“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
Paul can pack a lot of punch and lot insight into one verse of his letters. He does it often in his letter to the Romans, not least in this verse from chapter 8.
This can be a hard verse to accept when we think of all the suffering in the world and in our personal lives. On this side of Heaven we are not always (and probably not often) able to see God’s particular purpose in our suffering. To understand this verse, we have to understand what is good. And what is fundamentally good is our salvation. It is to join with Mary and the saints in the eternal communion of love that unites the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The things of this world are good – all of God’s creation is good – but the things of this world are passing, and we are not meant to cling to them. We need to trust in God that the ultimate purpose of our earthly suffering is to help us get to Heaven, and the truth is that it often takes suffering for us to overcome our sinful inclinations and turn to the Lord to receive His love and mercy.
God not only permits our suffering, He even permits our sins, knowing that for those who have been called and who have responded to His call with love, even our sins will lead to good. Our sins can keep us from pride. They can keep us from relying too much on ourselves. They can keep us close to the Lord in full awareness that we depend on His infinite mercy. God took the worst thing ever – the crucifixion of Jesus – and transformed into the best thing ever – His resurrection. That means God took the worst possible sin and turned into the greatest blessing.
I don’t mean to encourage a cavalier attitude toward sin, and neither does Paul (see again Romans 6:1). Our sins should prompt heartfelt repentance, and regular confession is indispensable to conversion. But we shouldn’t be so weighed down by our repeated failures that we turn inward or give into despair. The Lord knows and permits our weakness, guiding us gently along on the path to holiness, like a mother teaching her child to walk. Sometimes it’s necessary to permit the child to fall.
Paul follows verse 28 demonstrating His profound hope in Christ:
If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul wrote his letter to the Romans around 57 or 58 AD. He had persecuted Christians before his conversion, and had been in turn persecuted himself many times during his missionary travels. A few years after he wrote this letter, many more Christians, including Paul, would die as martyrs under the emperor Nero. So when Paul quotes Psalm 44, saying “we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered,” it was no mere rhetorical device. It was a lived reality for him and his audience.
Yet even in the face of persecution and martyrdom, nothing can rob Paul of the hope and joy he has in Jesus. He doesn’t know the middle of his story, but he knows how his story ends – in triumph, in Heaven, because of the victory won by Christ. This allows him to write with full confidence that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.” Trust in Him, follow Him, hold yourself close to His Sacred Heart – and He will take care of everything.
Image: Romans 8:28 (downloaded from dailyverses.net).