Hard Places Make Holy People
James C. Denison
Would you go on the Internet to watch cheese ripen? I did last Tuesday, and became the 1,205,022th visitor to do so. A large English cheddar cheese was placed in front of an Internet camera last December, its ripening process broadcasted to the world. It will take a year for the cheese to fully ripen. Meanwhile, viewers from 119 countries are watching. Now that’s entertainment.
A ripening cheese beats much of what’s in the news these days.
An al-Qaeda bombing in Bangladesh proves the terrorist organization isn’t going away. Controversy in Washington over war funding; global warming and the melting Zugspitze glacier in Germany; a week of thunderstorms and floods locally; continued coverage of the Virginia Tech tragedy and fears about security at upcoming college graduations.
Where is the world not what you wish it were? What about the past or the future worries you in the present? God’s word today calls us to be grateful for all of that. To learn an attitude of gratitude even in the hardest places of life. Why? Because hard places make holy people. How can that promise be true in your hard place today?
Don’t be surprised by suffering
Let’s begin with what Scripture does and does not say. Our text does not say that all things are good, but that “in all things God works for the good….” The distinction is important.
When God made the world he called it good. In fact, when he was finished with creation, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).
But then humanity fell into sin and the suffering which results. Man would live by the sweat of his brow and woman would bear children in pain until death comes.
This fallen world is a reality for us all. Every one of us has sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23); the wages or result of that sin is death (Romans 6:23).
And creation is affected by such sin: “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:19-22).
We suffer cancer and heart disease and disaster and death because this world is not the way God intended it.
Some say that Romans 8:28 means all things are good all the time, that we are to be happy always and “praise the Lord anyway.”
Such theology would find no home in Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed under such stress that the capillaries of his skin broke and he sweated drops of blood (Luke 22:44). Not on Calvary, where our Savior cried in anguish, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Not with Paul’s “thorn in the flesh,” a problem so great he prayed three times for God to remove it (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Not for John, who was exiled on the prison island of Patmos where he was a “companion in tribulation” with suffering Christians around the world (Revelation 1:9).
Jesus warned us that “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). Paul likewise warned us that “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Don’t be surprised by suffering.
Our text does not promise that all things are good, but that God “works through all things for good.”
The Greek is that he “works together all things for good.” “Works together” is the picture of God taking existing materials and using them, working with them, molding them into something new.
He is in fact making something “good.” This is the Greek word for “good in nature,” not necessarily in appearance. At the time it may not seem at all that God is working bad for good, but he is.
The reason is simple. As I’ve said often in the last year, God’s holiness requires him to redeem all that he permits or causes. God is by definition the greatest, most perfect being that can be conceived.
And a perfect being must redeem everything he permits or causes. He can allow or do nothing which he cannot use for a greater good. If 9/11 or Virginia Tech defeated the ultimate purpose of God, he is not God.
We likely will not know all the ways our Father is using bad for good, but we can know that he is. We don’t have to understand computers to use them. I don’t have to know how this wireless microphone works to trust it. So with the redeeming power of the God who works through all things for good.
If you’re not sure God can use bad for good, ask Joseph in his Egyptian prison; or Moses at the Red Sea; or Joshua at the flooded Jordan River; or David facing Goliath; or Jeremiah in the mud cistern; or Daniel in the lion’s den; or Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo in the fiery furnace; or Peter in Herod’s prison awaiting execution; or Paul and Silas singing hymns at midnight in a Philippian jail; or John exiled on Patmos.
Ask the millions of Christians who have come to faith in Communist China after their churches were made illegal; or the millions of South Koreans who came to Jesus after the devastation of the Korean War; or the thousands who were moved to faith upon hearing the stories of the martyred Christians at Columbine. God is working through all things for good. Either his word is true or it is not. Either he is God or he is not. We must make our choice.
Submit to the purpose of God