Romans 8:28: Brothers and sisters: we know that all things work for the good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose. [por español: click here]
Wonderful. Do we believe it? Do we, in fact, know that all things work for the good of those who love God, who are called according to His purpose? Let’s ask ourselves two questions.
“We know that all things work for the good for those who love God.” We “know” this. How do we know it?
Let us freely acknowledge that Romans 8:28 is not self-evident. There are a lot of people out there who disagree. Many of our brothers and sisters in this world look around at the way things work, and they despair. They see nothing but selfishness, or the law of the jungle, or the slow arc of inevitable death and dissolution. Some people think that the higher powers calling the shots are unfriendly, or even malicious. And there are the poor souls who imagine there is really nothing except atoms—no angels, no truth, no love, no honor, no glory. Atheism.
Exactly fifty years ago, in 1967, Pope Paul VI convened the first Roman Synod of Bishops of the modern age. The idea was to address the problem of atheism. The contemplative monks of the world sent a message to the Synod, about the great gift of Christian faith. The monks emphasized the work of the Holy Spirit, the experience of the Spirit’s gifts, through prayer and the sacraments.
The Holy Spirit enables us to know that Romans 8:28 is true by the gift of knowledge: our interior perception that God is in charge of everything, that there is a reason behind everything. As Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI frequently pointed out, one doctrine distinguishes true religion: the doctrine that God is reasonable, rather than arbitrary. To be sure, right now our minds cannot quite grasp all of God’s reasons for doing or permitting all the things that He does or permits. So we need to abandon ourselves in faith when our human reasoning reaches its limit. But when everything is said and done, we will understand it all, because God’s entire plan proceeds according to reason. When we get to heaven, please God, we will see it all clearly; we will understand everything completely.
The Lord wills good; He permits evil. His plan is so magnificent, and His power so awesome, that He brings greater good out of the evil which He permits. St. Paul pointed out earlier in his letter to the Romans the supreme instance of God bringing good out of evil: From Satan’s temptation in the garden, the Fall of Adam and Eve, and the whole history of human sin, God brought about the infinitely greater good of the mission of His Son to the earth. Jesus Christ—who suffered and died unjustly, then rose again—Jesus is the best possible thing that ever could have happened. His goodness trumps all the evil that has ever been or ever will be; His goodness overcomes it all, and turns all evil into an opportunity for holiness, for good. Suffering the evil that God permits unites us with the Savior who suffered, for us.
So now we can answer our first question: We know what Romans 8:28 says we know because: God became man, lived for us as a man, died for us as a man, rose again and ascended into heaven as a man, and He pours His Spirit out from heaven into our hearts to give us interior knowledge of Himself.
Question #2: Things work for the good of those who love God, and who are called according to His purpose. What is God’s purpose?
The answer is simple and obvious and impossible to fathom. We know from the Gospel that God’s purpose in everything is: that we would share the divine glory forever. Share in the divine glory forever.
Straightforward enough, yes. But: we do not yet see this glorious destiny of ours. As we will commemorate next Sunday, Saints Peter, James, and John saw for a moment the divine glory shining through Jesus, at the Transfiguration. But we have not seen such unique sights. In fact, the prospect of sharing the divine glory forever utterly transcends our capacities to feature. So for now our destiny must remain an interior mystery of faith. Again, the Holy Spirit comes to our aid with a special gift.
Through prayer and the sacraments, the Lord pours divine wisdom into our souls, so that we can savor the sweetness of heaven a little bit now, even before we get there. The sweetness we savor is nothing other than the sweetness of true love. God’s purpose is: to love, and to love us above all. The Holy Spirit lifts us up towards God so that we can have a little share in the divine love even now.
This heavenly wisdom even allows us to savor God’s sweetness in the midst of severe trials and tribulations, in the face of the evils God allows us to have to endure, so that we might grow in holiness. Our pilgrimage is not easy, and we have to fight hard. But through it all, we experience the Spirit’s gifts. Then we know—we even “feel”–that Romans 8:28 is true. All things are working together for our good, even and especially the crosses we have to carry as we follow in the footsteps of Christ.