When Christians speak about suffering, Romans 8:28 often rises to the surface: “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” The pull towards this promise should come as no surprise. It’s a profound comfort to know that our pain is not a meaningless mistake outside of God’s control.
However, the way we sometimes champion this verse can further disorient those in the storm and dislocate us from the very type of faith this promise is meant to produce.
These words, taken out of context, can pressure us to think that we must identify the particular purpose behind our specific suffering. Or we feel that God’s redemptive plan requires a religious form of positive thinking. We’re tempted to become suspicious of our soul’s aching. Or worse, we feel guilty for our questions, doubts, or need to cry out from the chaos. “If this will one day work out for good,” we think, “I probably shouldn’t express how bad it feels right now.” Faith succumbs to stoicism as we cover our fatal wounds with bible-versed bandaids.
But the truth that “all things work together for good” is not meant to send us on a spiritual quest for the silver lining in our affliction. Nor is it meant to silence our sorrow and replace it with cheerful optimism.
Read the verses in context and you will see the expected tension between our pain and God’s promises. We patiently wait for the future glory of God’s redemption, but our waiting is not quiet. We join the cosmos in calling out from the brokenness, longing for the Lord’s restoration. And his Spirit enters in, not to censor our sadness, but to cry with us and translate our tears into prayer.
Creation groans. We groan. The Spirit groans.
The promise that God will work all things together for good leads to this kind of faith: heartache harmonizing with hope. Future glory does not negate present groaning. Our ship is tethered to the anchor of Christ’s coming restoration, but it still rocks in the waves until that day comes.
So wait patiently, Christian. And groan boldly while you do.