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Making Sense of Circumstances

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference:

Through all the trials of life and all the confusing events that seem to make no sense, we can cling to God’s promise. He is in control, He is at work, and He is working everything out for our good and His glory. This is the amazing promise unveiled in Romans 8:28.


In her book Mystery on the Desert, Maria Reich described a series of strange hills and valleys made by the Indians in Peru centuries ago. The hills would go on for hundreds of yards and then abruptly stop or turn suddenly to the right or left. There did not seem to be any kind of pattern. In fact, for centuries, these hills were believed to be the ancient remnants of some sort of irrigation system or boundary markers.

Several years after the invention of the airplane, the mystery was solved in 1939. By flying high above this area, the seemingly random hills and valleys, forming straight lines, then curving this way and that, could be seen to form enormous drawings of birds and other animals.[1] Imagine creating art that you could not fully appreciate on earth.

As we sail back into Romans 8:28, Paul is effectively saying the same thing. The hills and valleys, the straight lines and then the abrupt stops and changes are works of art that cannot be appreciated from earth’s perspective. You need a higher altitude to put the pieces together.

Romans 8:28 provides that perspective as it takes us to a higher altitude with godly wisdom. Again, Paul writes in verse 28—and I am quoting the New American Standard Bible here:

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.

In our last study of this verse, we brought up three things this verse does not mean. Now we are ready to discover what this verse does mean. I want to point out six different aspects here regarding the purpose of God in the lives of His followers.

First, Paul gives us the certainty of God’s purpose. He begins by writing, “And we know.” This is not guesswork; we know this to be true.

In the New Testament there are two primary Greek words for “know.” One word (ginōskō) refers to knowing through personal experience. And there is nothing wrong with learning by experience.

But the word used here (oida) refers to learning by way of propositional truth. In other words, you perceive and know it is true when it is stated as fact, whether you experience anything or not.

Let me illustrate it this way: 2 + 2 = 4. Your teacher taught you that, and you learned it propositionally. You did not experience 2 + 2 = 4; you just learned something that is true.

Here is what Paul is doing to elevate our perspective. He is saying, “We know God is in control because He said so.” It is a fact and is so stated. Our certainty in knowing God is at work in our lives has nothing to do with whether or not we feel it or see evidence of it. Aren’t you glad Paul did not begin this verse by writing, “For we feel.”

There is a huge difference between feeling and knowing. The truth is, we might be feeling exactly the opposite of what God is doing! We might not feel that God is in control. We might not feel that God loves us. We might feel like God has abandoned us. Beloved, as fallen human beings, we need to recognize that our feelers are fallen as well!

Paul writes, “For we know!” We know! Our certainty is based on the fact that God said so.

Second, this verse reveals the controller of God’s purpose. Paul writes, “And we know that God causes . . .” Stop there. We not only believe, but we believe God is behind what we believe. God is the cause and controller of His divine purpose. And that is great news because if the purpose of God depended on you and me, we would create chaos in the universe within the first twenty-four hours.

If God’s purpose depended on our cleverness, our diligence, our strength, the purpose of God would look a lot like our list of New Year’s resolutions after the first thirty days. Our confidence in God’s purpose is directly related to the cause of God’s purpose—God Himself.

Third, Paul reveals the comprehensiveness of God’s purpose: Again, he writes here in Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things . . .” Do you know what this little word “all” means in the Greek language? I looked it up and discovered something amazing: “all” means “all!” You could render this, “God causes everything to fulfill His purpose.”

Even when God seems to be doing nothing, He is doing everything. Our handicap is that we are earthbound. We cannot see our lives from the heights of heaven, but we can believe God is at work no matter what—in all things. All means all.

Fourth is the continuity of God’s purpose. Paul writes, “And we know that God causes all things to work together [sunergeō].” This word gives us our English word synergism.

Every event in life is having an impact on other events in life. Any one event in your life may not seem to work for good. But later on, you realize how that one event set in motion another event, which resulted in the final event working out.

Fifth, this verse reveals the context of God’s purpose: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good.”

Paul is not saying here that all things are good. He is saying that all things work together for good. Does he mean evil things and sinful things—false accusations and injustice and broken relationships and cruelty and betrayal and pain and suffering and hatred and jealousy and abandonment—even all of that?

Everything I just listed was experienced by Christ in the last few hours of His earthly life—false accusations, injustice, broken relationships, cruelty, betrayal, pain, suffering, hatred, jealousy, and abandonment. All of that was worked into God’s plan for your forgiveness and His glory. It was all a part of what we call today the plan of salvation.

He is presently weaving every event in your life together for your good. Why? So that, as verse 29 tells us, we can become like Jesus Christ.

There is one more discovery here in Romans 8:28, which we will call the condition for experiencing the glory of God’s purpose. Paul writes, “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.”

Does this mean if I do not consistently love the Lord and follow Him faithfully, I am going to miss it—God will stop working on my behalf? Not at all!

Someone has said “those who love God” is written from our perspective, while those “called according to His purpose” is written from God’s perspective.” In other words, the condition for being the recipient of God’s divine purpose is becoming one of His children. And the condition for enjoying God’s divine purpose is walking in loving fellowship with Him.

Only those who love the Son of God can appreciate the full measure of God’s work, which ultimately leads us to heaven. Paul wrote to the Ephesian believers, “We are his workmanship” (Ephesians 2:10). The word is poiēma, from which we get the word poem. We are literally God’s work of art, and the events of life are woven into the tapestry of God’s design for our lives!

Even that missed appointment, that introduction, that difficult teacher, that tragedy, that accident, that neighbor, that program, that hospital visit—they are the hills and valleys of Divine art!

We may not see it now. It might not look much like artistic design at the moment. The hills and valleys in life often do not make sense on earth with their twists and turns, but we will see it all clearly one day! One day we will be able to make sense of all our circumstances in life. That is the promise of Romans 8:28.

[1] Timothy George, “Big Picture Faith,” Christianity Today, September 23, 2000.

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