If we read Romans 8:28 and think that it means a happy outcome tomorrow for the problem of today, we misread the intent and ignore the context. Worse, we miss the perspective that we need to have and the help that the passage can actually offer us. Paul goes on, after the famous verse and writes:
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?
Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is al-so interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The context of the famous passage about everything working out for good is the full plan and purpose of God. The promise God gives us, the hope that we have, is that in the end, we are redeemed and will live with God in paradise forever. Oddly, this seems not to be what people want. Why is that?
They want their heaven now. And by that, I mean they want an absence of pain and trouble here and now. Who doesn’t?
Yet, the reality is that heaven is now. Luke records in his gospel that “Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, ‘The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.’” (Luke 17:20-21)
Peter writes, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1:3).
Could our lack of perspective be a consequence of our failure to believe that God’s plan and eternity-yet-to-be are fully real and a part of our lives today, with actual impact for when we get a dreaded phone call late at night that a loved one has died?
If a famous rich man came to you and told you that a year from Saturday he would deposit a billion dollars into your checking account, how would you feel? Would you be happy? Would you think to yourself, “life is good and everything is going to be fine?” Would the lack of money, the financial hardships of today bug you much after that? Would you think you even had financial hardship any more?
And yet God has promised us far more than a billion dollars. But we let ourselves be miserable. He has told us that the people we love who have died will be raised back to life and that we will live with them, and with God, happily ever after, forever and ever and ever, in paradise. And yet we’re still miserable.
Jesus said something once that we’ve heard so often it becomes a cliché and we are robbed of its power: “If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
It is hard to have an eternal perspective before we are in eternity. After all, we cannot see eternity. But as the author of Ecclesiastes wrote, “God has set eternity in our hearts.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) God promises us a happy ending, but more than that, he promises us “I am with you to the end of the world.” He is with us now, not just in the by and by. The kingdom of God is today, not just tomorrow. Certainly we do not experience the lack of pain or the lack of death today. But it’s not just a grin and bear it until the end, either. There is relief now. It is based on how you choose to perceive stuff based on the eternal perspective, the eternity that God has given us today, in this moment. Then, when the flat tires come, you will have the strength to fix them.