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When Surprise Shows Up

• Greg Boyd

So why DO bad things happen to good people?! What IS God’s plan for overcoming evil, and why does it so often seem like evil is still winning?! Yes, God does have the power to take anything that Satan intends for evil and to work it to bring about good, but this is not work that God intends to do alone. He “comes alongside” us to “work all things for good”, but this is a process that requires OUR cooperation!

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Many translations of Romans 8:28 say something like God “causes everything to work for good”, which to many people suggests that God is causing everything – and “everything” includes things like war, marital unfaithfulness, pets dying, and so on. When people buy-in to this perspective, they are left trying to find satisfactory answers to questions like why God had them raped, or paralyzed them in a car accident…

Jesus never once suggested that afflictions people were facing were caused by God. In fact, he was very outspoken against that mindset. His perspective was that afflictions were from the devil, not God, and Jesus was out to set people free from their afflictions.

That God “causes” is one possible translation of the original Greek text found in Romans 8:28, but it’s not the only possible translation – and it’s not one that aligns with the message of Jesus when the context of the verse is also considered.

The original Greek word that has sometimes been translated “causes” is a combination of 2 words, the prefix of which means “with” or “alongside of”, and the root word means “to exert energy”. So the idea is “to exert your energy alongside another”. In other words, an accurate translation should convey that there’s more than one party involved and exerting energy, which leads to a fundamental problem with translating that passage to communicate that God is causing everything. A more accurate translation might be to say that God works with us – alongside us – always to bring about good in all things.

There has been a strong theological bias since the 5th century A.D. that if God is omnipotent and all-powerful, then he must be all-controlling. By that point in history, Christians had starting thinking that power means control, but that’s the opposite of what Jesus taught. Jesus taught and modeled “power-under” – an attitude of self-sacrifice, humility, and servanthood is how Jesus used his power to bring about good. Whether the afflictions he confronted were caused by Satan or just by people’s bad choices, Jesus used his power to come alongside the afflicted and, together with them, to make good come out of the affliction.

In the first chapter of Corinthians, Paul says that to those who are perishing, the cross of Christ looks like foolishness, but to those of us who are being saved IT IS THE POWER OF GOD. Now, a guy getting crucified probably looks weak on the face of things, but Paul is pointing out that the revelation of God in Christ is redefining what it means to be all-powerful. It doesn’t look like “control-over” everything, it looks like the ability to overcome any evil and to bring good out of it. It’s power in relationship that honors and respects the power of the other – it works with others and influences them rather than coerces or oppresses them. When we read Romans 8:28 from that perspective, then it’s perfectly compatible with the life and teachings of Jesus. This passage is telling us that no matter what happens – no matter how much God may even be opposed to it ever happening in the first place – He will be right there with us in it, and working alongside us to overcome the affliction and to bring about good in this world! Out of God’s incredible love for us, he dives right into the mess with us – not judging us, but redeeming us.

The passage says that God does this “for those who are called according to his purpose”, so you might ask, “Why doesn’t God do this for everybody?” The answer is simple: He wants to! But “exerting energy alongside” (not “over”) someone requires their cooperation and participation. Paul is simply pointing out that as foolish and weak as a crucified King might appear to be to an unbeliever, that very power to come alongside us in our afflictions and to overcome them is NOT weak in any way to “those who love him, who are called according to his purpose”! In other words, it’s not that God will only work with some people – it’s that only some people will work with God. It’s only those people who understand and trust God that are going to be willing to work with God to bring about good out of evil. When we see and understand that what God was doing on the cross was not weak, but rather was the ultimate expression of his power – of “exerting his energy” to “come alongside us” in our brokenness and helplessness – then WE become willing to “exert OUR energy” to “come alongside him”, which is what then gives God the ability to transform us and our afflictions into something good!

So not matter what happens, we are to put our trust God. We should be asking him where he’s at work, and “exerting our energy” to “come alongside him” so his will can be done – which means that the bad will be transformed into good.

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Topics: Faithfulness, God's Will, Power, Spiritual Warfare

Sermon Series: Formed

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Focus Scripture:

  • Romans 8:28 (NIV)

    And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

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3 thoughts on “When Surprise Shows Up

  1. Peter says:

    In Revelation we find the following verses (6:3-4),

    “When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.”

    While some may be of the view that these aspects of Revelation are for the future, others are of the view that these prophecies have been and are occurring now.

    The feature of these verses is that total world peace is not going to be present until the second coming, regardless of what the politicians, idealists or any ‘prophets’ of this age may say. Of course, peace is not limited to nations but could be as close as your next door neighbour.

    Greg gave us a number of examples (viz. of the issues of life forming us) including his own personal life of which many could similarly relate, for better or worse.

    Nonetheless the issue that Greg brought out is that our neighbour (good or bad) was created in the image of God like ourselves and that we are told to pray for our enemies as Jesus did, when he was experiencing rejection and hatred during His crucifixion, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Lk 23:34).

    With this in mind and the issues that have recently occurred in France, while Greg’s prayer at the beginning of the message was the ‘go to’ prayer for those who have undergone great suffering….and there is absolutely nothing wrong with this….few people, if any, pray publicly for the enemy (as Jesus did), as it is God working in these situations whether it be for nations, neighbours, siblings or spouses that brings about changes to our self and others (as evidenced by Greg’s example of ‘Sue’), that leads to peace and positive formation of ‘self’.

    There are no doubt a number of reasons why we may feel uncomfortable with praying for the enemy (especially in public)…..but this is probably ‘old self’ based and we can but follow the example of Jesus, and what scripture tells us, and allow God’s love through us to reach out in these challenging situations.

  2. kathy d says:

    Completely excellent description of being transformed by the Hand of, and wisdom of our wonderful God….. Thank you Greg. This message is truly a blessing. Praise God.

  3. David Saleeba says:

    Is it possible that even with the NLT and NASB, which translate Romans 8:28 as mentioned in the sermon, the synergeo meaning can still be drawn from their English rendering?

    What I mean is, instead of focusing on “causes” as a negative, we would focus on the “together” a few words later? I think it’s the mindset/worldview that influences our processing of the translation in some instances.

    I’d love to hear some thoughts on that.

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