How can I still believe God is at work and know that He is “working it all for good” when people are out of work, coronavirus is spiking again, everyone seems angry, and I'm worried about everything?
It seems to me that you’re asking two questions. Let me deal with both of them.
First, I believe you are referring to Romans 8:28 and how it fits or doesn’t fit with what you’re experiencing, correct? It says:
All things work together for good to those who love God, who have been called according to his purpose.
Second, you’re asking the question, “If what God does is good, then why is the world filled with so much suffering and pain?”
Here are two answers that I hope help:
Answer #1: Romans 8:28-29 Can Be Misunderstood
If we’re not careful, we will completely misunderstand Romans 8:28-29. Too often, we read this passage and stop after verse 28. But will never understand verse 28 if we ignore verse 29, which says:
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his son.
God never said that all things are good or that we will only experience good as His children. He said is that all things work together for the good purpose of maturing us to look like Christ. That’s very, very different...maturing us to look like Christ is tough.
When I was in high school, my two good friends, Ken and George, had a severe automobile accident driving home from the lake. I was in the surgery waiting room when one of our church members began to encourage the parents.
“You don’t need to worry,” she said. God says in Romans 8 that all things work together for good to those who love God, and you all certainly love God. Therefore, you don’t need to worry. Everything is going to work out just fine.”
Unfortunately, she misunderstood the passage. George died and Ken survived. All things weren’t “good.”
The Bible is filled with examples of how God uses things that aren’t “good” by our usual human definition to mold us into the image of Christ.
Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. 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. (Hebrews 12:10-11)
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:6-9)
God never said that all things that happen to us are going to be good. He says that they will have a good purpose in God’s overall purpose for you and me. He is molding us to be like Christ, and that’s worth everything.
Consider this; people without Christ suffer for nothing, while people with Christ suffer for Someone and something that matters for eternity.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Yacobchuk
Answer #2: We Must See Human Suffering through the Lens of a Biblical Worldview
I was just 13 years old when I woke up from open-heart surgery to repair a hole in my heart. Then my surgeon, Dr. Ben Mitchell, said to me, “I wanted to be the first to tell you. We made a mistake. I held your heart in the palm of my hand and cut it open to find the hole. But there was no hole. You have a perfect heart.”
Well, my heart wasn’t perfect anymore. It’s cost me untold misery; but that’s another story for another time.
I thought that when I became a Christian, all my problems would be over. Now, I know better. Many problems will come to us just because we are Christians!
For many years, my understanding of why God allows such terrible pain and suffering was under construction. I kept asking the same question you did; “If God is all-loving and all-powerful, how could He allow such terrible pain and suffering in the world?”
I’ve discovered that most Christians, as well as most non-Christians, very much desire an answer to that question. For many, their faith or their decision to follow Christ is on the line.
How we reconcile the theological conflict between an all-loving, all-powerful God and the undeniable suffering experienced by God-created humanity is critical.
Develop a Biblical Worldview to Discover and Know Truth
Adopting a biblical worldview is essential, otherwise, when things don’t go as we think they should, the resulting doubt and mistrust stymies our spiritual growth and keeps us from enjoying deep intimacy with God through Christ.
Our worldview is how we see the world. We use it to interpret life events. Our worldview helps us deal with such issues as where God came from and who He is. It explains the reasons for suffering and determines what happens after death. Above all, our worldview is the basis for our value system and the meaning and purpose of life.
Research by George Barna identifies several non-biblical worldviews:
Deism: The Absent God. God exists and created the universe, but He has abandoned the world, letting it run its own course. Morals and ethics are important, but since they are not anchored in an involved, pure God, relativism rules.
Naturalism: What You See Is What You Get. God does not exist. History and humans have no purpose. Human choices are driven by survival.
Pantheism: Impersonal Divinity. Everyone is god. God is a grand unity of the universe rather than a spiritual being who is holy, powerful, loving, and creative. Pantheists seek to reach oneness with the universe.
New Age: Philosophical Syncretism. There is no transcendent god and no evil power to oppose divine power or humanity. Individuals are exalted as the ultimate authorities and are viewed as divine. People are seen as beings who can transcend time and space and who evolve to higher levels of consciousness through a series of personal and mystical experiences.
Post-modernism: Hyper-Individualism. There is no “meta-narrative” or grand story that explains life and reality. Personal experience becomes a relative truth that substitutes for absolute truth—which by definition, cannot exist.
Photo Credit: ©Bethany Pyle
Absolute Truths Do Exist
Now, let’s consider a biblical worldview. What are the “non-negotiables” we must believe to follow and mature in Jesus Christ? A biblical world view obviously has its basis in the Bible. The Bible is the inspired, inerrant Word of God. These nine absolute truths do exist:
1. The commandments and instructions of Scripture provide the foundation for Christian morality and ethics.
2. God is eternal, transcendent, ever-present, all-powerful, all-knowing, and the embodiment of love.
3. Human beings cannot become gods of any kind.
4. Humankind was created in the image of God. But humans were led into sin by Satan who continues to harass fallen, naturally sinful men and women. All men and women need a Savior.
5. Jesus is one hundred percent God and one hundred percent human. Therefore, because He was human, He was able to die. As God, he was able to die a substitutionary death to provide forgiveness for our sin.
6. All who believe in Him by faith alone have their sins forgiven and enjoy an eternal relationship with God the Father.
7. Judgment is coming for those who chose not to believe in Christ. Non-Christians will also be analyzed regarding their behaviors on earth. How we behave on earth really does make a difference.
8. Our earth is flawed as a result of the fall and too often in the controlling hands of the evil one. And because the world is fallen, natural catastrophes, wars, murders, stealing, accidents, failures, and poor decisions happen every day.
9. Until Christ redeems the world, we will face evil, pain, injustice, trials, and sufferings. We are instructed in the Scriptures to not blame God for the troubles we encounter (James 1:2-12; Proverbs 3:11-12; Hebrews 12:5-6). Our fight is not against Him (Ephesians 6:10-17). We battle the evil one and a world fallen into sin.
I know that what I’ve said here has been rather complex, but we can use this biblical worldview or rubric to understand the truth about why God allows bad things to happen to us, even though we are Christ-followers.
Right now, the Kingdom of God is not here on earth. That’s why Jesus told us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven” (Matthew 6:10).
The Book of Revelation declares that Satan now owns the title deed to the earth—only Jesus is worthy to get it back. Revelation is the story of how He regains it. Someday, when the events of the Book of Revelation are fulfilled, we will no longer contend with pain and suffering. Life will then work the way we wish it should—and the way God initially designed it to be—but, not now—not yet.
In the meantime, we must accept the reality of the biblical worldview. We live in a fallen world. God allows bad things to happen so that we can mature in Jesus Christ. But an improper worldview will only bring disappointment in God when things do not work out the way we imagine is right.
Is Your Worldview Biblical or Some Other Variety?
Can you see how much of our suffering is part of the natural course of life and not God’s fault?
Consider some of your sufferings. Do they make sense in light of your worldview? Think of a trouble you are now enduring. Go through the biblical worldview again and see if God gives you insight into what you are experiencing.
Now, consider an even further surrender into God’s love and grace. Enjoy His presence for a moment. Then pray again for God to make you more like Christ.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/tommaso79
Editor's Note: This Ask Roger article features insights from Roger's daughter, Brie Barrier Wetherbee, a sought-after Bible teacher and conference speaker, author, analyst, and Christian theologian.
Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at [email protected].