And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…
In all things, good and bad, large and small, he’s working for our good. He works to make our lives better and to add quality to our all too often petty existence. We believe this. We proclaim this. We memorize it in our bible studies, misquote it to our friends and post it in our Facebook statuses. And why not: this is scripture and scripture is truth. It is the work of the Holy Spirit, leading the Apostle Paul to expand on the mysteries of God’s abundant grace.
As Americans, we love this verse almost as much, and generally for the same reasons, as we love Jeremiah 29:11. We love a good promise. Especially if we can make it sound like God is going to give us stuff. And let’s be honest; when we read this verse we believe that God will do just that. You see we in the western world have this unfortunate tendency to interpret everything according our individualistic, materialistic self-interests. If God has promised me good, then he must have promised me good according to how I define it. “Good” too quickly becomes an ideology wrapped with the selfish gains of material wealth and perverted standards of prosperity.
What does God think about “good”? I guarantee you this- t’s not all white picket fences, high yielding mutual funds and luxurious living. We discover this by reading past the comma in verse 28 and into verse 29.
…for the good of those who love God, who have been called according to his purpose.
For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.
His purposes are inextricably connected with the goodness he promises. It’s not that he doesn’t intend good for us- it’s that “good” isn’t as cheap and corruptible as we too often let it become. Good is about his will, which is often entirely different than our dreams of prosperity. In verse 29, “For” becomes a really important word. It’s like “since” or “because” and It’s connecting the previous thought of verse 28 with the coming thought of verse 29. So the good of his purposes is connected both with his purposes and with the good of his transforming power. We are being conformed into the likeness of Christ.
This has everything to do with college ministry. Maybe they’ve grown up in the church and witnessed firsthand the mindless spiritualization of wealth and prosperity. Or maybe they grew up outside of the church and have become quickly disillusioned with the American Dream. Either way, we have the opportunity to help them see that what God has for them is good because it is substantially different from what the world offers. They’ve graduated from high school, and some even from college in the last few years with the looming threat(s) of economic adversity. They, like most of us, have or had put some hope in the offers of wealth. Even if they’ve not yet given up on the empty promises of self-interest, they are seeing the shortcomings of this mindset and seeking something deeper and more secure.
Our part is to combat the idolatry of western self-interest and facilitate conversations around the actual good that God has promised his people. We must assure our students that he is working diligently on behalf of us all. In good and bad, large and small, the creator of the universe is gently orchestrating the fumbling successes of our lives beyond the status quo; into a life of deeper discipleship and and a richer identification with his son. This is truly good, and is a step closer to a good interpretation of Romans 8:28.