The "All Things" of Romans 8:28
“THE ‘ALL THINGS’ OF ROMANS 8:28”
Written by Dan Starr
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” This passage is popular. I see versions of this everywhere, and it tends to be a “go to” for people when they want to say something encouraging in a difficult (or devastating) situation, but we can’t find the words. I’ve said it to myself before when I didn’t understand why or how something awful had taken place. It’s something I know, and certainly believe, but if you are anything like me, you may have wondered how it can be accurate in the immediate aftermath of something horrible. “How can this be true when what just happened is, in every way, the opposite of good.” This apparent contradiction illustrates the importance of handling the word of God carefully, responsibly. Telling someone that everything is going to be ok because the bible says so when irreparable damage has been done to them or someone they love can be discouraging at best, debilitating to their faith at worst. Rom 8:28 does not say that everything is going to be ok, or that we should see everything that happens to us as good somehow, regardless of how it feels. What this passage does say is that “all things” work together for good. It is critical to keep this “all things” in context. Paul has three specific things in view, all of which are, on their own, suffering. He is saying that these things which He has been discussing, though suffering (groaning) work together to accomplish an ultimate victory for the faithful.
Let’s identify the 3 things Paul is referencing here.
Creation “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. 19 For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now.” --Rom 8:18-22 Creation suffers in its corruption but looks forward to being delivered and looks forward in hope of the liberty of the Children of God.
The Faithful “Not only that, but we also who have the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. 24 For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance. “--Rom 8:23-25. We suffer, but we suffer in faith, and live in the comfort of our hope for the redemption of our bodies. This hope and comfort is at work in us for good.
The Spirit “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.” --Rom 8:26-27
The Spirit “suffers” with us, seeing and helping us in our weakness, interceding on our behalf with “groanings” which we cannot produce. The Father understands and responds to our needs. So the “All things” should be read here as “all THESE things”- Creation, corrupted, suffering, but still helping the faithful toward God’s ultimate purpose- our redemption. And the Faithful, who suffer, but hope, and find comfort in our hope. And The Spirit, who groans on our behalf, representing our struggles and our needs to our Father, who responds with what is needed for our redemption.
This is how all things work together. All things that happen to us are clearly not good, nor should we pretend to enjoy or “be ok” with all things- but knowing that these things are at work, we pick ourselves up, and continue on in the work God has tasked us with. Our own salvation, and that of those around us.