Let’s look at a well known statement by the apostle Paul that gives us a providential perspective on our lives.
Rom 8:28. We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. NAS
No matter what is happening in your life – good, bad, or ugly – God’s purpose is working in you. When you have a problem that you don’t understand the purpose it’s very difficult to handle. You know the most difficult kinds of questions of life are, “Why is this happening to me?” On the other hand, when you see a purpose behind your problem it gives you enormous hope. It also gives you enormous power to endure it. God says, I am working in your life and I have a purpose no matter what’s happening. God is doing good things in my life even when the situation is bad, even when I don’t feel it, even when it doesn’t make sense, even when I have no understanding.
Notice that it doesn’t say, “All things work out the way I want them to.” We would like that and we’d like to interpret it that way but that’s not what it says. It also doesn't say, “All things have a happy ending on earth.” Not all things have a happy ending here on earth. Reality teaches us that not every patient gets well, not every couple that gets married lives happily ever after, not every business makes heaps of money, and not every problem is resolved.
What does it say?
First it says, “We know that God causes all things to work together for good.” Those two words “We know” are very powerful. We don't wish, imagine, earnestly desire, or engage in an exercise of positive thinking. There is some we know ... It's a certainty. We are confident of whatever comes after this.
“… God causes …” There is a grand master designer of the universe. There is a plan that is in action and history is His story. There is no such thing as fate. There is no such thing as chance. There is no such thing as luck – good luck or bad luck. There is a master designer. We may make mistakes for sure ... but God never makes mistakes.
“We know God causes all things to work together for good.” What does that include? Does it include freak accidents? Yes. Does that include illness? Yes. Does it include a miscarriage? Does it include failure? Does it include the stupid decisions that I make and the mistakes I bring upon myself? Yes! Everything fits into God’s plan. The good, the bad, the indifferent. The things that I do, the things I don’t do. The things that I control, the things I don’t control. All things work together for good.
Notice that it doesn’t say, “All things are good” and it doesn't say God causes all things. God does not. God does not cause rape. God does not cause war. God does not cause famine and poverty. God does not cause leukaemia and cancer. To attribute those things to God is to turn God into a monster. God is not a monster. God is incapable of sin. It doesn’t say God causes all things. We bring a lot on ourselves.
But it does say that “God causes all things to work together for good.”
I've started doing some cooking over these last few years and when you cook a meal there are lots of different ingredients that you need to use - cooking oil, garlic, meat and/or vegetables, fish oil, as well as various spices. Any one of those things by itself doesn’t really taste too good. Have you ever tasted flour or fish oil? Maybe sugar some of you might say is ok but none of those things on their own tastes good.
There are a lot of things in your life that are difficult to swallow. They’re bitter going down and you choke on them. “Why is that happening?” Not all things in your life are good but they all work together for good. When those elements are put together – just like the elements in a recipe are put together - it produces a meal and the meal is delicious. God wants to cook a beautiful meal in your life and he wants to take the elements in your life, even the things that are distasteful, bitter, and he wants to work them together.
To use another picture, God is weaving a tapestry of your life. When he weaves that tapestry he uses some dark threads and some light threads. He uses some heavy yarn and some lighter yarn. When he looks down on the tapestry he can see the pattern that is emerging and the picture that he wants to make of your life. As God looks down from heaven, he has a different view than the one we see looking up. Have you ever looked at the underside of a tapestry? It’s a jumble of yarn that makes no sense at all. Looking up from the underside of that rug it makes no sense. You ask, “Why did that happen?” I don’t know. But one day you will know and you will see how God was weaving the dark and the light, the good and the bad, the happy and the sad, every experience of life into a pattern.
Can God bring good out of the bad? Did he bring any good out of the crucifixion? Yes! The crucifixion was not good. It was very painful. But God brought good out of it. God is not only watching over you; he’s working in you. His promised presence and his purpose is a source of enormous hope for our lives.
Joseph said to his brothers (who had sold him into slavery into Egypt) when they were reunited together, “You meant this for evil but God meant is for good.”
In Jeremiah 29:11 God says, “I have good plans for you, not plans to hurt you. I will give you hope and a good future.” Those amazingly positive words were spoken in one of the darkest moments of Israel's history. You may think that what God is doing in your life right now is painful and is to no purpose but God says, “My plan is good. You just don’t see it. You need to trust Me. You need to have hope because it’s a plan to give you a hope and a future.”
[Some of the thoughts on Romans 8:28 were gleaned from a sermon by Rick Warren]