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Thursday, July 31, 2008

I Want My Bible Back #3

This is the third post in a series of posts on out-of-context Bible quoting. Today's verse : : :

Romans 8:28 “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 (

As I suggested at the start of this series of posts, this verse is often quoted not so much “out of context” as it is quoted in such a way that I wonder if people are “out of their mind.” Often used in situations where someone is experiencing great pain, this verse often goes in the “thanks, but that is not helpful to me right now” category.

Yet, sometimes it goes beyond bad timing and is most definitely used in a way that the text is not suggesting. Some of the most inappropriate uses and bad timing uses I have seen of this passage include : : :

  • An offer on a house is declined
  • A car breaks down
  • A spouse leaves
  • A person gets cancer
  • A child dies
  • A spouse dies
  • A man or women loses his/her job
And someone says, “all things work together for good” to the person experiencing the pain and loss as if to suggest that either : : :

A. God somehow brought the pain and discomfort upon a person in order to accomplish “his will”


B. Someday the person will look back on the situation and be thankful for it

Neither one of these options are congruent with the passage.

There are varying translations of this text that either point directly to God’s part in working things together i.e. “He works all things together for good” or simply “all things work together for good.”

Either way, the immediate context of this passage is one where believers in Jesus have a hope and knowledge that God is ultimately holding us all in his grip and nothing can separate us from his love—death, life, angels, demons, present, future, powers, height, or depth. “If God is for us, who can be against us (v31)?” This is the God who sent his Spirit to “intercede” for us even when—in the throws—we don’t have the words to pray.

Remember, while followers of Jesus often know “cognitively” that we are eternally safe and secure in the person of Jesus but we don’t always know that “experientially.” Of course we know the "end of the story" but that knowledge is not always something that gives perspective in the midst of pain. Perspective usually comes with a bit of distance from pain--though that distance varies greatly between individuals.

Of course, our sovereign God can and does use the remnants of our pain often to encourage and sustain others but that is different than “causing” us pain. Some might suggest Job as a push-back to this stance but one would certainly be hard-pressed to build a theology of the cause of pain on that book alone. Even in Job, God is not the one bringing the heat.

This passage is not about God redeeming our situations or struggles.

The passage is certainly not suggesting we “turn that frown upside down.” The passage in no way negates or minimizes our pain.

It is also not suggesting that somehow we will see a good “end result” with our present time of trouble. We may never. Our children may never.

Most often the more appropriate response to a friend's pain is a shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold, someone to pray with, and a hearty "that sucks."

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