Sunday, July 12, 2009

Things

“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. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?" Romans 8:28-31 (NIV)

In my Expository Writing class in college, the professor, Dr. Elsie Elmendorf (now with the Lord), would admonish us regularly to avoid the use of the word "things" in our writing. Her reason was that it was too general, and when writing persuasively, we should be specific.

Generally I would agree with that assessment, but specifically in this passage, I think even Professor Elmendorf would agree that Paul's use of "things" is entirely appropriate. Why? Because it's so inclusive, especially attached to "all."

"All things" means exactly that. Everything that comes into our lives as Christians, no matter why or how, can be turned from bad to good through the grace of God.

This isn't always easy to accept when the "thing" touching us is hurtful, disappointing, and damaging. In the midst of a bad thing, disillusion, despair, anger, and more cloud our sense of hope and worth. Especially if the bad thing, the hard circumstance, is a consequence of our own sinfulness, the intentional act of another in whom we trusted, or the seeming senselessness of a random accident.

But whatever the source of the bad thing, the truth of Paul's statement stands. Paul knew pain, disappointment, and frustration. He experienced a lot of very bad things. How did he deal with these?

In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 he wrote: "To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

We don't know what Paul's thorn was, but it's clear that it was an uncomfortable thing. Many commentators believe that what it wasn't was some sort of struggle with sin. However, my personal sense is that Paul was vague on purpose, leaving open the possibilities to allow us to identify with his experience of grace. It does not diminish Paul's stature or impact to think that he could have been challenged by sin. In fact, in Romans 7:16-20, he offers a wrenching revelation of just such a struggle.

Whatever "things" come into our lives, both good and bad, we can "be more than conquerors" through the strength of Christ, the grace of God, and hope fed by the empowering of the Holy Spirit.

When faced with death, disease, disappointment, failure, divorce, loss, joblessness, debt, injury, and "all things," we can be confident even in the midst of grief or shame, "that he who began a good work in [us] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6).

And that, I think you'll agree, is a very good thing!

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Thoughts?

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