ANSWER: Disasters are one of the characteristics of our sinful world. Our present suffering and future glory are the themes of Romans 8:18-30. In this passage we are given three truths to help us through times of suffering. First, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (8:22-25). Christians are not the only ones suffering – “the whole creation” is suffering. Christians are affected as well as the rest of God’s creation. But our suffering ends either when we die and go to be with the Lord, or when we are resurrected to receive new bodies (2 Cor. 5:1-10; 1 Th. 4:15-18; 1 Cor. 15:51-57). Second, because “we do not know what we ought to pray for” the Holy Spirit prays for us (8:26-27). So we can know that the Holy Spirit prays for us when we are going through difficult times.
Third, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him” (8:28-30). God’s desire is that believers would be “conformed to the image of His Son” because they have been “called,” “justified” and will be “glorified” (8:29-30).
So Romans 8:28 puts in context two things to help Christians through difficult times.
First, we have “been called according to His purpose.” God wants to make all believers like Jesus, so they share His character. He wants their lives to be transformed (2 Cor. 3:18). Everything that happens, whether good things or bad, has this purpose. This includes disasters, suffering and tragedies.
Second, “In all things God works for the good of those who love Him.” What does “for the good” mean? Surely it is anything that is consistent with God’s purpose, which is to transform our lives to be more like our Lord’s. “All things” includes all the circumstances of life. This verse is saying that God uses them to achieve His purposes. For example, although Joseph was treated harshly, he recognized that “God intended it for good” because it was used to save many lives, including the descendants of Abraham (Gen. 50:20). Also Hezekiah recognized that the anguish he went through during his serious illness was for his “benefit” as it enabled him to praise God when his health was restored (Isa. 38:17-20).
How can good come out of disasters such as the recent earthquakes, tsunamis and tornadoes that resulted in so much suffering and tragedy? We need to realize that “the good” in Romans 8:28 is addressed to believers. God permits suffering and uses it for our good, for the blessing of others, and for His glory. The writer of Hebrews wrote this: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11).
Also, when Peter addressed the end times, which are characterized by disasters, he advised us to keep praying, help the needy, and use our gifts to serve others (1 Pet. 4:7-11). Disasters provide opportunities for us to bring comfort and relief to those in need. Disasters provide opportunities for us to develop our divine nature by becoming more Christ-like (Eph. 4:22-24).
But what about death? Death is the worst thing that can happen to unbelievers; but it ushers Christians into God’s presence, which is the best thing that can happen! Paul said “to die is gain” because it means going to be with Christ (Phil. 1:21). But it can be difficult to balance the physical and spiritual aspects of life.
Paul said that God “has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). Here we see that the blessings promised to believers are spiritual, not physical. Although disasters, suffering and tragedy may destroy our physical possessions, they don’t take away our spiritual blessings. God gives us what we need, not what we want. Jesus died to save our spirits and souls, not our bodies.
So Romans 8:28 says that God uses “all things” for our spiritual growth. When we apply this principle to disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis and tornadoes we begin to realize that even they can be used to help us to become more Christ-like.
Answered by George Hawke
In All Things: Romans 8:28 Applied
God works “in all things” – not just isolated incidents – for our good. This does not mean that all that happens to us is good. Evil is prevalent in our fallen world but God is able to turn every circumstance around for our long-range good. Note that God is not working to make us happy but to fulfill His purpose. Note also that this promise is not for everybody. It can be claimed only by those who love God and are called according to His purpose. Those who are “called” are those the Holy Spirit convinces and enables to receive Christ. Such people have a new perspective, a new mind-set on life. They trust in God, not life’s treasures. They look for their security in heaven, not on earth; they learn to accept, not resent, pain and persecution because God is with them.
— The Life Application Bible
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org