Tuesday, June 19, 2007

"Doesn't God Work Everything Out For Our Best?"

Jimmy lost his job. According to him, his boss was “out to get” him. Things came to a head when his boss told him to do something and to do it “or else!” Words followed and that turned to physical pushing. Nobody was hurt, but Jimmy lost his job. And he asks, “Doesn’t the Bible tell us that God works out everything for our best? What about this?”

Jimmy’s referring to Romans 8:28, which reads:

“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.”

It looks good, right? Like at some point, God is going to use this situation to really bless Jimmy with a better job and a better boss. Hey, maybe Jimmy will be the boss! He’ll be able to look back on this and say, “I’m glad that I lost that crummy job, because God has used that tiff to get me this awesome new job!” But no, this verse is not saying that. It is not talking about God taking crummy circumstances, tragedies, or disappointing outcomes, and twisting life around so that in the end, the believer finds himself in a wonderfully better situation. It isn’t talking about changing anyone’s situation at all.

This verse is talking about prayer and victorious living. In fact, in verse 22, we find that the world is groaning and in pain. Then the believer, though also groaning, is encouraged to hope in God’s goodness and to press on towards becoming like Christ, and to advancing God’s Kingdom. It tells us to pray and march forward, trusting God:

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”
Verse 26

The text goes on to talk about how God did not spare Jesus from suffering, and then we the believers, are encouraged that in our sufferings, nothing will ever separate us from God’s love. The Bible seems to assume that we would care most about being “more than conquerors.” This scripture isn't about what we do for work, what kind of transportation we have, our housing, or how our bosses think of us. It is about prayer and victorious living.

Romans 8:28, tells us that, despite the trials we may be going through, God will not only not leave us, but He will continue to work into our lives Christ-likeness. Yet, we usually hear this verse used as if it says, “Cheer up! God will use this bad in your life, to bring about good for you?” It just is not saying that.

It isn’t that God might not bring us to a place one day, where we see that a difficult situation was just what we needed. But that is not what this verse is saying. Where does God promise us that any and all hardships will turn out for our ultimate and earthly best? I don’t see it. God is merciful though. I think of this verse in Joel:

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.”
Joel 2:25a

I’ve heard this quoted to people who have spent years distanced from God. They then repent and turn to the Lord, and people comforted them with this verse. And there may be something to that. But the prophet Joel was talking about real locusts that had ravaged Israel, and lost them years of wealth. Israel was in great disobedience to God at that time. The locust plague here, was a wake up call, reminding Israel that they will be judged like any nation. The “making up for,” blessing was to come only after judgment and repentance. It was a word to those people at that time in history. Israel represented God to the world. If anyone wanted to worship the one true God, they went to Jerusalem. Israel needed to be acting right for the nations to know God.

If we think of ourselves as in spiritual service to the Lord, a better verse might be from Psalm 23.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”
Verse 5

This is an almost comical scene, where though the soldier-king David has enemies, God has so overcome them, David is being honored with a banquet, while his enemies can only watch, toast to his honor, and probably seethe inside. This happens for those who seek to please God, despite opposition, as is described in Romans, Chapter 8.

When you became a follower of Christ, you became part of God’s royal priesthood.

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.”
1 Peter 2:9

As His priests, our inheritance is the Lord Himself. The Levites were the priests of Moses’ day. While other tribes of Israel inherited land to work, the priests did not inherit any land. The Lord was their portion and inheritance. And so today, for those who come to Christ, the Lord is our portion. God said to Aaron and the priests:

“You will have no inheritance in their land, nor will you have any share among them; I am your share and your inheritance among the Israelites.”
Numbers 18:20

Is He not enough for us? If I gain the whole world and forfeit my soul, how lost am I? If I have naught here, but have Christ, how rich am I? Scripture assumes that what excites us, motivates us, and floats our boats, are the things that we have in Christ and the amazing mission that we are on, to let the whole world know of this wonderful salvation which we have found in Him!

God expects our greatest desire to be Him. After all, hasn’t He saved us from certain Hell? Hasn’t He instead of Hell, given us Heaven and Himself? He gave us Jesus, who died for us! With this gift, He has given us not only eternal life; He’s given us a better eternity than we can even imagine! Why are we thinking 78 inch plasma, with more channels?!?

If our focus is job promotion, raises in salary, or the right transfer, then we are going to read scripture differently, than if our highest aim that day, is to do and to become whatever our Lord God wants us to do and to become. If we seriously see God as our portion in this life, we will understand and rejoice in what this verse in Romans 8:28 is really saying. We can pray, and advance the kingdom of God, despite opposition.

The Lord’s portion to the Levites was not sub-standard. (See the rest of Numbers 18). The point is that God had another occupation for priests. He would provide for them, so they could focus on serving Him. Whatever jobs we may have here on Earth, He is our portion, and our true joy will be in His service.

Our actions have consequences. When they are good, “yippee!” When they are bad, what do we do? I guess we can cry out to God; for in His mercy, He will respond. I’m sure He does that. But if we misrepresent Romans 8:28, then we are setting ourselves, and those to whom we misquote that verse, up for a spiritual dilemma. Because if we misrepresent what this verse is saying, then when situations don’t change “for our best,” then what does that mean? “Something is wrong with God’s promise,” or “something is wrong with my faith,” etc. We need to be careful with this verse, because we live in a fallen world, where consequences exist.

After having saved us from death and bringing us into His glorious light, God expects us to focus there, and to respond accordingly. If you want “all things to work out for your best,” then you need to focus on what God’s best actually is for you. And that is godliness and victory.

“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these He has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”
2 Peter 1:3,4

We actually get to “participate in the divine nature!” It is way better than cooler job offers. (Which are still cool, by the way.) To understand Romans 8:28, we need to be thinking about the advancing of God’s Kingdom, and the part we have in that. We get to participate in what God is doing! And He will be our portion while we do it! It doesn’t get any better than this, folks!

Jimmy lost his temper, and the consequence was the loss of his job. But that hasn’t affected the call that God has on Jimmy’s life. To succeed in that call, I recommend Jimmy read and heed 2 Peter 1:5-11. (See for yourself!) If he will read and heed these verses, then the next boss he gets, however mean and obnoxious, Jimmy will be more able to minister God’s light; when push comes to shove.

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