For an Informed Love of God
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Do All Things “Magically” Work Together for Good? (Rom 8:28)
Romans 8:28 can be a source of comfort; it can also be a challenge, especially for people in the midst of pain and disappointment. However, sometimes people struggle with a misunderstanding of the verse, thinking that they have to believe that every single thing that happens is good. Is it?
Romans 8:28 can be a source of comfort; it can also be a challenge, especially for people in the midst of pain and disappointment. However, sometimes people struggle with a misunderstanding of the verse.
Most of us are familiar with the wording of the KJV. “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” This basic wording is followed by most translations (ESV, CSB, NRSV, NET).
This is not grammatically incorrect; θεόν is the object of ἀγαπῶσιν, and πάντα appears to be the subject of συνεργεῖ. oἴδαμεν δὲ ὅτι τοῖς ἀγαπῶσιν τὸν θεὸν πάντα συνεργεῖ εἰς ἀγαθόν, τοῖς κατὰ πρόθεσιν κλητοῖς οὖσιν.
But there are three problems.
1. The translation makes it appear that all things somehow, all by themselves, work out for good. This is simply not true. There’s not some magical force in the universe guaranteeing that absolutely everything that happens eventually is seen to be good. Genocide is not good. Sexual, physical, and emotional abuse are not good. The death of a child is not inherently good.
2. πάντα can also be accusative, which leaves the subject of συνεργεῖ unexpressed. In this case, it is θεόν that is acting as both the direct object of ἀγαπῶσιν and the implied subject of συνεργεῖ. The advantage of this reading is that it does make sense. It is God who is at work in all situations to accomplish his good.
3. There is a textual variant noted in the footnotes of the ESV and other translations (CSB, NET): “God works all things together for good,” or “God works in all things for the good.” οἴδαμεν δὲ ὅτι τοῖς ἀγαπῶσιν τὸν θεὸν πάντα συνεργεῖ ὁ θεὸς εἰς ἀγαθόν. Certainly this longer reading is a later clarification of the original text, but it does get at its meaning.
These considerations explain the alternant translations. “God causes all things to work together for good” (NASB, also NLT). “God works for the good of those who love him” (NIV).
If your problem with this verse is due to the interpretation that says everything that happens is good, then understand this cannot be with Paul means. It is God who works in the midst of all situations to accomplish good. Our sovereign God has determined that he will allow his children to only be in those situations in which he is able to work for their good.
But perhaps the main question of the verse is the definition of “good,” and the following two verses give Paul’s definition of good. This is the problem of breaking up the single Greek sentence into multiple English sentences; we lose the contextual clues of the larger context. Vv 29–30 define “good” as God working in all situations, for his children, for good, because his sovereign control moves inextricably from his foreknowledge of us to our glorification.” Before time he knew us and pre-determined the benefits we would receive as his children, the greatest being that we would be conformed to the image of his Son. This is Paul’s definition of “good.”
Of course, we want to define “good” in our own terms, which means the absence of pain and the presence of pleasure. The health and wealth heresy is fleecing God’s flock with this perversion of sanctification. And truth be told, most of us would prefer to have a little less pain even if it means we look a little less like Jesus. But God did not ask us how to define “good”; that’s one of the perks of being God.
The joy of the Christian comes from a deep-down faith that God is at work in all the seemingly chaotic situations of life, using our pains and disappointments to accomplish his good, which is our good, and there is nothing better than looking like Jesus, of being “conformed to the image of his Son.”