When life seems overwhelming and trials seem to be queued up awaiting their turn, it is easy to ask God why? Why does HER life seem so easy? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does God ALLOW this pain to continue? Is Romans 8:28 only relevant after I'm through my trial? For some of these questions, we will not have answers on this side of eternity; however, one basic truth helps them all make a little bit more sense:
As human beings, we do not get to define good.
Webster's dictionary defines the word as "something enjoyable." That human definition certainly does not effectively portray the meaning of this verse! If we expect Romans 8:28 to translate to "all things work together for something enjoyable," it will be impossible to trust God's Word.
However, what if good is not defined by me? If I'm going through trials in my marriage, if the orders just came through for another deployment, if I lost my job, if another month goes by and I'm not pregnant, if the doctor calls with a devastating diagnosis--are these things good? Not by my definition! But if God allows these things, He promises to use them for good and to bring good from them- if we let Him define good; but it might look different than we assume.
Sometimes we can look backward at a situation and see the good that came out of it, but if our perspective is that the "only good thing" that comes from a trial is that I'm closer to God or I had to lean on Him more, we need to realign our thoughts to realize that THIS IS THE ULTIMATE GOOD! Keeping an eternal perspective, we can see that our ultimate goal is not to avoid trials or the hurts and pain of this world; our ultimate goal is sanctification and becoming more like Christ!
James 3:3-5 tells us, "…but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us." Every trial we successfully endure takes us closer to that goal of character, hope, and ultimately realizing God's love being poured into us. But this is only effective when we lean into Him through the trial and let Him define what good means. So often, we try to avoid the ordeal, fix the problem, or find a human way to alleviate the pain, that we miss the opportunity for growth that comes by walking with God through the trial—by leaning into Him and growing our faith and trust.
So once we let God define good, it's essential to look for the good intentionally. Most human beings are not wired to look for what's good. It's easy to see what's wrong or broken, but we must intentionally look for what's good. When my children were young, and I told them to clean their rooms, it wasn't long until I realized it was too quiet and I'd better check on them. I rarely (if ever) walked into their rooms and noticed everything that had been put away. I noticed what was still out; I saw what was wrong, not what was good. Similarly, if we look in the mirror, we rarely focus on what looks good; we see what is out of place, smudged, too fat, or too thin. Training our minds to look for the good is a valuable tool for personal relationships, spiritual health, and mental health.
Looking for the good differs from counting your blessings or simply being thankful. It's more deliberate. By way of illustration, I am thankful for my parents and three brothers. I recognize the blessing of having the godly heritage that I claim and the close relationships we nurture even as adults. However, during the most challenging time of my life - a husband with PTSD/TBI who walked away from his faith and family and ultimately lost his career - God planted in my heart the concept that "for a tough situation, I have the best case scenario." He did this by reminding me of the good He had given to me rather than allowing my focus to be on the pain and hurt. My good looked like: parents who were retired and available to help me whenever I asked and also were in a place to help me financially when necessary; brothers who stepped into the absent father role and taught my sons to be men and gave my daughters a model for godly integrity in a future husband; sisters-in-law who loved on my children and me and encouraged my brothers to take time from their own homes to help out at my house when necessary. All of these things were good things that God revealed throughout this trial. My pain was still present, my circumstances were still tragic, but my perspective shifted to recognize the good.
Finally, just because we can shift our perspective to find the good does not mean we will no longer hurt over the situation. Emotions are not sin. Emotions are not a result of the fall. God created us with emotion to relate to one another and to process life. Sometimes that processing of life will look like grief, sadness, and hurt during trials, then empathy, joy, and contentment through other times of life. When Jesus came to earth as God incarnate, He chose to experience all the emotions that we contain. We see this in a verse as simple as John 11:35, "Jesus wept." But we also see it in Isaiah where God reminds us that He has "borne our grief and carried our sorrows." Jesus could have chosen to come to this earth without the full range of emotion or even without pain receptors, but He chose to identify with us in our suffering. Whatever emotion you are currently experiencing, look for situations in Scripture where Jesus also felt that emotion. When we do this, there almost comes a pride in identifying with the Creator of the universe. God chose to feel what we feel.
In the same way, our own experience gives us greater empathy for others experiencing a similar situation. Emotions serve a purpose; let them do what they need to for processing grief, trauma, or trials, but still look for the good that God is doing or the good that He prepared for you before the trial was ever in your life. To try to tamper or stuff these emotions delays the healing and ultimately delays "closure" or acceptance of the event. God created us to relate to one another with emotion.
Whether you are in the midst of the toughest time of your life or staring into the face of a coming trial, I encourage you to intentionally look for the good. Time will pass, and the trial will happen regardless, so you might as well look for ways to find the good as you go through it. It's there, but you have to be intentional to look for it. Doing this grows our faith and, ideally, causes those around us to ask questions that allow us opportunities to glorify God through even the hard times.
Because glorifying God, my friends, is the ultimate goal.
No matter how many trials we endure on this earth, we look forward to when God will wipe away all tears and how I long to hear Him say, "Well done, My good and faithful servant!"
- Jenny Himka, MAPC