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God's Unexpected Providence

God is able to--at his own discretion & by his almighty power--to intervene into our circumstances.

When a man woke up and found himself on a deserted island and looked around, his immediate thought was, "Why did I not die in that storm at sea like everybody else on the ship?" 

But survival instincts wouldn't allow this pity-party to last too long. 

He got up and pulled himself together. After this, he gathered some of the goods and resources that had also washed the shore and collected them and put them together. Knowing that he needed more, he then went a little further inland on this deserted island and cut down some branches and and made himself a crude little hut to house his resources and to shelter him until whatever happened. 

And as this man stood back and watched this little hut, which was barely standing for the first time in the midst of all of this ordeal, he really felt like everything was going to be alright. So, he went in further to get food and came back only to discover that his hut with all of his resources in it was burning down. 

Before he caught himself, he found his fist angrily lifted up to God demanding to know why. "You saved me in the shipwreck when everyone else died. You allowed my hope to rise only for it to be dashed again. Why? God... "

...answered. God didn't speak, but God answered. God answered through the sound of a ship's horn. And, in the distance, he saw the ship coming in his direction. And when he got aboard the ship and was safe and sound, he asked the obvious question, "How did you know I was on that deserted island?"

The captain's answer was, "We saw your smoke signal go up in the sky."

Really, that's the message of Romans 8:28.  

"And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose."

For the record, I believe in divine intervention. I have absolute confidence in the sovereignty of God. God is able to--at his own discretion and by his almighty power--to intervene into our circumstances and, literally, turn things around. 

R.C. Sproul said it well: "Christianity is based on and rooted in miracles. Take away miracles and you take away Christianity." 

While I agree with that I (Darin) contend that God does not most often operate in our lives by divine intervention. He more often operates by what you might call "divine unexpected irony." 

Irony is that literary device in writing where an author holds intention, apparent meaning, and actual meaning. Irony is when your burning hut becomes the means of your deliverance. Irony is when God works not by erasing the bad parts from the story, but using the bad parts to produce something good. 

This is what Romans 8:28 declares when it says: "All things work together for the good of those who love God and are the called according to his purpose." 

It is what is illustrated in the life of Joseph recorded in the latter section of the book of Genesis. Joseph had a dream from God, a coat from his father, and a promise of prominence on his life. Yet, his brothers hated him. When they had an opportunity, they threw him in a pit plotting to kill him. They sold him into slavery instead. There in his master Potiphar's house in Egypt, he is falsely accused, imprisoned, and, while in prison, those whom he helped forgot about him. 

However, ultimately, God raises him to second-in-command in Egypt. And his brothers who have wronged him now find themselves at his feet, afraid that he will use his powerful position to execute vengeance against him. But in Genesis 50:19-20, Joseph says to his frightened brothers: 

"Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? Ask for you. You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good. To bring it about as it is to this day, that many lives would be kept alive." 

This is, in a nutshell, what Romans 8:28 is saying: When evil has taken place, God meant it for good. This, I believe, is the truth that helps us deal with the tension of evil and the sovereignty of God in our lives and in the world around us. 

So, today, for a very long "Theology Tuesday," let's look at four truths about the unexpected (ironic?) providence of God.

#1 - The Guarantee of God's Providence - “And we know...”

Many things, it seems, look much better in the rearview mirror of life. 

In fact, this is why this verse is so beloved by so many of us Christians. When we hear this verse, read this verse, or think about this verse, we look back in moments in our lives when we didn't know how we were going make it and somehow God worked it out. In Romans 8.28, bids the believing heart to give thanks to God. for his invisible hand at work in the circumstances of our lives. 

But remember, this is a word of guarantee. It is not about what you have been through--it is about what you are yet to go through. 

It is not a milestone--it's a map. 

It's not intended for clear hindsight--it's intended for clear foresight. 

Paul is suggesting that we can face whatever the days ahead may bring and whatever consumes our lives--the dangers, toils, and snares of life with this guarantee: "And we know." 

What a big phrase! "And we know." 

To say, "and we know" indicates we can know. In the midst of yesterday's hurts, today's troubles, and tomorrow's uncertainties, we can face life with an unwavering confidence that says, "And we know." 

There's a little book by Frederick Buechner entitled "Wishful Thinking." In it, he calls it a "seeker's lexicon"-- and then he just describes and defines aspects of Christianity for the uninitiated. On one page, he defines a Christian. He rambles about really for several chapters until he gets to the end of this definition and he lands the plane excellently. He says, in the final analysis, in Darin-ese: "Christians are not necessarily better than anyone else. They're just better in form." And, I believe, he's right on target. 

Our ability to respond to life and its circumstances--not because we are better than anyone else--we just, as Paul says here, we just know stuff that unbelievers don't know. 

If you have run to the cross and thrown yourself on the mercy of God and have been a beneficiary of the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ, you enjoy an eternal salvation. 

Aren't you glad Paul said that? Without explaining all of the sufferings that are happening in our lives or in the world around us, he says there is something we can know. And I'm glad he uses that assertive language. He doesn't say: "We wish all things work together. We hope or we pray that all things work together." 

We can know it! 

Job 19:25-26:

"For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. 26 And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God"

In Romans 5:3-5, Pauls says:

"Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us."

Even at death time, 2 Corinthians 5:1 says: "For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." 

And James 1:2-3: "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness."

But you may be thinking, "How do we know? How do we know that all things work together?"

That's a legitimate question in light of Romans 8:26-27:

"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God."

We pray for blessings when we should pray for contentment. 

We pray for deliverance when we should pray for patience. 

We pray for healing when we should pray for strength. We

We pray for provision when we should pray for wisdom. 

We don't know what to pray for as we are. Our prayers are aided by the ministry of the Holy Spirit. 

But Paul says in verse 26, "We do not know." And, then, two verses later he says, "And we do know." 

Now, we don't know what tomorrow is going to bring. 

We don't know the outcome of every circumstance. 

We don't know how literally the next chapter is going to be written.

But what we do know is that the invisible hand of God is at work in the midst of it all. And we use what we know about God to interpret what we don't know about life. 

We know God has everything under control. 

We know that God is still on the throne. 

We know that God has the last word. 

In fact, some of the older translations of this can be a little bit misleading. The language says, "And we know that all things work together." 

That's not literally true. Things don't work. independent, and automatically. Things don't work for you--things don't work against you. In fact, if life was the result of things just working, then our lives would be subject to fate, luck, chance. So God works in the midst of things, good things and bad things. 

One of my favorite hymn writers is William Cooper. Biographers are gracious to him. They say he was melancholy in spirit. In simple terms, he was depressed and suicidal. And in those moments when he would try to let go of God, God wouldn't let go of him.

And he said, on one occasion, he planned to commit suicide in the nearby river of his home. So, he had his driver to take him there. The driver knew what his master was planning to do and had not the authority to stop him. However, he prayed that God would do something, anything. And God did. 

As they set in the carriage to go to the river, fog fell. It was so heavy, so thick, and so dark they couldn't see their way. And the driver just kept driving in circles until his master fell asleep. And when he woke up the next morning, he was shocked that he had woke up the next morning and was in his bed. But out of that experience, he concluded that God sent the fog to save his life. 

And meditating on that experience, he wrote his hymn (we have sung at church a few times):

"God works in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform. 

He plants his footsteps on the seas and rides on every storm. 

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace. 

For behind His frowning providence, He hides His smiling face." 

Paul says, "And we know."  That's the guarantee of God's providence!

#2 - The Extent of God's Providence - “all things work together”

Romans 8:28 is one of the awesome "alls" of the Bible. 

--There is the "all of Scripture" - 2 Timothy 3:16: "All Scripture is breathed out by God." 

--There is the "all of sin" - Romans 6:23: "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."

--There is the "all of Christ" - Colossians 3:11: "Jews, circumcised, uncircumcised, barbarians, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all and in you all."

--There is the "all of scripture" - 2 Peter 3:9: "That God is not slow with his promises as some count slowness, but he is patient with you, not desiring that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." 

And here we find the all of providence from Romans 8:28: "And we know that for those who love God, all things work together." 

How many things? All things! 

Not some things.

Not certain things.

Not specific things.

Not special things.

Not even spiritual things. 

All things.

Nothing excluded.

Nothing missing.

Nothing left out of all. 

All means all and that's all means. 

All things work together. 

No conditions.

No limitations.

No restrictions. 

God and his providence has factored in every literal, theoretical, and possible circumstance. And he causes all things to work together.

Some people say frequently: "It's all good." It's cool slang--but bad theology. 

It's not all good. All is not independently good. 

All is not inevitably good. 

All is not immediately good. 

We live in a sin-scarred world and there are many things that are as far from good as night is from day, black is from white, up is from down, right is from wrong, and good is from evil. 

It is not all good. Think about it:

Sin is not good. 

Suffering is not good. 

Injustice is not good. 

Poverty is not good. 

Racism is not good. 

Divorce is not good. 

It is not all good. And there are many things in this life that are not good. 

The good news: What is not good can be restored! It can be redeemed. It can be recycled. 

God can take the trash of life and produce something beautiful. He can make things work together. 

The verb here in Romans 8:28 is where we get our English term "synergism." It's when different elements come together to produce something different and better than what the elements can produce on their own. 

For instance, think about poisons. You bring poisons together and they can produce table salt. 

In a much greater and higher way, God can take the negative, the evil, and the wicked and make it cooperate. Literally, the idea here with his good purpose.

God can take, in the words of Joseph, "what is meant for evil and bring it out for your good" (Gen. 50:20b). 

What do you think of the scope of that? 

Suffering. God can make suffering work for good. 

--Psalm 119:71: "It was good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn your statutes." 

He doesn't say the affliction was good. But it was "good for me." Because there were things about God's way that he did not learn, could not learn, and would not learn unless God allowed him to be afflicted. And looking back on the affliction, he says, "It was good for me because it was through affliction that I got closer to God." 

We don't want trouble. But trouble has a way of making us pray and see God and go to his word. And anything that does that, has to be a friend! 

God can make suffering work for your good. God can make Satan work for your good.

Martin Luther called the devil "God's lap dog." He is only able to do what God permits. 

If I could summarize the theology of Satan in three simple statements: 

1. Satan is real

2. Satan is powerful...

3. but Satan is defeated. 

And even when the devil is "busy," God can make even what the devil does work out for good. 

Luke 22:31-32 says: 

"Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

Notice Peter didn't interrupt and say, "I trust you told him." No, Jesus says, "Simon, Satan has been asking for you to sift you as wheat to knock you down. And I have prayed for you. Not that you would not be sifted, but I have prayed for you that your faith will not fail." 

God can even make sin work for good. Augustine says that all things work together for the good of those who love God, including sin. This is not a license to sin. Should we continue in sin, the grace may abound, says another portion of this letter to the Romans, God forbid (Rom. 5:20). 

But not even sin is out the scope of God's providential working. There are Christians who know what it is to fall into sin and have the chastening hand of God to work in your life to make you a better Christian on the other side of failure. In fact, God uses the sins of others to warn us not to go down the wrong path. 

In his book, "Turtle on the Fence Post," Alan Emory writes of accompanying Ken Hansen to visit an employee who had just had an eight-hour surgery. Hansen stood over the man who was in pain and he could not talk. Hansen acknowledged that and says, "I, as you know, have had my own battles and sicknesses and surgeries. And I know how you feel." He says, "But there are really only two perspectives in life that you could take at a moment like this: Genesis 42:36 or Romans 8:28." He read the scriptures to the sick man, prayed, and they left. 

He's right. There are only two perspectives in life when we are suffering. You can take the perspective of Jacob in Genesis who says, "All these things are against me."

Or, you could take the perspective of Paul here in Romans and say, "All things work together. good of those who love God."

#3 - The Purpose of God's Providence - "For good...according to his purpose."

"Good" is he difficult word of the text. In some sense, I hope that word is difficult for you. If it's not difficult, it's because we manipulate the text. 

The word good is not a problem for those who: 

Skip the text.

Manipulate the text. 

Pervert the text. 

If you twist it to make good mean whatever you want it to mean, then that is great. You'll never struggle with Romans 8:28. 

As an example, a person could be fired from a job. And there are no worries about that, they say, for Romans 8:28 says, "All things work together for my good." They say: "They fired me off this job. It just means God has a better job for me." 


Or, it may mean that God will use your season of employment to teach you how to trust him, not your paycheck. 

Good is not favorable circumstances. It's not feeling good. It's not. Freedom from problems is not the fulfillment of all your hopes, goals, and dreams. 

Here, the proper definition of the word "good" is not about comfort, pleasure, happiness, ease, or success. The proper understanding of the word "good" in this verse is tied to the word purpose. 

When God says all things work together for good, he's not promising that everything in life would feel good. You don't need a theologian to tell you that, do you? What feels good in life is not necessarily good for you. What looks good is not necessarily good. 

God defines what is good in terms of what aligns with his eternal purpose and his purpose for your life. What is this purpose? 

Romans 8:28: "For those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers." 

That's God's good purpose for the believer's life--that you may be conformed to the image of his Son. God is not up to three, seven, or 25 different things in your life. God has a singular purpose for your life--to shape your life into the image of his Son, Jesus Christ. And He will use good days and bad days, ups and downs, wins and losses, and suffering and success to make it so. Whatever it takes to conform you to Christ, it is the will of God to have the Spirit of God use the Word of God to make the children of God look like the Son of God. God works to conform us to the image of his son. 

God, in his infinite wisdom is looking down saying, "Son, daughter, child, this is exactly what you need to help you grow up." 

#4 - Recipients of God's Providence - “those who love God… for those who are called according to his purpose”

Romans 8:28 is not a blanket promise. You just can't throw this around to anyone and everyone. 

The assurance is infinite. The reciepients are limited. 

This is for believers. 

This is for those who have been justified by faith in Christ. 

This is for those who have been born again. 

This is for those who have been saved. 

This is for those who have run to the cross, turned themselves in, and trusted the mercy of God poured out in the blood of Jesus. 

Who is this assurance for? Paul describes them two ways in the verse. Notice, he describes them actively and passively. 

Actively--the beneficiaries are described this way: they love God. 

Passively--they are described as those: called according to his purpose. 

Those who have been justified by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone--plus or minus nothing--wonly those people can claim this verse. 

If you have not trusted Christ, well, this can't be your hope. This is for those whose hope is Romans 8:32:

"He who spared not his own son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not, along with him, graciously give us all things?" 

If you have not trusted this risen Son, Jesus Christ, who was not spared on our behalf, this verse does not work for you. In fact, if you have not trusted Christ, the the inverse of this is operating in your life. 

To put in simply: All things work together against those who do not love God. 

If you don't love God, your education is working against you. 

Your accomplishments are working against you. 

Your success is working against you. 

Your family is working against you. 

Your money is working against you. 

Jesus said: "What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul? What in the world can a man give in exchange for a soul?" (Mark 8:36).

If you don't love God, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is working against you. Because he who died to be your Savior, if you don't trust him, you will face him as your Judge. 

Christian, know that God has everything under control. And it may not look like that in the world around you! There'll be times when you don't know what's going on.

But in the midst of that...say to your troubled heart. "Don't worry, and we know. that for those who love God, all things work together for good, for those called according to his purpose."