In the letter to the Romans we read “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God…” I cannot hear or read that without thinking of a conversation I have a number of years ago. Most people had left the coffee hour and one young woman stayed behind and asked if she could talk with me. I agreed and a soon as we sat she started to tell me of an abusive father, abusive boyfriends and now a cheating husband. She spoke of emotional and physical abuse as well as isolation and fear. Then she asked me “How is all THAT working for GOOD? Or don’t I love God enough?”
What the author is saying is different from when she and many others hear. The author is not saying that everything IS GOOD or BECOMES GOOD for those who love God. But rather that if we love God and allow God to work in and through us and our lives even the really bad stuff we experience can be transformed and redeemed in some way.
I was talking with an individual who went through a very rough patch in terms of addiction, job loss, homelessness and estrangement from family. After returning to church and re-establishing roots in a faith community there came the news of terminal cancer. After the chemo treatments had not produced any good results the individual reflected that all the negative things that had been on the previous part of the journey had helped propel him to come back to church and resume a spiritual discipline that had been lost. “If I did not have that I would not be able to face being terminal as calmly as I am now.” The addiction, job problems, and homelessness were NOT good, but going through them had opened him up to find a new faith community he could trust and with that came the resources he needed for this last phase of his journey on earth.
A close friend often laments that she wishes she had had a very different life! And I understand why she would want that. But I have never had the courage to explain that given that new life I would have never known her. And that her history has made her extremely effective as a pastor, and given her skills to understand and to help others to find the path to new life beyond the icky things they have gone through.
God cannot save us from all evil and guarantee us a good and pain free life. God is in the business of blessing and resurrection; the power of new life. God cannot save us from trouble and evil but can work through us to transform it into new life for us and for others.