We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him (Romans 8:28).

In last Sunday’s New Testament reading Paul raised the problem of suffering and reminded us that we who live in the Sprit should realise ‘that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us’. The apostle sought to instil hope in us as we faced our various difficulties and challenged us to dance in whatever situation we found ourselves. “Life may not be the party we hoped for. But while we are here we might as well dance.”

In today’s New Testament reading Paul continues to encourage us and reminds us of a power that is present in our lives which changes evil so that it becomes a source of good. More than likely Paul spoke from personal experience. In his Letters he mentioned the various hardships he experienced and the comfort he received from Jesus who said to him"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."  Whatever we experience in our lives, we should see it as part of God’s plan and purpose for us. This is the point Paul makes, “And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated.” Everything in our lives happens for a reason. Nothing happens in our lives without the knowledge of God; He is in control of everything. “He’s got the whole world in his hand.”

Christianity does not down play the reality of evil and suffering. There is evil, pain and suffering in the world. All of us experience pain and suffering in many ways. Paul is not telling a pie in the sky story to make us feel good. His message is not a psychological prop to take us through life. Paul affirms that God is with us in all we suffer; God cooperates with us in all things for good. If we accept ‘that in everything God works for good with those who love him’, we will be able to see our suffering and pain as a ‘source’ of blessing. We are not saying that evil things are good. Evil is bad and it can be destructive, but for us who live according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh, evil has lost its power to defeat us.

Paul is emphatic about evil’s inability to defeat the Christian and he makes a mockery of death, the greatest evil: "O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Since we share in Christ’s resurrected life suffering does not define us. Evil is never the final word.

If we try to understand and rationalise suffering from a purely human perspective it can make us bitter, angry and resentful. Our attitude to suffering changes when we are in a relationship with God.  People who respond to God’s invitation to love him are saved from despair and see all things as working for good to those who love God.

If we accept and believe ‘that in everything God works for good with those who love him’ we will be at peace. Acceptance of this fact can save us from undue worry and anxiety when faced with conditions of pain, agony and disappointment. Remember, Paul is painting a picture that has the caption ‘God has everything under his control’. I would like to suggest that we read today’s reading in conjunction with some verses from Matthew’s Gospel:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; Therefore do not be anxious, saying, `What shall we eat?' or `What shall we drink?' or `What shall we wear?' "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day.  Matthew 6:28-34.

To these verses we can add Paul’s words to the Philippians: “Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

“We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him.” Implicit in this statement is the understanding that God can bring good out of evil. A fine example of this is the Joseph’s narratives in Genesis. Joseph’s brothers sold him to the Egyptians, this was an evil act. Joseph used the adversity to his advantage and became the highest official in Egypt. In this position he was able to provide food for Israel during the famine and saved it for its future role as God’s light to the nations. Joseph was positive in his outlook and saw his time in Egypt as God’s plan for a special purpose. “And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.  So it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45: 5-8). God can use evil to serve his purpose. God can use our personal suffering for some good.

We will never understand why God allows suffering. We will never be able to explain the problem of evil. We will never be able to rationalise pain, sickness and death. However, in faith we can say with all confidence and without a shadow of doubt “we know that in everything God works for good with those who love him.”

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