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 NASB)
We all know that God is good. God is the definition of goodness. God is love (1 John 4:8), how could He not be good? Although we know that God is good, full of love, grace and mercy, that faith is often tested during times of trial and suffering. It's often those very times that bring this verse to mind. We read the promise: God causes all things to work together for good but what does that really mean? Does it really mean that no matter what happens to us in life, everything is going to be okay? What if we get diagnosed with a terminal illness, become unemployed, have our home destroyed by fire or natural disaster -- is it true that all of these things can work together for good? If we aren't careful, Romans 8:28 can damage our faith in the inerrant nature of Scripture if we misunderstand what Paul is actually saying here. It's always important to look at a verse in a larger context. Although I'm generally a fan of more "word for word" Bible translations such as the NASB, HCSB or ESV, I really like reading passages in the Phillips New Testament sometimes to get a different perspective. Lets look at Romans 8:28-30 in the Phillips NT:
Moreover we know that to those who love God, who are called according to his plan, everything that happens fits into a pattern for good. God, in his foreknowledge, chose them to bear the family likeness of his Son, that he might be the eldest of a family of many brothers. He chose them long ago; when the time came he called them, he made them righteous in his sight, and then lifted them to the splendour of life as his own sons. (Romans 8:28-30 PHILLIPS)
We also need to look at who Paul is addressing; believers who trust Christ as their personal savior. Paul is telling these believers that the things we suffer with here on Earth are nothing compared to the glory we will experience in eternity. Until the day that Jesus Christ returns and we are freed from the fallen flesh we live in now we rely on the Holy Spirit to help us get through tough situations every day. Even though we don't always understand God's plan, and even though we don't understand why we are experiencing the trials and troubles we are going through, We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28 HCSB).
This promise only applies to believers -- those who accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior. Everyone can't claim this promise because everyone doesn't have a personal relationship with Christ. Does that mean that only good things happen to Christians? Well, that depends on what good things are. Are good things health, wealth, prosperity? No, that isn't what Paul is talking about at all. There are lots of non-Christians who are healthy, wealthy and they think they are quite happy in their earthly existences. So, what is Paul talking about then? It's in the next verse: For those He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:29 HCSB). The good that Paul is talking about here is making us more Christlike, i.e., "conformed to the image of His Son". As Christians we can't think of good as earthly, material possessions. Our ultimate definition of good as used in this verse should be us being made more like Jesus. So, all things that happen to us in our Christian life are being used by God to help make that happen. Even through suffering, God is doing something to help the Kingdom, for a greater good than we may understand here with our earthly minds.