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Enjoying God Blog

In the first of this series of articles on Romans 8:28 we looked at Paul’s confident declaration, “we know.” Today we move to examine the second of seven “pearls” of truth that comprise this text.

I have said on numerous occasions that almost as important as what Paul or any other biblical author says is what they don’t say. Nowhere is that more evident than here in Romans 8:28.

Observe closely that Paul does not say, “And we know how” God works all things together for our good. There is a massive world of difference between knowing “that” God does something and knowing “how” he does it. When Paul uses the word “that” instead of “how” he is telling us that although our knowledge in this matter is certain, it is not exhaustive. We may speak with absolute confidence concerning God’s providential power to bring good out of bad. But we will rarely be in a position to explain how he did it. If I knew “how” God could pull this off, I’d be incredibly rich and famous. No more Dr. Phil or Oprah. Just Dr. Sam! But, alas, I don’t know how he does it. I do know that he does it.

This, then, is a declaration of faith, not a description of understanding. It is an expression of confidence in God, not an explanation of the mechanics of God’s providential oversight of our lives. If you and I knew how God works all things together for our good, there would be no need for faith.

This poses a very real problem, for the simple fact that few people are willing to settle for that kind of knowledge. It isn’t enough to tell them “that” God will use their distressing circumstances for their spiritual profit and growth. They want to know “how” he intends to do so. They want to see for themselves precisely how and in what ways adversity and suffering and conflict and confusion work together for good. When tragedy strikes, we want to know right then and there why it happened and what possible good can come from it. And if it isn’t immediately evident, we give up on God, we abandon him, we become hardened and angry and bitter.

Of course, there are certain occasions when we can figure out what God is up to. But it is usually only long after the fact, with the benefit of hindsight. Rarely do we perceive the divine purpose before it happens or while it is happening or even in the immediate aftermath of it happening. I would also suggest that knowing “how” God pulls this off is way overblown. We tend to think, “If only I knew with absolute certainty why this happened and in what way God is going to use it for my good, I would be satisfied. I would be at rest. I wouldn’t be angry with God.”

No, I don’t think you would. Knowing “how” is horribly overrated. One illustration proves my point, but I could give you countless others. Many years ago, when I was living and pastoring in Ardmore, a twelve-year-old boy suddenly, and without warning, dropped dead on the golf course. It was a tragedy beyond imagination. The family of this young boy did not attend my church, but a few months after his death his parents called and asked if they could come and talk to me.

We processed the event, and I prayed at length for them. We even wept a bit, as you might expect. I could tell that they had come to me hoping that I might be able to comfort them by explaining why this happened and how God would use it for their spiritual good. Of course, I couldn’t. Before they left, I asked the mother and father a simple question: “If you could know the why and the how of this tragedy, would it really make a difference in your lives? If you could understand precisely how God planned on using this for good, would it make the pain in your hearts go away? Would you feel any less of a loss? Would your sorrow diminish?” They looked down for a moment, and then at each other, and said: “No.”

We need to be careful lest we suspend our faith in God on our ability to understand his ways in this world. Our faith in him and our confidence in his goodness and our responsibility to serve and love him do not depend on our ability to figure out the mysteries of his providence. God is always worthy of our trust and devotion regardless of what may befall us, regardless of how much or little we may understand about it.

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