Difficult Truths & Deep Love: Pondering Sovereignty, Suffering, and the Promise of Heaven

Desiring God 2010 National Conference

Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God

It’s great to be here with you. Turn in Bibles to Romans Chapter 8, if you would. It’s going to be just a few minutes before we get there, but this is where we’re going to go. We’re going to focus on one of the greatest verses in Scripture, a commonly quoted verse.

When I came to Christ as a teenager, having grown up in a non-Christian home, I heard Romans 8:28 quoted a lot. Different versions put it in different ways, but they all have “all things” and “working for good” and “to those who love God.” Or it might say something like, “God works in all things to bring about good for his children, to those who love God, to those who are called according to his purpose.”

This now, however, is a much maligned verse. Many people, myself among them, have said, “Don’t go quoting Romans 8:28 at the moment a tragedy happens. Grieve with people, suffer with people. It is insensitive to throw Romans 8:28 out there as if to minimize suffering.” Scripture does not minimize suffering. Jesus wept, and he wept even knowing that he would raise Lazarus from the dead. But I think he wept for Mary and Martha and for the ugliness of death, even knowing that the Lazarus he raised would die again. And so Scripture, as it looks forward to the resurrection, never minimizes pain and suffering. But Romans 8:28 nonetheless says what it says.

The New American Standard Bible puts it like this: “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love him.”

Wow, all things? Doesn’t that mean all things except . . . ? I mean, isn’t that hyperbole to say all things? Isn’t that even kind of naive? Isn’t it insensitive? Maybe it’s even cruel. I had somebody say to me one time that that verse just sounds cruel to them in light of all the evil and suffering in this world. People think, “Really? Do all things work together for good to those who love God?”

Well, if God is all-loving and God is all-good and God is all-sovereign, that is a promise he can keep. And Romans 8:28 is just as inspired and just as true as John 3:16 or any other verse of Scripture. We must come to take it seriously. And when we do, when we grapple with it and see that it means what it actually appears to mean, then we will see God lofty and exalted and fully worthy of our praise.

The Great Redemptive Story

The highest compliment that the New York Times book review can pay to any book is to say, “This is a great redemptive story.” Now many of the people writing the book reviews are atheists or agnostics, but they can look at a book and they can say, “Wow, this is a great redemptive story.” Without even understanding it, they are giving tribute to the great redemptive story, the prototype redemptive story that casts a shadow that all lesser redemptive stories are made of. There are the headwaters and then the lesser streams of redemptive stories, but they all come from this one.

I write novels as well as non-fiction. Whenever I write a novel, I do what novelists do, which is, you start the story in a certain way. You try to make a powerful beginning, and you’re going to lead to what will be, in some sense, a triumphant ending. It’s not always triumphant in the normal way we think of it, but nonetheless, it is a triumphant ending where there’s been much character change, and normally change for the better in the life of the main character.

But in between the great, powerful beginning and this wonderful ending in this redemptive story is a whole lot of stuff that goes wrong. And like any novelist, I put my characters through misery as the story goes on. Isn’t it strange that when we look at a drama and when we read a novel, we actually enjoy reading about the kinds of things that, in real life, we hate to have happen?

Isn’t that true? And part of the reason is because we know this is going somewhere and we know that the author is going to turn this corner somehow and weave the threads together and there’s going to be a redemptive purpose. In the end, there will be some level of celebration. But meanwhile things have gone terribly wrong.

Well, guess what? The Bible is the greatest redemptive story ever told. It’s the story of God at work in this world. And sure enough, it has a powerful beginning. He makes the world perfect. And there is a powerful ending. One of your handouts relates to this. You have the first two chapters of Genesis and you have the last two chapters of Revelation. It’s the very beginning and the very end of the book. And unfortunately we don’t have time to really look at that handout, but it’s there for you — the past, present, and the future. Just notice all along the way, that there is the present, and the present is where we live.

So at the beginning of the story it’s great and it’s powerful, and at the end of the story it’s wonderful and it’s triumphant. It’s the middle where all things go wrong. Guess where we’re living? In the middle of the story. But if we grasp the beginning and the end of the story, the ending that will never end as C.S. Lewis said at the end of the Chronicles of Narnia, that great story that goes on forever in which every chapter is better than the one before.

That’s not a fairytale. That’s the promise of God. That’s why Jesus came into the world, not only to redeem us, but to redeem the world itself. There are great biblical promises of new heavens and new earth. These are things that I deal with in detail in my big book on Heaven and some smaller ones as well. These are things that we have neglected as evangelicals, and we neglect them to our peril because we leave people sometimes living in the middle of the story, seeing the pain and the suffering, but not really understanding where they’ve come from and where, in the sovereign grace of God, they are headed for all eternity.

The Place of Suffering in God’s Story

This is the captivating story, the great unfolding drama of redemption. The main character in God’s story is Jesus, the carpenter from Nazareth. Carpenters make things and they fix things. Jesus made the world, the world went terribly wrong, and Jesus is going to fix the world permanently. And this is the gospel. This is the story of salvation, the story of redemption. When writing my book If God is Good, that deals with the problem of evil, I ask the question, “If God is all powerful and all good, how can there be so much evil and suffering in the world?”

I interviewed many suffering people, including Scott and Janet Willis. In 1994, a large object fell out of a truck on a Milwaukee freeway. Some of you know this story. Some of you remember it. Something fell in front of the Willis’s van, they crashed into it, and their gas tank exploded. They had six children in the van and all six of those children were killed. I interviewed Scott and Janet 14 years later after this accident, and now, just a year and a half or two years ago, Janet said in this two hour interview, “Today I have a far greater understanding of the goodness of God than I did before the accident.”

And at the end of our two-hour conversation, Scott Willis said (I wrote down word for word what both of them said): “I have a stronger view of God’s sovereignty than ever before.” So they have a greater understanding of God’s goodness and a stronger view of God’s sovereignty with six children dead. How is that even possible?

What faith? What worldview exists besides a biblical worldview that could even possibly make that as a claim that you could even hope that anyone could ever come to that conclusion? It doesn’t minimize their pain. The pain is very real. The number of people in the book signing this morning that came through that told me stories about loved ones who have died, who have diseases, who are going through all kinds of suffering, were many. And there are things that have happened in families. A missionary couple came through, and their little two-year old daughter, Gloria, is an insulin-dependent diabetic.

I’m an insulin-dependent diabetic too, and it’s harder for her because she has it a lot younger than I. She’s a lot younger than I am. Well, she’s 54 years younger than I am, and it’s tough for her and her family, but here she is. And then somebody else came through and they’re talking about a child with leukemia. I’m actually wearing a wrist bracelet that someone gave me, a couple that we met today, Ken and Karen Demato, and it says, “Michael Demato #23, in our hearts forever.” This is their 12-year-old, who earlier this year died from a rare cancer.

This is the world we live in. And think about Scott and Janet Willis. Think about six children’s names on a wristband. It’s staggering the pain that there is in this world, but the worse things are, the greater the redemptive story would have to be to make all things right. And that is exactly what we see in Scripture.

Grace Displayed in a Fallen World

What would we know of the grace of Jesus Christ without this? Ephesians 2:7 says that in the ages that come, God will be revealing unto us the riches of his grace and his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. What would you know of the grace of God if sin and evil and suffering had not entered the world? What would you know of God’s mercy? What would you know of his patience? What would you know of his compassion? There are attributes of God that are great and glorious that we could never have known, that we could never have celebrated, that we could never have glorified him for and praised him for through all eternity had there not been evil and suffering in this world.

There’s a lot of people, even some evangelical writers, particularly open theists and others, who are painting a picture like, “Well, God didn’t really know. If he would’ve known in advance that all this horrible stuff was going to happen, he never ever would’ve created the world in the first place. Certainly not a world like this.”

Well just remind yourself, first of all, he didn’t create a world like this. He created a perfect world, but he also created it with a capacity for going the direction that it has gone. But not once did he surrender his sovereignty. Not once did he give it over to say, “Okay, now human beings are in charge, Satan is in charge, and demons are in charge. They are sovereign over your life. A drunk driver can ruin your life forever.” Not once did he give over his sovereignty. He still remains sovereign and he still promises that he will weave things together in such a way that there will be good in our life.

We will become more Christ-like. We will conform more to the image of Jesus, then God himself will be glorified for all eternity in greater ways, and we will experience greater good than we ever could have experienced if all the bad stuff hadn’t happened.

Suffering and Glory

Now in Romans Chapter 8, we’re going to look at verse 16 where it talks about being heirs with Christ. Romans 8:16–17 says:

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs — heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

Well, what is this talk about being heirs of Christ and how does it relate to this issue of God’s plan? I’m glad you asked that question. Being heirs of God, the King, goes back to Genesis one where God created people in his image to have dominion and rule the earth for the glory of God. And God has never retracted that original purpose. That purpose has never changed. He still intends righteous people to rule the earth for the glory of God.

And in fact, that’s why Jesus came into the world after the fall of humanity and all creation fell on our coattails. He came into the world in order to complete the process and bring us to a greater level in the new heavens and the new earth, where righteous people will rule the earth to the glory of God for all eternity.

So whenever Scripture talks about us being heirs, we are heirs of who? We are heirs of the King and our family business is ruling. This is represented in all those passages that have to do with the reward of ruling — “Be faithful in a little and I’ll put you over much,” and, “I’ll put you over five cities,” and, “I’ll put you over 10 cities,” and all the passages that talk about crowns. Crowns are always representative of a position of authority, of rulership. And sometimes we look at all of those as if they’re just figurative and as if they don’t really mean anything.

Part of the reason is because we think of eternity being in God’s presence as a disembodied state. But that’s not the teaching of the Bible; that’s Platonism. The teaching of God’s word is a resurrected body in a resurrected world, with resurrected culture and people living together. The end of Revelation 21 is on the new earth, and the kings of the nations of the earth will bring their treasures, cultural treasures, into the kingdom of God. And I think the picture is that they’ll lay them at the feet of Jesus, King of kings. Who is that? That’s us ruling the earth to the glory of God. So God never gave up on that idea.

The Kings of the Earth

If you read Daniel 7 it talks about earthly kingdoms, and it says, “The saints of the most high shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever” (Daniel 7:18). Yes, forever and ever we will be ruling the earth, not just for a thousand years, but forever. And Daniel 7:21–22 says that this anti-Christ will rise up and God’s people will suffer terribly. And then in Daniel 7:27, it says:

And the kingdom and the dominion
     and the greatness of the kingdoms (plural) under the whole heaven
     shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High;
his kingdom (singular) shall be an everlasting kingdom,
     and all dominions shall serve and obey him.

Having embraced all these kingdoms and redeemed them, kingdoms of man, his kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom and all rulers will worship and obey him. So the way this connects with Romans 8:16–17 is that it says “provided we suffer with him” and then “we’ll also reign with him”. We can ask ourselves the question, “Why do we have to suffer in order to rule righteously?”

Well, what happens when a prince or princess grows up in privilege and gets everything handed to him or her and is protected from the challenges of life? Well, he or she becomes spoiled and self-indulgent with a spirit of entitlement. He’ll end up being a tyrant, not a servant-king. The life of ease is deadly to the development of Christlike character. And isn’t it ironic that sometimes parents tend to try to give their children the very kind of life that will guarantee they will not be people of character?

They try to give them ease and see to it that everything goes their way. The thought is, “If you cry and you’re upset about this, we’ll give you more. If the toy breaks, we’ll replace it. We’ll give you more and more and more.” And then we’re surprised when they grow up to be selfish with a spirit of entitlement. Well, that’s not how God parents us.

He loves us. He gives us many good gifts. And, of course, a parent gives good gifts to their children. But God doesn’t want the world to come to be ruled by people unless they are Christlike. And we make a huge mistake thinking that God is simply preparing a place for us, which is very true (John 14:3). It’s a promise of Jesus. But we miss the fact that meanwhile, God is working in our lives — yes, even through our suffering — to prepare us for that place. It’s not just to prepare a place for us, but to prepare us for that place that we would rule righteously as servant-kings over the world that God has for us.

The Glory to Be Revealed

Do you see the connection then, regarding how suffering, as you see in Romans 8:16–17, relates to ruling as God’s heir over his kingdom? Look at Romans 8:18:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

Notice Paul says, “I consider.” In other words, “I’ve given thought to this.” And he writes under inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Certainly, we should consider his words and believe his words. But consider the implications:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

And some translations are “in us”, and I think either translation works. Certainly, the one emphasizes a work that is being done in us, but it certainly will be revealed to us as well. And I think there is a great parallel. I think every time we look at Romans 8:18 we should compare it with 2 Corinthians 4:17, where Paul says, “This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison . . .” Why? Because it’s not just saying this light and momentary affliction will be followed by eternal glory; it’s saying this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory

Present affliction is very, very heavy. Now, put on the scales over here with eternal glory. Whoa, eternal glory makes it feel light as compared to how heavy that is. Momentary is compared to eternal.

Light Afflictions?

Now, if you want to know what Paul considered to be light and momentary affliction, read 2 Corinthians 11 sometime. There were prison sentences, beatings, he was stoned three times, he had a shipwreck, and he went without food and clothes and sleep. And that’s just the beginning. He measured these against the eternal weight of glory they would produce, and it was no contest. Look at Romans 8:19:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.

What will be revealed will be our true identity, our character, a Christlike character, who we are as God’s children, the very righteousness of Christ. We will be righteous rulers of the earth. Jesus said in Matthew 13:43, quoting from Daniel 12:3, “Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” That transformation doesn’t simply begin in eternity. It begins here and now.

Sanctification leads into it, and is preparatory for glorification. Do not think that God wants you to wait until you die to become like Jesus. In this life we are to become increasingly conformed to the image of Christ. How does that happen? There are scriptures, many passages related to this we don’t have time to look at, which say it happens through suffering. It happens through adversity. Romans 8:20–21 says:

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.

The creation that fell on our coattails as humanity, with us now being a fallen humanity, shall rise on our coattails in the resurrection. We as people have a glorious future because of the sovereign grace of Christ. The cursed earth has a glorious future because of the sovereign grace of Christ. Think of all those “re” words in the Bible — redeem, restore, recover, return, renew, regenerate,, reconcile, resurrect.

And they all have an equivalent. Sometimes the prefix in the Greek is ana, and other times there is a linguistic equivalent to the English prefixed “re” in these words. They are words that speak, not of God abandoning his creation, but of God restoring his creation, redeeming his creation, reconciling his creation, and resurrecting his creation.

And again, you’ll see that in that one handout that relates, that has the charts and just the comparison. That other handout, by the way, is just something from Romans 8 that will supplement a little bit of what I’m saying in this message.

No More Curse

Revelation 22:3 says there will be no more curse. The curse will be reversed. How far will God’s redemptive work reach? Well, I think Isaac Watts said it best in Joy to the World: “Far as the curse is found.” What a great theologian Isaac Watts was. I’m reading an old book by him. Well, any book by Isaac Watts is old, I guess. It is a book on heaven and the afterlife and comfort and oh, it’s just magnificent. And what great, rich theology, and it is a biblical theology as far as the curse is found. Whatever the curse has touched, God will redeem, reverse, and take away the curse. Let’s go to Romans 8:22, which says:

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

These are not death pains, not the pains of death that look back and anticipate an ending, but the pains of childbirth that look forward and anticipate a beginning. Childbirth can be much more painful. I don’t say this from experience, but nonetheless, it can be much more painful than a death experience. But it looks forward to the child, the child who is coming out of this. And this is what Jesus talked about and talked about — the anticipation and how the joy that comes overshadows the pain that led up to the joy. But the pain had a direct preparatory effect to the joy. Without the pain, the joy wouldn’t have come. So it is in our lives. Romans 8:23 continues:

And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

We already talked about adoption earlier in Romans 8. So how is it that we await adoption when we’ve already been adopted? That’s the already and not-yet. Yes, we’ve experienced it, yes, that’s our identity, but we have not yet experienced the fullness of it. That still awaits us in the world to come. And people will say, “But wait a minute, our bodies are going to be destroyed and the earth is going to be destroyed.” Right, but God is going to un-destroy them. This is the doctrine of the resurrection.

Contra Platonism

One time in our church I was preaching from a passage in Luke where Jesus was with his disciples and he stretched out his hands and he showed him the marks. But then he also prepares breakfast for them and says, “Sit down and eat with me.” And he actually eats fish and he drinks, and the fish does not fall through to the ground because he had an actual body. He’s not a ghost. And he said, “A ghost does not have flesh and bones as I have” (Luke 24:39).

We’re told we’re going to be like Christ. He is the firstborn from the grave (Colossians 1:18). Our bodies will be like his. He tells us we will have physical bodies, and physical bodies don’t drift around in the clouds. They live somewhere. And so he says that we’ll have a new earth that we’ll live on and reign with him. And after the service, a godly man in our church, an old saint, came up to me and he said — this is a Bible believing man, a real student of the word — “Are you actually saying that we’ll have real bodies and that we’ll eat and drink?” And I said, “Well, yeah, that’s exactly what Scripture is saying. That’s what resurrection means.”

And he looked at me and he said, “That just sounds so unspiritual.” Well, that’s Platonism that made us think that was unspiritual. God’s the one who created the world. God is the one that came in to redeem it, but that Platonism just infects us. It’s still there with some people and they think that it’s just not spiritual to talk about such things. You know what I’ve discovered? I get a lot of feedback on this because I write on this subject. Before becoming a writer, if that’s your aspiration, you just might want to count the cost in advance because you just get a lot of letters and they’re not all encouraging.

But what some of the people have to say is, “Oh, come on. You have to be kidding.” And I look at it and I think, these are people who would die, some of them, for the doctrine of the resurrection. They would die before they would deny the doctrine of the resurrection. But in actual fact, they don’t believe the doctrine of the resurrection. They don’t actually believe, or at least understand, the meaning of what this doctrine is that they would die for.

All Things for Good

Well, let’s skip to Romans 8:28. It says:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

“Good” here is not a synonym for “pleasure” or what makes us happy in the short run; it is an ultimate good. Notice the phrase “all things.” In the original Greek, “all things” means “all things,” which is why the Greek scholars translated it “all things.” And every single translation that I looked at says “all things” in a way that is comprehensive. What is not included in all things? When you use terminology such as “all things”, what are you not including? I mean, if you weren’t including something, you’d have to say “all things except” and then you’d list those things.

So if Romans 8:28 did not include cancer, car accidents, or the death of children; if it did not include nuclear power; if it didn’t include deformed babies; and if it didn’t include anything, he would have to say, “except . . .” But it says “all things”. It does not say “some things”. It does not say “most things” or “many things”; it says “all things”. And I think a great test for us is to look at the worst suffering we have ever experienced or will ever experience in this world and ask ourselves, “Does Romans 8:28 apply to this?”

This is a great test of faith. And if you’re really quick to say, “Oh, well obviously it applies to it,” just hang on, because emotionally, someday, you may find yourself not able to do that. But the verse will still be true even when you and I cannot muster up the perspective, the courage, and the energy, and ultimately it must be the Spirit of God who gives that to us to believe his word and trust his word exactly as Scott and Janet Willis did and do. If God cannot use something to contribute to the ultimate good of his child, according to Romans 8:28, he will not permit it to happen.

Now, Romans 8:28 does not tell me that I should say it is good if my leg breaks, or my heart, or if my house burns down, or if I’m robbed and beaten, or if my child dies. It does not say we should say that is good. It’s a cumulative and ultimate thing. He is working in those “all things” to bring about the ultimate good.

Suffering with an Ultimate Aim

Some people say, “Does Romans 8:28 really include suffering?” Well, it doesn’t just include suffering; that’s exactly what it’s about. Read the rest of Romans 8 and look at the context. We caught just a little bit of it. It’s about a world that’s groaning, and even the Holy Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Don’t you love that? It’s not just that the Creation groans; it’s not just that we groan; it’s that God himself groans on our behalf as he intercedes for us.

It’s that God became a man, and Revelation 21:3 is the fulfillment. It talks about the new heavens and the new earth and says God will come down and dwell with his people. Read that verse sometime. Three times it says, “He will dwell with them.” God will come down and dwell with his people. He will be with them and he will be their God. This is God with us. Sometimes we think of the ultimate heaven is that we die, and we go up to live where God and the angels live for all eternity. No, that’s not what the Bible teaches. Yes, immediately, when we die, we do go up to be with the Lord in the present heaven. But the ultimate promise of Scripture is Revelation 21:3 — that God will come down from his place and dwell forever with us in our place, a redeemed new earth, because the incarnation of Jesus Christ was not temporary. It’s eternal.

He will be the God-man, reigning as God and reigning as man, the Last Adam, over this earth for all eternity. We will reign with him and we will reign under him. It does not say in Romans 8:28, each thing by itself is good, but all things work together for good.

Faith’s Review and Expectation

Joni Eareckson Tada had an accident at age 17, making her a quadriplegic. She wanted to kill herself, but she was too helpless to take her own life. And if God had blessed her with more mobility, she would’ve taken her life. She says so. Now, who back then said 40 years ago, “Well, God is clearly working out his loving purpose in this young woman’s life for her good.” Do you think anyone was standing around saying that? It sure didn’t look like it, but consider it today in retrospect. Joni has touched the world with a depth of character.

She is convinced, and those of us who know her and love her, like my wife Nancy and I do, are convinced she would never have had that without her disability. And now she has breast cancer. And we look at our sister and we say, “Lord, it seems like you’re piling it on.” And then we look at Scripture and we say, “No, the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed to us and in us and Joni.” She just wrote a letter to us the other day talking about wanting to be yielded to the Lord in being used by him. She says, “I had this ministry to disabled people for so many years. Now I have a ministry to people with cancer.”

View your afflictions as an opportunity for ministry. When I look back 25 years ago, I think of when I became an insulin-dependent diabetic. I have this disease, and it brings certain complications into my life, but God has used that in my life for good. And I see it even here and now in this life. If you go back 20 years ago, I was a pastor for peaceful, non-violent civil disobedience at abortion clinics, and there were all kinds of lawsuits and misrepresentations and false charges and all kinds of things, and I had to end up resigning as a pastor. I loved being a pastor. And there were financial hardships, there were all these kinds of things at the time that seemed devastating, but God’s hand was upon it. In retrospect, even within a few years we saw it clearly, and certainly now we look back and see it even more clearly that God caused that to work for good.

God Meant It for Good

What about Genesis 50:20 with Joseph, which is really the Romans 8:28 of the Old Testament if you think about it. He says to his brothers:

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good . . .

So by God’s grace, Nancy and I have been able to see God do things that there’s just not time to tell you about. Five-million dollars in royalties have gone all over the world, all of that originally coming out of my inability to receive an income and only being able to make minimum wage, otherwise it would be taken by a abortion clinics and so on. What God did in us, what God did in our children, what God is still doing today is incredible. I wouldn’t have chosen to become a full-time writer. That wasn’t my aspiration. I enjoyed writing. I would write on the side as a pastor. I wanted to stay a pastor, but God didn’t want me to stay a pastor. He had better plans, but they involved suffering.

There’s an online video that I saw where a woman looks into a camera and she says, “I no longer believe in God.” She’s dying of cancer, and she says, “I no longer believe in God. He didn’t keep his promises.” She had believed in health, wealth, and prosperity theology. And you know what? It wasn’t God who had made those promises. A preacher had made them, maybe somebody who had written a book had made them, but those were false claims. Prosperity theology is from the pit of hell. Let me just be direct about it.

Like every heresy, it has the grain of truth because ultimately, God does promise health and wealth to his people in the resurrection. It’s coming folks. That’s the ultimate prosperity. But the thing is, here and now, he is conforming us to the image of Christ.

Goodness in Retrospect

Look back. Why do we call it “Good Friday”? What was good about Good Friday? Why don’t we call it bad Friday? We call the worst thing that ever happened, the worst day of human history “Good Friday”. Why? Because in retrospect, we see what God did on that most horrible of days. He used it to bring about the most wondrous realities for all eternity.

So write down on a piece of paper sometime all the worst things that have ever happened to you, fold it in half, and then turn it up and then write the best things that have ever happened to you. And if it takes more room on the worst, then you can use the whole side of the page and then flip it over. And now compare the two lists and watch. You’ll be amazed at how many of the best things that have ever happened are the direct or indirect result of the worst things that have ever happened in your life. Romans 8:39 says that nothing shall separate us from the Love of Christ.

We should interpret Romans 8:28 and Romans 8:39 in light of each other. We know all things must work together for good because nothing will separate us from the Love of Christ. We know that nothing will separate us from the Love of Christ because God is working all things together for our good. And jot down Ephesians 1:11 and look up that passage and put Ephesians 1:11 with Romans 8:28, and you’ll see how inseparable they are.

So to conclude where we started back with Scott and Janet Willis, whose six children died in that van, I asked them, “How would you respond to those who say that no good could possibly be worth the suffering of your children and your suffering all these years?” I wrote down Janet’s reply word for word. It was this: “Eternity is a long time. It will be worth it. Our children’s suffering was brief and they have the eternal joy of being with God. We and their grandparents have suffered, but our suffering has been small compared to our children’s joy. Fourteen years is a short time. We will be with him and with them forever.”

The best is yet to come. We will never pass our peaks. We really will live happily ever after. Every chapter will be better than the one before, and God will cause all things to work together for good to those who love him, to those who are called according to his purpose. That is the promise of God paid for by the blood of Jesus. And if you ever wonder, “God, do you really care? Do you really love me?” then just imagine him stretching out those scarred hands and saying, “Look at me. Do these look like the hands of a God who does not care?”