Romans 8:28 is a verse we know exceptionally well. We quote it, share it, and read it in special services. It’s seen a great deal of use during this time of the pandemic. Here’s what it says, “We know that God works all things together for good for those who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose.” People take and give hope with those words from Paul. However, as we look at this single verse and how it might apply to our lives (and the lives of others), I’d like to break it down to see if it’s the best scripture for a moment like this, a time of death, dying, and ventilators.
To apply this to our lives and mine the full extent of hope Paul is trying to present, we’ve got to do one thing: we have to assume no longer that everyone knows what we mean. Words like “good,” “all things,” and “God” are not the sole property of major league Christianity. When we talk about this verse, we need to realize there are other ways to understand what Paul might mean. People beyond the church have their ideas about God, God’s goodness, and morality.In some places, Paul’s Greek is a little open-ended. So it’s good for us to listen to other ways this thing might go.
Let’s go back to that first clause, everything from “we to God.” What does that half say? What is Paul trying to tell us? “We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God.”
At first, whether you are a believer, it sounds like God works things out (whatever those things are) just for those who love God. So it only works out if you love God? I see things working out for immoral people who don’t love God, and I witness honorable non Christians of various identities suffering horrible fates. Does God only help those who love God? Neither sounds right.
Paul, is this a pep talk or sound theology? I think it’s both. We have to read this as Paul wrote it; to be understood by the entire world. In a time before the church and denominations as we would come to know them in the post-reformation era, Paul’s first audience was Jewish converts, gentiles, and other Romans. Each brought their ideas about God, goodness, and what it meant to live in 1st-century chaos.
Paul wasn’t talking to one narrow group of believers with a limited view of God. No! He was speaking to everyone. God’s idea of resolution may not be our first plan, but God’s purpose of love is a two-way street. Why do I say this? I read Romans 8:37. I come away convinced that God is on humanity’s side, with a fierce, unbreakable, bond of love that plays no favorites.
If we read Romans 8:28 any other way, God manages a litmus test to determine who is worthy of love, love is a vague get out jail free card, and our sufferings never reach the eschatological table where we await our seat.