The darkest moments in life leave us paralyzed with pain. Often times, well-meaning brothers and sisters will come along aside us in those moments and recite the famous verse: “All things work together for good to those who love the Lord…” (Rom 8:28). As a pastor, I know I’ve been guilty of misusing this text, not so much because of a wrong motive, but because of a wrong understanding.
The truth is, the power of this verse isn’t in its ability to ignore pain, but to acknowledge it. The verses immediately preceding Romans 8:28 give us an image to describe the experience of the broken world and our shattered souls. Can you guess the image? Hint: Your wife will tell you it is the most intense pain she has ever felt.
Paul describes the brokenness of the world as labor pain. Consider the implication of that for a moment. Labor pain is intense. Aggressive. Unrelenting. Indescribable except for those who have been through it. Paul describes the entire cosmos as going through the pain of labor. As part of this broken world, and those who have contributed to its brokenness, we will undergo the same pain.
Imagine if during labor well-meaning husband said to his wife, “Don’t worry, honey! God works out all things for good!” I doubt anyone would blink if she gave him a swift slap across the face.
The truth is, Romans 8:28 was not written to minimize our pain at all. “All things” encompasses the painful groans that Paul says are too deep words to express. One reason why Jesus drew (and still does) so many broken hearts to himself is that he never minimized or ignored the brokenness of the world. Instead, he gave people the only thing that could possibly help.
Not a bandage Bible verse, but the hope of a God who loves us enough to enter into that pain with us. As Christians, we have a faithful Friend who knows the depth of our pain because he willingly experienced it Himself. He did not enjoy the cross, but he knew it was the only path to lasting joy for himself and for us.
God knows the depth of our pain. He reminds us that, like a woman in labor, the worst pain can bear the greatest purpose. I doubt anything less than a newborn child could convince a woman that the pain of labor is worth it. But in the end, a mother can surely say—without minimizing the pain for a moment!—that the pain she experienced is not worth comparing to the joy of the child.
As we consider our brokenness, and the brokenness of many around us, let’s offer more than a platitude. Let’s offer the hope that, as followers of Christ, we have a hope that will outshine the darkness. But let us also, like Jesus, not be afraid to enter into that darkness before we seek to lift others out.