The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.
Romans 8:28 is perhaps the greatest promise in the Bible. It says, “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” What is this promise actually saying? Many people misunderstand this promise, so it would be helpful to examine what this verse is not claiming.
First of all, this promise is not claiming that all things are good. Some people say, “There is something good in every situation.” Try telling that to a parent whose child has been killed. No, Paul was not saying there is good in every situation. Dark is not light. Sorrow is not joy. Death is not life. Paul is not saying that all things are good. Some things that happen are absolutely evil.
Second, this promise is not claiming that we can see good in all things. Some people say, “If you just look hard enough or wait long enough, then you will be able to find that silver lining in the cloud.” Paul was not saying that either. He was not saying that we can see good in all things. My parents often quoted this verse when I was growing up. When things did not go my way, they would quote this verse to me. For example, after I lost a contest at school, they would say, “Robert, don’t worry about that; God had His reason. God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God.” But that was not the case in every situation.
My dad worked for an airline, so we got to travel free of charge, unless paying passengers showed up to take our seats. Many times, we would be on our way back from vacation, eager to get home, but at the last minute, the airline would say, “Sorry. A paying passenger has shown up, so you are bumped.” We would end up spending the night in the airport. Whenever we would get bumped off a flight, my parents would say, “All things work together for good; there is a reason God did not have us get on that airplane. Maybe it was going to crash and burn, and God spared our lives.” I remember as a little kid wondering, “What about the people who did get on the airplane? How did that work out for them?” I appreciate what my parents were trying to do. They were trying to help me see the bigger perspective in life and not judge everything by an individual circumstance. But there are some problems with that kind of reasoning.
There are two basic problems with saying that if you just look hard enough you will find good in every situation. First of all, sometimes we go our entire lives without ever seeing the good in the situation. Life is not like a television program that resolves everything in 30 minutes. There is not a happy ending to every story–not in this life anyway. Second, perhaps the biggest problem with that kind of reasoning is that it is based on a wrong view of the word “good.” We are trying to define good in our own terms. But what God says is good and what we think is good are not always the same.