“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.”
If you’re a pastor or church planter out there – I’m sure you’ve quoted this verse a thousand times already amidst the current pandemic. As people are searching out answers to “why God” and “where is God” – Romans 8:28 is a staple response. And make no mistake about it – it’s an appropriate response. However, the reason it’s an appropriate response has actually shifted in my mind and heart over the last month, and the shift has been all around the my (and likely most of our) presumed definition of the word “good.”
Let me explain…
For those living in the United States, our definition of “good” is generally interpreted as God will help us, bless us, be with us, provide for us, keep us safe, heal us and get us through whatever we’re going through. (And if that’s not how you interpret the “good” then understand that’s how 95% of people across the country interpret it!)
Simply, our definition revolves around God improving our problems and enhancing our position in this life.
However, what if “good” also includes the opposite of this sentiment?
What if “good” is also to include God allowing our problems to increase and jeopardizing our position in this life?
To that point, consider another passage of Scripture.
In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul talks having a thorn in his flesh that he begged God to remove three different times. While we don’t know what the thorn was exactly, we do know Paul identified it with being some type of messenger from Satan to that was tormenting him (verse 7a).
Now, does such a description sound “good”? Hardly.
And would it seem “good” for God to answer Paul’s prayer? If we’re honest, we’d answer that question, “Most definitely!”
What we discover is that God does answer Paul’s prayer, but His “good” response doesn’t fit into what many of us deem as “good” for it does not involve Paul’s deliverance from his painful reality. Rather, God’s nonresponse lets Paul’s thorn problem persist, which results in him taking a lower position in life – a position of dependence. God explains this as “good” because it keeps Paul from “becoming proud” (v. 7b), and it reveals to him that God’s “grace is all you need” for God’s “power works best in weakness” (v. 9).
If you were Paul – how would we respond to God’s “good” response? If we’re honest – I think most of us would have great trouble seeing God’s goodness in what feels like an unanswered prayer that brings about more pain and suffering. But listen to Paul’s conclusion – the same Paul, by the way, who said God works for the good of those who love in Romans 8:28! …
“So now I am glad to boast about my weakness, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ (and I’d add in pandemic panic). For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12:9b-10 NIV
Such an attitude is what I’m praying I would possess and help pass on to others amidst the COVID-19 crisis. It’s a more robust view of “good” that I believe truly helps others rise above our limited, culturally-conditioned view of “good.” It’s a more honest, Biblically-substantiated, and Jesus-evidenced definition of “good” that we all need right now.
“Good” has always included God either causing or allowing crisis to turn our attention and allegiance to Christ. And perhaps that’s what we’re experiencing right now on a global scale? If so, I want to find it good to take pleasure in this time of weakness because when I’m weak, I experience God’s strength and power.
And without a doubt – that’s most definitely “good.”