Tonight, I was chatting online with a friend from high school who just made tenure in another state. We were acquaintances in high school, even sitting next to each other in class sometimes, but never were close, so reconnecting at the last reunion and staying in touch with her and her new boyfriend (also a HS friend), has been a joy. She revealed tonight how unhappy her home life had been all those years ago, having to be the parent, and growing up too fast.
She is taking the time to work through the baggage and heal from that and the dissolution of her first marriage several years ago. She seems to have a fairly healthy perspective, and said that what happened was meant to be because it’s helped make her who she is today.
That comment resonated with something in me. It reminded me of the oft-quoted and misquoted Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
We often make two mistakes with this passage. 1) that it says all things are good, and 2) it works for good for all people.
#1 is wrong because not all things are good. Sin is sin, evil is evil, and their consequences are real pain, real death, real suffering. Yet, God works blessing out of them and redeems them. Does this make the events ‘good’? No. Would it have been better if they hadn’t happened? It is a dangerous thing to play ‘what if?’ It is mere speculation. God doesn’t have a Plan B—His Plan A is so robust, it allows for and corrects for things that are truly bad and evil, so there really isn’t a place for ‘what if?’
It would be easier for us in some respects if we could take refuge in a Plan B Creation—“well, He wanted Eden, but He got this mess instead and He’s making the best of it along with us.” But this is wrong. It makes God too small. The Bible is clear that the Cross was in the blueprints, not the change order, so this must be Plan A.
Doesn’t that make God some form of capricious, morally imperfect, sado-masochistic or something worse? No. Scripture doesn’t leave that option open for us either. His moral purity, holiness, righteousness, and goodness are trumpeted on nearly every page.
What Scripture teaches is that God is a God of Reality. He deals with the good, bad and ugly, and insists we do as well. Scripture is not sugar-coated. That’s what gives it its authenticity and simultaneously makes it so hard to swallow.
If He created it, and knew what was going to happen beforehand and allowed for it, then why not prevent it in the first place? That is the number one question in all of theology. There are many answers and many more attempts at answers. The answer God gives most consistently in Scripture in many ways is the least satisfying of them, but I’ll stick to it for now.
He says, “I am God. I see the big picture and know the end from the beginning. I love you enough to send My Son to redeem you from the crap. I AM good, true, holy, righteous. This is who I Am, and you will need to trust Me, even though it is hard. My character is what it is and that knowledge needs to be enough to carry you through appearances otherwise, and I make no apology for it. Will you love and trust me anyway? I promise to make it worth your while and to go through it with you if you will have Me.”
#2 is a tricky one. He clearly specifies that He works good only for those that love Him, and/or are called according to His purpose (will someday love Him?). He also says elsewhere that He will work against His enemies and defeat them. So He is consistent. In many ways, he works against His enemies to reveal them as such (even to themselves) and to give them a chance to see the futility of their path so they may turn away. Yet, He says He will harden hearts against Him to accomplish His purposes. Yet, even those are responsible to Him for their actions. To address this properly is above my pay grade! Therefore, see God’s perspective in the last paragraph. It applies here too. Not a very touchy-feely answer, but it is real. Since you can’t do much about others being enemies or lovers of God, what will you do about yourself?
Where does all of this leave us? It means we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. We do not know how God is moving behind the scenes in the lives of our students and colleagues (or even our family members!). Are they vessels of mercy or wrath? Dunno. So love them. As some less charitable souls have said, “Let God sort them out.” Yep. That’s about the size of it. In the meantime, love them.