit aids in our unhindered relationship with God. Paul goes on to express this thought past verse 28, with verses 38-39, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus.” This deals expressly with our salvation, not necessarily that all things are going to turn out good. Perhaps God has chosen that we like Job endure difficult trials. It does not mean that chemotherapy will be without pain. It does not mean that the passing of a loved one will not ache in the darkest parts of our souls. It does not mean that our house won’t get foreclosed on, and our car get repossessed. It simply means this: the eternal things, the weighty things are settled if you are a believer, and no amount of cancer, or death, or loss will ever change that reality.
God is good. By way of His character, and the promises of His word, we can know that we are secure when the winds of life blow contrary. He will take care of His own. And when death itself comes and stares us in the face, we have this confidence, even Death itself cannot separate us from His eternal love.
Food for Thought: Read Romans 8:26-39. How does God work all things together for the good of the believer?