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.
— Romans 8:28
Christians love to quote Romans 8:28 when someone is suffering. Don’t worry. God’s working all things for good! And while I believe the truth of this verse, it can be really hard to understand when you’re standing in the middle of pain, loss, or grief. When nothing you’re experiencing seems “good,” this can be a hard one to swallow.
There have been times in my life when I was tempted to respond with something snarky to a well-meaning person who quoted that verse to me. Really? Why don’t you come stand in my place and see if anything looks good from this perspective? But it’s not really my personality to speak such things out loud, so I would simply shove the sentiment down and stew, which is just as unhelpful.
We know that God is love, so it is his nature to work all things for good. But our earthly perspective is clouded, both time-bound and veiled. Paul makes this clear in 1 Corinthians 13:12. “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.”
It helps to keep in mind that God’s perspective, the Kingdom perspective, is eternal. Even the things that are unwelcome and feared on earth, suffering and death for example, will be redeemed in the Kingdom. Our part in that story is to be his instruments of love and to never underestimate the power of that love, here and now.
After walking through a season of loss, I’m finding I have a changed perspective on the trials life throws our way. There are many things in life we can’t fix, as much as we wish we could. But we can allow ourselves to change and grow in the midst of pain and struggle. Suffering in this life is often where transformation begins.
Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)
As I meet with dear friends facing heartbreaking pain and recent or impending loss, I realize more and more there is no “right” response other than love. I can only ask in the moment, “Father, what would you have me do?”
There is no formula for compassion. Each individual heart is unique, with its own wounds and needs. Only God sees these hidden places and knows how to respond. But if we listen to his gentle guiding, his comfort, compassion, and healing can flow through us. This is what it means to become Christ-like.
Many times recently, I have been reminded that Jesus did not hide his sorrow. The shortest verse in the Bible is also one of the most profound. Jesus wept (John 11:35). God himself, who held the power of resurrection and knew that Lazarus would be raised, wept. Why? Out of deep compassion.
So how did acknowledging our sadness become a shameful thing for many Christians? This simply shouldn’t be. As the medieval Christian author Thomas à Kempis wrote, “many evils happen in this veil of sorrow.” I doubt many escape life without at some point feeling this way, and it is dishonest to pretend otherwise.
But God knows, and we need not hide our hearts from him. With reliance on God, our sorrows are transformed into hope. Thomas continues, “Sadness is my lot, and I am like a man imprisoned and loaded with chains, until You refresh me with the light of Your presence, and show me Your face as my friend.”
Loving well simply means to walk with those whom God brings to us through whatever darkness they are facing, trusting the light of God’s presence to bring transformation and redemption. I believe that often looks like Paul’s insistence to the Romans that they “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). And what could be more Christ-like? In so doing, we lighten each other’s burdens and are reminded that we are not alone. Perhaps this is the way we catch a glimpse beyond the veil to see all things working together for good.
Photo 1: National Cancer Institute; Photo 2: Eric Ward