A powerful Bible verse that’s true yet, often over-quoted is Romans 8:28. Typically, it’s offered to people whose pain is so deep only God can reach it. So, we cite it, hoping it works, besides, it’s the only thing we can think of.
Sorry to say, I’ve been guilty of over-using this passage. Not because I’m callous and uncaring; No, I really want to help the hurting because I’ve hurt. Some of us have suffered such severe pain, we believe we’ve been forsaken or even cursed by God. I’ve been there, where Paul’s words rang hollow, seeing I was convinced they were true for everyone but me.
Frequently, Romans 8:28 isn’t only over-quoted, it’s misquoted; mainly because we don’t fully comprehend it. We might as well say; “Chill, everything will work out.” At least, we hope so, but let’s go back and read it again correctly.
“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.” (NASB)
See how it’s God causing everything to work together for good, for those who love Him and are called to His purposes. See how even being slightly off can make us totally miss the target? Giving people false hopes, usually does more harm than saying nothing at all.
Our hope is Christ in us; He is our hope of glory and He’s always right on target. Allowing Him to live in and through us is our purpose and calling. He can produce the peaceable fruit of His righteousness out of our sufferings to bring beauty from the ashes of our despair.
I’ll never forget Ty Schencel, founder of The Hope Center in Omaha saying; “A man without hope isn’t concerned about the consequences of his actions, he figures; what difference can it possibly make to me?”
Ty and his wife Teri had a faith that saw the unseen. Losing them was tragic, but they’re not really lost. We know where they are and that we’ll see them again. Authentic faith sees through our momentary afflictions in this life into the everlasting joys of the next.
I’ve seen many hard times, but none as bitter as watching our, then twenty-two-year-old, daughter Hannah, suffer some of the most excruciating pain imaginable. She was terribly sick for many months. At one point she was completely covered by crusty scabs. Her body was swollen everywhere with her face so puffy she could only slightly open one eye. Grief-stricken and so tortured by her pain, she actually prayed aloud for death: “Please Lord, I can’t take any more, it hurts too much. Please, please let me die!”
Then she prayed for her husband, and although they’d only been married a year; she said, “Lord, Conner is young and it’s okay with me if he finds someone else when I’m gone, I want him to be happy.” Then she turned to me, pleading; “And daddy, promise me you’ll have me cremated, I don’t want anyone to see me like this… I’m a monster!”
That’s when Conner fell to his knees; wrapped his arms around her and sobbed; “I don’t want anyone else; I want you! I love you Hannah! I don’t want to live without you. Please don’t leave me, please don’t give up!”
I’m still quaking with their grief. At the same time, grateful she chose him to be her husband. What a man!
This was early in Hannah’s journey through this wilderness, where all her dreams turned into a nightmare. But Conner was with her all the way. At one point, if you had seen her; you would immediately think of Job. She was completely covered from head to toe with open, oozing and bleeding blisters. She was literally being burned alive from the inside. This was yet one more encounter with death in Hannah’s ghastly trip through hell.
Later, during her fifth and longest stay at the Nebraska Medical Center, while in their Critical Care Unit, she resembled a Nazi concentration camp prisoner; a hairless rack of skin and bone. Nevertheless, Conner would constantly wrap her in his powerful arms to kiss her, tell her how much he loved her and how beautiful she was. Yes, beautiful…beautiful indeed.
By this time Hannah had so many tubes and wires going in and out of her she couldn’t move. In fact, the staff had to strap her hands down to keep her from pulling anything out. Each was a vital part of the life-support system she needed to endure. She had a ventilator hose going into her mouth and down her esophagus, pumping oxygen into her lungs to keep her breathing. Then they slit her throat to insert a tracheotomy. If all this, along with so many other devices weren’t enough, she was placed on something called an “ECMO” heart and lung bypass system, a radical procedure, which few survive. Medical people familiar with ECMO call it “the last chance machine.”
She had been given chemotherapy, steroids, large amounts of antibiotics, high dose infusions of vitamin C, besides blood transfusions and being fed intravenously. She couldn’t eat or drink anything or enjoy any of the everyday functions most of us take for granted. Much of this time Hannah was in a coma, which had to be God’s mercy. When all this was factored in, along with the weakness of her heart, lungs and other vital organs, she was left with less than a one percent chance to live. Statistically, Hannah was as good as dead…
But Jesus had a better diagnosis for her. “The Great Physician’s” Resurrection Clinic was operational. His prognosis was LIFE abundant with joy beyond words and full of glory, He gave her beauty for ashes, and turned her mourning into dancing… that’s right, literally dancing! She’s back, teaching dance, doing what she loves, while loving God more than ever.
The Lord brought many positive effects out of a ton of negative causes. He drew together His body from all over the globe. His people came from churches we’d never even heard of, but they’d heard about Hannah and wanted to pray with and for her. Along with so many dear friends, our family gathered together from far and near, all in support of their friend, little Sister, Niece, Cousin or their Aunt Hannah. All of this was God’s love at work.
Her Mom, Linda was self-sacrificing throughout this approximately two-year ordeal. She was at the hospital nearly as much as not. At times she was there twenty-four to seventy-two hours strait, all while constantly praying. Incredible!
On the other hand, I didn’t do so well, I really hit bottom. Have you ever heard of something called “blind faith?” Sadly, that’s not what I had, the puny faith I had left wasn’t blind… I was! I couldn’t see God getting good from any of this. Yet, through it I learned when God’s “called" hit bottom, it’s there to catch us, it's where he restores us, not to crush or reject us. Where I was broken, I wasn’t utterly destroyed. At my weakest, Jesus gave me His strength. He was working everything out as in Romans 8:28; for Hannah, her family, her loved ones, and even for me. In spite of my fears and lack of faith, God heard my cries.
I’ve hit bottom countless times and I’ve always found it to be safe, liberating and not without purpose. One would think by now, I’d learned to trust God through these fiery trials. Well, I have pretty much, but since going through this one; I pray more fervently than ever that He would “lead me not into temptation.”
Long before this, I too prayed for death. But unlike Hannah, my injuries were self-inflicted. I had fallen back into the trap of lust and pornography. Although I knew better, I played the fool. I had to learn the hard way that even if God does forgive sin, He also disciplines those He loves—and He really loved me. His rod and staff comforted me so much it still hurts. In reality, He let my sin punish me as it ripped me apart by the opposing forces of heavy guilt and increased desire. My life became a maze of maximized dissatisfaction in a thick fog of impending doom. Hope had left me to despair as joy gave me away to sorrow. Instead of peace and righteousness my lot became fear and shame. Believe me, you don’t want to go there, it’s agony—and the way back is a thousand miles of really bad road.
As a hypocrite, my double life kept me from realizing Romans 8:28, because I was stuck in Romans seven. I was such a “wretched man,” I couldn’t go on. I was afraid of being discovered, where this scandal could ruin my witness as a Christian. Rather than embarrassing loved ones or failing others my testimony might have touched, I prayed: Lord I’ve ruined everything! I’m so ashamed. I don’t want anyone else to be harmed through my sin. So, please, just let me die…
Where I truly meant that prayer, I have to admit, I also asked that my death be quick and painless. God agreed, He saw my death as a good idea. So much so, He actually provided the method of execution; crucifixion! It was due time for me to intentionally take up my cross daily and bring to death everything that needed to die. Yet, I can tell you now, where crucifixion is never quick or painless, it is liberating.
It was here Jesus began to show me how He had finished the work over two-thousand years ago; that when He died, I died, that I was buried with Him in baptism and raised up with Him to live in heavenly places as His new creation. I saw that God didn’t only give me a second chance; He gave me a “second genesis.”
Be sure you see, that where I was given a new life, I wasn’t given two lives. That’s what the cross is all about. In order for us to really live we need to die. We must choose to walk into real life and freedom in the Spirit, or to dig up the old man, wrap ourselves in the stench of his rotting, maggot infested flesh and walk in its death… It’s our choice!
It was through and out of my shame, grief and hopelessness that God called me to my new purpose: “The emancipation of others still obsessed with the obscene.”
It’s a ministry I would’ve never asked for, Jesus had to drag me kicking and screaming all the way. But in spite of this, I love it! I love seeing God get beauty from the ashes of so many men broken by shame. I love telling them; “If I can be free, anyone can be free, and I AM FREE!” I love seeing Him transform wretched men into Virtuous Men; “Realizing virtuous lives through renewed minds.” To help fulfill my ministry He gave me a book with a companion workbook: “Virtuous Reality / Sexual Purity for Real Men.”
God has a purpose, hope and destiny for each of us. So, now you too can see. Romans 8:28 worked for Hannah, for me and how it can work for you. This verse is for anyone who loves God and is called to His purpose. If we will simply trust Him and call on His name, He will accomplish that purpose. Even while remembering the pain, I look back now and see that God was there through everything, working it all together to actually be… “Good Grief.”