Romans 8:28 goes on to remind us that pain is a process toward an ultimate good. Foundational to the acceptance of pain is the awareness that God has us in process. None of us is what God wants us to be. Though God loves and accepts us the way we are, He sees all that we can become. Pleasure has a way of making us satisfied with ourselves. Pain catches our attention so that God can develop us into His dream for our lives.
That process is defined in several dimensions:
It’s An All- Encompassing Process. Since God works “in all things,” we are guaranteed that whatever He permits— whether pain or pleasure, bane or blessing—He is able to use it all to transform us.
Beautiful automobiles are especially alluring. They become beautiful and useful through a process. The process involves a design concept that is reached through bending, banging, shaping, heating, riveting, fusing, and tightening. It’s a slow process as the assembly line moves at an almost imperceptible speed, but it’s a specific process with a desirable goal. Hundreds of component parts make up the whole. Some are unsightly and added under great pressure, whereas others beautify; yet each is essential to the process.
The truth that pain is a part of God’s process is seen in the context (Rom. 8:18,23,26). To wish to be transformed by God without pain in the process is to expect a hunk of shapeless steel to become a beautiful and useful commodity without the trauma of the assembly line.
It’s A Continuous Process. In Romans 8:28, the phrase “God works” indicates a present, continuous process. God will never abandon His purpose for us, nor the process to accomplish it.
I have many unfinished projects in my basement— things I tore apart to restore and antiques that I have begun to refinish. With God, I am never an abandoned project.
It’s A Divinely Supervised Process. Note that Romans 8:28 says, “God works.” Behind the scenes of my life story is the hand of God—moving, changing, limiting, applying pressure, providing strength, rearranging. God is the one working all things together for good.
Auguste Bartholdi went from France to Egypt in 1856. He was awestruck by the grandeur of the pyramids, the magnitude of the mighty Nile, and the beauty of the stately Sphinx of the desert. His artistic mind was stimulated. While on this trip he met another visitor to Egypt, Ferdinand de Lesseps. Ferdinand was there to sell an idea to cut a canal from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea that would save merchant ships the long journey around the tip of the African continent. Auguste was taken by the concept. He decided to design a lighthouse to stand at the entrance to this canal.
It wouldn’t be an ordinary lighthouse. It would symbolize the light of Western civilization flowing to the East. It took 10 years to build the Suez Canal. And for 10 years Auguste worked on his idea. He drew plans, made clay models, and scrapped plan after plan. Then he had the right one. It was the perfect design.
There was only one problem. Who would pay for it? He looked everywhere, but no one was interested. The Suez Canal was opened—without a lighthouse. Auguste went back to France defeated. Ten years of toil and effort were wasted.
You would have liked his idea. It was a colossal robed lady that stood taller than the Sphinx in the desert. She held the books of justice in one hand and a torch lifted high in the other to light the entrance to the canal.
After Auguste returned to France, the French government sought his artistic services to design a gift to America. The Statue of Liberty lighting the New York harbor demonstrates that what happens in the midst of disappointments can often be a prelude to good things beyond our imagination.
If, in the normal course of life, things that seem to be disappointing, difficult, and defeating can be processed into something magnificent and significant, how much surer is this process with the hand of our wise and powerful God guaranteeing the outcome.
We must take caution, however, against slipping into an irresponsible fatalism that sees God as both the source and the processor of pain. Within the “all things” of Romans 8:28 are the reality of human choices and consequences.
In her book Affliction, Edith Schaeffer tells of a child who fell off a cliff to his death and of another who slipped through the ice into a frozen lake. Did God push the child from the cliff? Did God push the boy through the ice? No, these tragedies occurred because we live in a fallen place and are a part of a fallen race. It was a choice to venture too close to the edge of the cliff, a choice not to check the safety of the ice. But it is the powerful, creative hand of God that takes these tragic settings of life and works them all together for good—regardless.
Life is a lot like a jigsaw puzzle. Often our lives can seem like a thousand pieces spilled onto the table. They seem to be confused, disoriented, senseless, and tragic. But then God comes and carefully, wisely, in His way and in His time, puts the pieces together. In the end, the puzzle is something that makes sense—a good thing of beauty. That’s what we know.
As Paul affirmed, “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).