I have gone on record in saying that Bible passages we think we know the most we know the least (see here and here). This is not any less true with Romans 8:28: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
This verse is often used to give hope and encouragement during suffering and trials. Often this verse is understood to say something like: Everything bad that you are going through right now will eventually turn out all right. Sadly, however, this is not what the verse teaches. And it can leave you with false hope and expectations. And these hopes and expectations, when not met, can lead to despair, bitterness, anger, and sometimes a rejection of Christianity.
A hinge upon which this verse turns is to understand the meaning of the word “good” in “God causes all things to work together for good.” How you define “good” is key.
“Good” cannot be defined as something like: It will turn out all right in the end. This is not reality. What happens when you are diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer? What does it mean that God works it all out in the end? What happens when you are abused, cheated, or misunderstood, with no real justice achieved in this life? It certainly is not “good” when you lose a spouse, your child abandons the faith, or you become unemployed.
You see, “good” must be defined by the context. This is why you should never read a Bible verse out of context. “Good” in the context of Romans 8:28 is that you be conformed to the image of Christ. Conformity to the image of Christ is the “good” God is working in your life.
Trials and suffering are part and parcel of life in a fallen world. These trials and sufferings are never fun. And, from a human perspective, they may be utterly devasting. God does not promise that your earthly life is going to get better. God does promise, however, that Jesus will get bigger in your eyes. As you walk through the trial and suffering, you will be more and more conformed to the image of Christ. This is truly what God promises to “work together for good.”