Sunday, September 02, 2007

God's Eternal Plan

And 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.” (Romans 8:28) In context, Paul wrote these words to Christians in Rome who had to be wondering whether God was really even hearing their prayers in the midst of some very real suffering and affliction. Doesn’t every Christian sometimes wonder that same thing? Yet, Romans 8:28 is clear: in everything God works for good.

But I’d be quite a foolish preacher to stop there. It would do us well to skip verse 28 entirely until we fully understand verse 29. When you start with 8:28, you run the risk of turning profound biblical truth into a trite piece of conventional wisdom. I’ve heard many Christians mumble Romans 8:28 as a capsule of encouragement for life’s problems – sort of a theological version of the proverbial saying that “in every cloud there’s a silver lining.” To reduce Romans 8:28 to conventional wisdom would be to do a terrible injustice to Paul’s teaching and to rob God’s Word of its truth. Open the door with me to a better understanding:

Romans 8:29: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…” The God who is at work among us is a God who is in control and who will surely bring about His intended purpose – His eternal plan. And make no mistake; this does not mean that God plays with our lives like dominoes for amusement. Neither does it mean that God is “letting be what will be.” God has an eternal plan and is working to bring about his saving purpose -- to conform Christians to the image of his Son Jesus.

Now think about the life of Jesus. He died between two thieves for us. That’s the journey on which the sovereign God is taking us . . . a death to self. So becoming in Christ’s image is by no means only on the heights but rather in the everyday depths near which we always find ourselves: stress, sickness, tragedy, suffering, broken relationships… There’s really not a lot of optimism here. It’s not as if “all things work together for good” means that there is some increment of good that is always being worked out in spite of appearances. That would be false hope. God’s Word does not do that.

When we start with Romans 8:29 and know that it is the image of Christ to which we are being conformed, it keeps us from reducing 8:28 to the idea that there is a hidden good in our present suffering and the evil that surrounds us… that “every cloud has a silver lining.” God’s eternal purpose is infinitely wider and deeper that platitudes that everything will be all right. God’s eternal purpose is not separate from but encompassing of our suffering and bitterness. God’s eternal purpose uses even the worst that sin, death, and Satan have to give us in order to bring about His eternal purpose.

What sustains us in our present suffering and bitterness is to know our prospect of a future glory and to know for certain that God is fulfilling His eternal purpose in our lives yet today but in His time.

- Pastor Mark