Theology Corner

Addressing commonly asked questions about Christianity from the perspective of a non-theologian

65. DOES GOD WORK ALL THINGS TOGETHER FOR GOOD?

By the 1646 Westminster Confession, God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeable ordain whatsoever comes to pass.  This includes all the usual events in a world swimming in suffering and sorrow such as the killing of a child by a drunken driver, the agony of a cancer victims’ last days and the massacre of a congregation by those who hate Christians.  But, is it possible that these things only seem to be evil because of our limited understanding.  Perhaps God’s infinitely wider scope of knowledge makes events, which seem evil to us, actually seem somewhat reasonable when viewed from His larger perspective.  For example: God might orchestrate the tragic death of babies because he needs more little angels in heaven; God might cause us to become crippled and maimed to strengthen our spirit, bring us closer to Him, teach us a lesson, give us a new perspective on life and make us stronger witnesses; if God has not answered your prayer for healing, it might be because you or those around you are harboring un-confessed sin; if God has not healed you, it could be because your faith is weak; God may be giving us the disease, suffering and death we deserve; He might be self-glorified as He watches fear, suffering and hopelessness swallow mankind.  Many well-meaning Christians, even those who make no profession of Reformed Theology, nevertheless harbor this dark view of God in the depths of their souls.  In terrible, sorrowful crisis situations, they will say things like: Remember, God is in control; God’s hand is in these events; God causes all things to work together for good.  In response to such comments, a young ministerial student, who had just lost his son, said: How can I worship such a God? 

I personally worship a God who grieves over the total corruption of His creation, a God who hates evil and is at war with it, a God who has redeemed His creation from the bondage of evil, by the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ.  I worship a God who grieves over the sin nature of man, a God who hates sin and is at war with it, a God who has offered redemption from the bondage of sin to all men, by the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ.  But remember, creation has been redeemed from the bondage of evil but not yet set free from the influence of evil itself.  Similarly, all men have been offered redemption from the bondage of sin but not yet set free from the influence of sin itself.  Satan was not a willing participant in these transactions and will never acknowledge the legitimacy of the substitutionary atonement.  He is battling God to retain possession of what, he believes, belongs to him - that would be all of creation and the souls of every man and woman who ever lived.  Ultimate victory has been declared by God but not yet completed by God (already but not yet).  If it looks like you are living your life in a war zone, that’s because you are!  We each say, “I know victory is mine but I am still at war as a foot soldier in the army of Jesus Christ.”

One verse that bears on this issue is Rom 8:28:

 

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.

 

Does this mean God takes the decay, violence disease, suffering and death that surrounds us and somehow tries to make something good out of it?  Does God say, “This may seem like a bitter pill but it’s for your own good.”  Does this mean God is pleased and glorified not grieved and disappointed by the unending violence of predator and prey, the aging and decay of all things living, the pervasive influence of disease in our lives and the eyes of innocence that dimly close in the depths of Mother Nature’s cruel torture.  Does God say to himself, “These things are all working together for good” as He surveys His creation?  No, He does not.  Does this mean God is always looking for some way to salvage something positive from the tsunami of evil continuously washing over the earth?  No, it does not.  Then what is the meaning of Rom 8:28?

We are living between the first installment of redemption – set free from the bondage of evil - and the final culmination of redemption – set free from the influence of evil.  In the midst of this tumultuous time, the Holy Spirit is working (Rom 8:26-27) to strengthen us as we live our lives on the front lines of war.  Rom 8:28 must be interpreted within the context of this struggle.  In the midst of suffering, hoping, waiting, hardship, persecution and peril, God is working for the good of those who love Him.  The good He seeks is for us to be conformed to the likeness of His Son (Rom 8:29).  God causes all things to work together for that purpose.