Pain and Purpose in the Valley

And we know that for those loving God all things work together for good, to those called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Romans 8:28 may be the most known and best-loved promise in the Bible. Many believers throughout the history of the church have found comfort in this great promise. We all face hard and painful circumstances, some more that others. This promise can be balm for our wounded hearts. But, as with all promises, it is important to understand the promise in its context, if we are to receive the grace we need. Therefore, two things are important to understand.

First, the promise says that God works all things together for good. It does not say that all things are good. Many bad things, evil things and sinful things happen in this broken and fallen world. They are not good. It is not that God allows bad things to happen and then calls them good. God allows bad things to happen and then works in them to redeem them for the good of his people. The greatest evil in the history of the world was also the greatest good in the history of the world, the cross of Jesus Christ. When we suffer or grieve or struggle over hard things, when we feel deeply the pain of life, we are not negating this promise. God promises he will work in them for good. The sober reality is that we may never totally grasp the full dimensions of that good. But we believe it is there. The point is that God is working even in inexplicably painful situations.

The second thing we need to understand about this promise is the good to which God is working in all the various circumstances of life. What is the ultimate good (his purpose) towards which God is moving our lives and human history? It is important to know that our lives are closely intertwined with every other life, and that God is working in each life and all our lives for his purposes not ours. The world and God’s plan is bigger that our small slice of it. But the question remains, what is the ultimate good towards which God is working? We find the answer to our question in verses 29 and 30 of Romans 8.

Romans 8:29-30 begins with the word “because” and then lists a series of cosmic divine actions through which God brings the ultimate good for his people.

“Because whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son that he might be the first-born among many brothers; and whom he predestined, those he also called; and whom he called, those he also justified; and whom he justified, those he also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30)

The ultimate good to which God is working all circumstances in life is the salvation of his people and their presence with him in eternity. Paul calls the pain and suffering of this life, “this light and momentary afflictions.” They seem anything but light and momentary, but they are. He goes on to say that they are “preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). We must find the faith, with his help, to trust the promise. God is working out our lives for his purposes and glory as well as our good.

This promise does not guarantee our creature comforts, or that everything will work out as we please. It does promise that God is working in everything to bring us to heaven. This really can give us great joy and peace. When we face troubling and painful circumstances, we can claim this promise, trusting that God is at work on our behalf. We can trust him even as we weep and question why. He is there to sustain us. He does it through this and other promises.

What is it that’s troubling you now? What difficult set of circumstances are you struggling with in your life? These circumstances may be partially or mostly of your own making, or they may be completely undeserved and unforeseen. You may have to deal with that too. But whatever the case may be, if you are a true believer in Jesus Christ, God is at work in your life. This promise can be used to stabilize your soul and bring you joy and peace. Meditate on this promise in light of what’s happening now in your life no matter how large or small the problem may be. Talk to God about it. He understands and he cares. He will walk with you through every dark valley.

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