A favorite verse for many to quote as people (primarily others 🙄) go through difficult times is this: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”1 But folks conveniently leave out many words in this verse and end up quoting “all things work together for good,” which people may interpret to mean that everything will work out good—which is not even proper grammar, much less proper theology! 🤪
To understand the verse properly, we can conclude that “those who are called according to his purpose” are “those who love God.” Therefore, this promise of things working out “for good” is only for believers! And we can also conclude that God’s “purpose” is always “for good”; therefore, the real question is What is his good purpose? Because it seems to me if we understood his purpose, we might be more accepting with the things that cause us to quote this verse in the first place—the fact that things do not seem to be working out for good at all! 🤨 Therefore, the correct question for us believers is not why are things not working out like we thought they would, but rather what is God’s good purpose in these things that are not working out like we thought they would!
And that is precisely the question that the disciples asked Jesus regarding the blind man. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”2 It was presumed that the blindness was punishment. Many people still quickly jump to that conclusion when bad things happen, leaving them afflicted. They ask, “What did I do to deserve this?” Jesus clearly explains that the blind man’s affliction was not punishment at all, which probably soothed the blind man’s soul. But then Jesus answers the real question that loomed in the hearts of everyone: What was the purpose, then, of the man being born blind?
And here is Jesus’ answer: “that the works of God might be displayed in him.”3 Hmm. 🤔 So, the man was blind . . . from birth . . . so that Jesus would heal him one day and God’s power would be revealed? Hmm. 🤔 I wonder how the blind man felt about that! And if this is true for the blind man, is it also true of our afflictions as well? Are we afflicted in order “that the works of God might be displayed”? And if so, how do we feel about that? 🤨
Paul was afflicted and wrote this: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed . . . so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.”4 Hmm. 🤔 It seems that Paul has a similar conclusion as Jesus about afflictions. Do we then conclude that at least one of the purposes of our afflictions is that “the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh”? I think so. Paul concluded that his suffering was “all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.”5
One purpose for our suffering, then, is for the greater good—that it would somehow glorify God. And if there is a greater good, then perhaps we can be at peace with our afflictions. And even be strengthened by them, which is why Paul inserts “so we do not lose heart.”6 But it is an act of faith—believing that there is a greater good—a good purpose—for our afflictions—and some will mock us for believing such a foolish thing, but a more sobering thought is that chances are we will never truly see the good purpose! Paul knew this as well, for he concluded “for this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”7
Ours is a life of faith, is it not? We are called to “walk by faith, not by sight”8—to believe that the “momentary affliction is preparing us” for some good purpose. The choice is this: we can respond to afflictions believing in God’s good purpose and be “always of good courage.”9 Or we can believe our afflictions have no purpose and be “crushed,” and “driven to despair,” and feel “forsaken,” and the weight of our afflictions could cause us to be “destroyed.”
And as I look at Paul’s list more carefully, I realize that I have not been—as he was—“afflicted in every way.” Nor have I been “persecuted.” Nor “struck down.” But I have been “perplexed,” as most of us have. So, the decision we face is to not be “driven to despair” in the midst of our confusion, frustration, and bewilderment regarding our affliction. Being “always of good courage” then, is the challenge, isn’t? Perhaps the only way to truly be “of good courage” is to accept the fact that “we know in part.”10 And know that God can be trusted and confidently say to him, “Those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you.”11
When we are finally healed of our afflictions—and we will be—and we see for ourselves that truly “all things work[ed] together for good,” and see how the works of God were indeed displayed because we were afflicted, I believe that those of us “who love God” and are “called according to his purpose” will be glad that we chose to “not lose heart”6 and find strength in the fact that God’s purpose truly was good . . . and was worth it all.
1Romans 8:28 2John 9:2 3John 9:3 42 Corinthians 4:8-11 52 Corinthians 4:15 62 Corinthians 4:16 72 Corinthians 4:18 82 Corinthians 5:7 9 2 Corinthians 5:6 101 Corinthians 13:9 11Psalm 9:10