The meaning of Romans 8:28: “God works for the good of those who love him”
Romans 8:28 is one of the best known verses in Romans and probably one of the best known verses in the whole Bible.
Here is what it says: “For God works all things together for good to those who love him and are called according to his purpose.”
There’s a good reason people like this verse and think a lot about it. It’s because we all suffer. We all experienced hardships, some of it almost unbearable, and those of us who believe in God and that’s most of us want to know what God’s relationship to that suffering is.
Where does suffering come from?
Did God cause our suffering? Does he sympathize with us in our suffering? Can he do anything about our suffering?
These are human questions and questions that many, many people have.
Romans 8:28 does not tell us that God causes people to suffer, and it doesn’t say that God consider suffering in and of itself to be good.
What it does say, however, is that God works all things together for the good of those who love him and are who are called according to his purposes.
Romans 8 in context
It’s actually really important to read around that verse. I would recommend anybody interested in the meaning of this verse read all of Romans 8, beginning in verse one. This entire passage in Romans is really helpful for understanding what suffering is all about particularly as a Christian.
It doesn’t solve the problem at a philosophical level, the problem of how God can be all powerful and all good and yet good people can suffer. How can that happen? It doesn’t solve that problem for us.
But it does describe how God is at work in a suffering world. We know he has identified with that world through his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who died on the cross—suffered—for our sins and participated with us in a suffering world. We know he’s with us in our suffering.
Romans 8 also reminds us that God is busy recreating this world and that those of us who are united with Christ by faith are being transformed, and the church is being transformed and is God’s pilot unit for what the world should look like.
He’s transforming the church, and eventually he’ll transform this whole world to bring suffering and oppression to an end.
That’s how God is working all things together for good, for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.
Frank Thielman is author of Romans in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament.