Unpacking and Rejoicing in the Most Powerful and Precious Promise in the Bible (4)
What precisely are the “things” that Paul is talking about? Does he really mean “all” things? Every “thing”? No exceptions? Yes. What an awesome God we have who could embrace within his providential design all things, both great and small, both good and bad!
You are probably familiar with the illustrations I’m about to use, but they are still relevant and helpful. The many events in our lives, both good and bad, both instructive and destructive, are like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Try as we may, we can’t make all the pieces fit into a coherent whole, a recognizable picture of something or someone. The good news of Romans 8:28 is that God has the box top! He knows where every piece fits, and in time will see that it is put there.
A related illustration is that of the tapestry. Life may at times seem like the underside of the tapestry, with no pattern, purpose, or coherent resolution. It looks like a confusing mass of loosely connected threads. We see only a mass of colors that make no apparent sense. But God sees things from the other side. From the vantage point of eternity, he sees the beauty of that portrait, which is your life, because it is he who weaves every random thread into a meaningful whole. After all, anyone can make good things come out of good things. That’s no great trick. That doesn’t require divine omnipotent power or wisdom. But God does something immeasurably greater. He causes all things, even the really bad things, to “work together” for good.
Have you ever walked into a symphony orchestra only to hear a cacophony of sounds that don’t seem to be remotely related, all playing their instruments simultaneously with no discernible melody? But then the conductor stands to attention, taps his baton on the music stand in front of him, and all become silent. When they begin to play, it all comes together. It all makes sense. Well, that is a bit like our lives. Your experience at present may seem and sound like that mixture of instruments that is painful to hear. But you must understand that God is the consummate maestro who will bring everything into beautiful harmony.
But this raises an important question about our text. Just what are the “all things” over which God exercises control? The context answers this for us. In vv. 17-18 Paul said we are children of God and co-heirs with Christ “provided we suffer with him” (v. 17). The “things” God causes to work together for good are all the experiences that together constitute the “suffering” we endure for Christ’s sake. Whatever form that suffering may take, be it bodily affliction, financial adversity, emotional distress, rejection, slander, or the loss of a job, we are to be encouraged to know that God has it all under wraps.
In the context that follows, Romans 8:35-39, Paul also mentions numerous things that in one way or another threaten, but fail, to sever us from the love of Christ. Among the “things” that God causes to work together for our good are tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, and sword. And if that were not enough, there is death and life and demons and things present and things future, things above and things below.
No created thing, anywhere of any kind, says Paul, can escape God’s overruling providential power.