I bet you say it pretty often – some version of my words. I say it quite a bit. With a friend who’s worried about asking for a favor; with someone who runs into you at the grocery store with their cart; with a coworker who dropped the ball on some task… I say, “It’s all good…” And I mean, “No worries…everything’s just fine.” Or “Hey, this is not a big deal…” We say it sometimes to mean, “Don’t worry, everything’s going to turn out right…” even though things might not look right. Sometimes we even say it when we don’t mean it, when things aren’t that great, but we just don’t want to deal… There are also times, where we’d never say it – usually bad times, difficult times, times where it’s obvious that things aren’t all good. But this morning St. Paul says in Romans 8 concerning every time and every thing, “It’s all good…”
He says (and I’m reading a slightly different translation now), “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose”. Perhaps lately we’d be tempted to wonder how Paul could say such a thing. Because we know that things are bad or that there seem to be comparatively more bad things right now than in previous days. Notice, though, that Paul doesn’t say all things are good. Paul himself had seen many wicked things too and I don’t think he relished them. People threw rocks at him, tried to murder him, imprisoned him – tried to deter the ministry of the gospel; he had himself at one time – all not good. God has said there are sinful things, wrong things, hurtful things. Go back to Romans 5, “Sin was in the world…” Good enough – evil’s here. Nothing’s changed – people sin, murders happen, disease, age, degenerative bone disorders, famine – all not good. You know what’s harder? To our current moment – some of the things are debatable. Some of us will consider these masks to be good. And at the same time, others will say they’re terrible. God hasn’t said particularly. Just like your bedroom paint color and reverse mortgages. Life is full of ambiguous things, the distinction between often being based on your experience, your feelings, your perceptions of what’s going on, your personal or family situation. And I don’t like things that feel bad to me – whatever they are.
Maybe that helps us to think of the real trouble. The real temptation perhaps isn’t expecting only good – not for most. Isn’t the trouble more with whether we know or not? With knowing that God is more than just indifferent? Because Paul said, “we know” and I said, “But do I?” Some days I don’t like the reality of the proverb: “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” (Prov. 16:9) That God is in control and we’re not, not really. Maybe most often it’s just that we get caught up in all the things and we forget who we really are and what we know…
Paul said that “all things work together for the good of those who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose”. Paul isn’t calling you and me to question now whether we love God – as though, if we’re sure we love God, then we can be sure “it’s all good…” No, in Romans 7-8 he’s talking to people who do love God, but who are struggling in a world filled with difficulties and sufferings that call into question who they are. But you are ones who love God; those whom “God first loved”; ones for whom he sent his Son; ones who, by faith, are in love with God’s plan for them. In fact, those who love God are, as Paul said, “those called according to his purpose.” We are ones called out of that world with its questionable purposes by his powerful Spirit to know that God has one desire: that “all people be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” – of salvation in Jesus Christ. As Paul has said in this chapter alone, we are ones who have been set free from our sins and the death they bring – forgiven / at peace; we are righteous in God’s sight – holy / his; we are heirs looking forward to glory.
And so, for people like us, Paul affirms – though it may seem otherwise, all things are working together in God’s grand plan for our good like a team. Some of the teammates are hard to deal with – surgeries, divorces, death, persecution, war, disease… Others we welcome with open arms – ice cream, making the honor roll, getting that first deer, baptism and God’s Word and hymns and full-throated singing… And others we’re not so sure about, or at least we may disagree – masks & restrictions, pew fabric colors, what car to buy, how soon to replace that knee… But we know they’re working for our good together – for strengthening in our faith to trust more and better, for enjoyment of God’s good gifts, for appreciation of those around us – for a myriad of reasons and goods so many that it’s dizzying, maybe even difficult to consider them. And so, better, to say that God has one good in mind in all the things – he has purposed in Christ Jesus to make and keep us his own.
This we know… In this way it’s all good, because we know that God’s at work. That’s not enough for Paul, though. Perhaps because he acutely understands how easy it is to get stuck down in all of this. So he takes things to another level…
Language does that sometimes actually. In the study of the Bible’s original languages – Greek / Hebrew, for instance, did you know there’s a method of study called discourse analysis. It just means analyzing how we discourse or how we talk. Like this – at the beginning of Romans 8:28 some would analyze those two words, “We know” and call them a “meta-comment”. Now, that’s not a scary concept, we do it all the time. It’s when “a speaker stops saying what they are saying in order to comment on what is going to be said…” For example, in a sermon, I might say – “Now listen to this…”, which is sort of dumb if you think about it because I’ve already got you listening and I’m going to say whatever anyway… but I really want you to hear it… So, Paul’s in the midst of talking about big theological things like the Spirit interceding and us making it through sufferings, and it’s like he pops up onto another level for a second to say, “Now you know…” And the design (whether we do it intentionally or not) is that you, the listener, stop and look around and self-assess and say, “Oh yeah, I do know that…”
Language works that way, but I think God the creator of language does too. Don’t you think, for people who are tempted to get all caught up in all the things and assessing all the things and wondering whether they’re good or bad or how they’ll turn out… Don’t you think it’d be particularly wise for God to sort of call you up out of the things? Perhaps to draw us out for a second onto another level, way up high, overlooking all the stuff… And to put his arm around your shoulder and just point out how it is? I think that’s a decent way to think about vv.29-30. And I think so because there’s some crazy stuff there that we’d likewise be tempted to overthink or consider from our position way down here in the midst of all this stuff. I think Paul simply intends that, looking over all the things, we see that God is at work in such a way that we know for certain “It’s all good…”
To summarize two of the harder concepts… Paul says we can know that all things are working together for our good because “those God foreknew he also predestined”…
- Foreknew is an interesting word. In the New Testament, it’s only used six times. Sometimes to just talk about knowing something ahead of time. Most of the time though, it has that same feel of when you talk about a close friend and you say, “Oh yeah, we’ve known each other a long time…” Now when you smile and say that that’s not acquaintance; that’s familiarity, friendship, maybe family. With foreknew then, in the way of God’s gracious love, we could say, “He knew you as his own, ones he loved, from before time…”
- Predestined is an epic idea that’s hard for humans to fully compass. It’s a simple idea – to mark out ahead, to choose ahead of time. Literally from outside of time, before creation Paul tells us in Ephesians, God marked out as his own those he knew to be his own… And he doesn’t engage the idea of lite questions about anybody else, were some not marked out, etc. Do you know why? Well, because in other places he’s made clear that he hasn’t pre-condemned anyone, and that his will for all people is salvation, and that people can reject his will… but most of all? Because anywhere God talks about these concepts, he does so only to believers, to people who are already his own, called to be his, so that they’ll know it for sure… He knew you with loving eye and marked you as his own from before any of these things began.
I like what one theologian said about “predestination” (and I think you could apply it to this whole sweep of words…): “We should not dwell on the ‘pre-’ aspect of this [word] so much that we lose sight of ‘the destination’ toward which believers have been set in motion.” This destination, my friends: that we be conformed finally to the likeness of God’s holy Son in that place where we’ll totally understand how he’s the firstborn in the family and we’re the brothers and sisters. We’ll be together with him and like him in God’s presence after all this, able to look back and see just how good was every garbage thing and how perfect was God’s plan that we could only participate in then by going along.
How does he do that glorious thing? How does he bring us to the destination of matching with the Messiah, of being family with the firstborn? He uses stuff that’s so ordinary, in a way. He works right here in time; in the midst of all these things he does these things for your good. “Those he predestined, he also called,” through his Word, by his Spirit’s power, he planted faith in your hearts and called you “out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pe 2:9). He called you to understand his will, and how good God is, and his love for you in Christ. In fact, you know it because he works like this. “Those he called, he also justified…” through his Son, who lived in time and knew bad and good and laughter and the grain of a wood beam and the beauty of a sunrise and the crushing power of rulers and also of death. That’s how God works. His Son lived among us and died, his perfect life executed on a cross, to declare our sins paid and us not guilty in the sight of God. A new status, with a new destination. And it gets better: “those he justified, he also glorified.” As in, done already. You don’t see glory now – not like it will be, not on your best day… but it’s yours. If Christ Jesus was raised from the dead and ascended on high and rules over all things in glory everlasting… and if he is the firstborn and you are those who follow after him… Then glory is yours. And there are some of us who have it already – passed through death into life eternal. And there are others who will be that we don’t know yet – our neighbor we haven’t encountered in that way yet or the generations that will follow. As it was, and is now, it ever shall be… It’s all good because God works before, within, and for time everlasting — all for our good.
And it has astounding and assuring conclusions to be drawn for us who have God’s love like this… But that’s next week in the rest of Romans 8. Until then, in everything you see, in the experiences you are having, with the troubles you are facing, in the joys you are granted, God is at work. Remember that his work encompassed you from before time began, he scooped up in his hands right here in this now, and your glory is coming in a forever that will not compare with this. And in this way alone, for people like you, it’s all good.