Rom 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
When Christians quote Romans 8:28 it is often as a calming “God controls everything, so do not think your suffering is without a purpose” type of way. The claim is that God has built a plan, and everyone suffers as a means to a fabulous end goal. The steps, they claim, including the suffering are necessary and purposeful.
The problem with this is twofold:
First, if God inflicts pain on us to teach us lessons, is that moral? In order for that to be justified, the end goal has to well outweigh the end result. For example, killing your children’s beloved pet dog with a shotgun might teach them about mortality, but doing so would just make the father cruel. The father actually could get this end state or teach this concept in a less horrifying manner. So what is the end goal that could justify God killing 6 million Jews in the Holocaust? The end goal not only has to be worth the tortured deaths of 6 million Jews, but also has to be the better than a less costly method.
Second, the verse has nothing to do with God making the best of bad situations, but about the reassurance that even though we suffer and die, we will be saved in the end:
Rom 8:29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.
Rom 8:30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
Paul starts right after this verse by re-enforcing the fact that people are saved (this is “the good” to which he refers in the previous verse). He follows this up with saying:
Rom 8:33 Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.
Rom 8:34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.
Who is making a charge and why? Paul is continuing his focus on salvation being the end state. People cannot charge believers with being sinners (thus not being saved) because it is God who justifies, not people. And to top it all off, he explains what people can do to Christians and not separate us from Christ:
Rom 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
So Christians will experience tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness and death (the “sword” is used figuratively for death throughout Paul’s writings). Death is fairly permanent, and not usually what Christians think about when they say “all things work together for good”. After all, if a Christian dies, how are “all things” working together for their good? It is clear that Paul is not saying God has micromanaged plans to make all harms to Christians into nice results. Instead, Paul is saying even though life is rough and Christians might be beaten and killed that Christians are saved and no one can take that from us.
Note also, this verse is better translated: Rom 8:28 And we know that we work all things together with God for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.