Saturday, July 05, 2014

All things work together for good

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28).
Commentators differ on the best way to render and understand this verse. Fitzmyer has a useful breakdown of the major options. 
Some commentators think "God" is the subject of the sentence: God works all things together for good…
But whatever the theological merits of that rendering, it's considered ungrammatical. Some commentators object to making "all things" the subject of the sentence on that grounds that that's too impersonal. "Things" don't cooperate for our benefit. 
There's a sense in which that's true, but it misses the point by erecting a false dichotomy. Certainly Paul didn't suppose that "things" cooperate for the good of Christians independent of divine agency. V28 is sandwiched between lengthy passages that expound God's plan and providence. God works through things for our good. 
Rather, it's a matter of emphasis, and the emphasis is quite important to practical theology. For it's "things" that often seem to impede rather than facilitate the walk of faith. They get in the way. They often seem to conspire against us rather than for us. That's frustrating. Aggravating. Discouraging. And no one knew that better than Paul himself. He had firsthand experience. Just read 2 Corinthians!
So Paul is making the point that, appearances notwithstanding, all things (both all things and all things) do, in fact, work together for the ultimate good of Christians. And that's a very familiar idea for a writer like Paul. Consider OT history, Consider the Joseph cycle (Gen 37-50). Despite repeated obstacles and setbacks, despite appearances to the contrary, God was directing events behind the scenes for the good of his chosen people. 
Not just the obviously good things, but even, or especially, the seemingly bad things, contribute to our welfare. All things. But that's often something we can only appreciate in hindsight.Yet that isn't helpful when we're in the thick of things. That's why we need God's promise. God's promise is a glimpse of hindsight in advance. 

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