“Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” So says the hero of the classic movie The Princess Bride. And he’s absolutely right. Many false preachers tantalize their audiences with promises of health, wealth, and the American dream, but in reality we are promised suffering in this life. Pain, stress, and aching longings are never far away.
But that pain is a reminder that the best is yet to come. Paul tells us that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18) Paul unpacks this truth further in the following verses, and then we come down to verse 24: the Holy Spirit, for all that He does for us and in us, is merely the firstfruits of the great harvest yet to come. His work in our lives now is the promise, the first hint, of what gifts still wait for us. Finally Paul comes to the punchline — the epic finale of this answer to all the pain and madness of our lives under the sun:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. (Romans 8:28 – 29 ESV)
We are given a powerful promise, an anchor and safe harbor for our souls in the storms of life. God is so brilliant and so wise and powerful and loving that literally everything in your life is being woven into a grand master plan for your good. That demotion at work? For your good. The painful rejection? For your good. The loss of your dearly loved one? For your good. A god who is merely able to stop evil and suffering but can go no further is limited; our God is so good and strong and loving that He is capable of transforming even ultimate evil into ultimate good. Not a single good or bad thing that happens to you escapes God’s notice or plan; He captures all of it and transforms it into something wonderful.
The payoff is not now, but in the “by and by.” Our ultimate good will bloom in paradise, when we will be “conformed to the image of His Son.” Consider the words of Rev. Charles Albert Tindley, who grew up among slaves and knew suffering well. Many slaves suffered their entire lives and then died with no earthly hope, but Rev. Tindley understood the big picture, penning a song that beautifully captures the theology of this week’s fighter verse:
Trials dark on every hand, and we cannot understand
All the ways that God could lead us to that blessed promised land
But He guides us with His eye, and we’ll follow till we die
For we’ll understand it by and by.
Our ultimate good aligns with God’s ultimate purpose: to be like Jesus (“conformed to the image of his Son”) so that we might be in God’s forever family (“in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers,” which calls back to verses 14 – 17). And this future is guaranteed: if you are a believer, you are predestined to be conformed to the image of God’s own Son and to be forever embraced and honored by Father’s family. It WILL happen! Take heart.
QUESTIONS TO ASK EACH OTHER:
- Which promise in these verses excites you the most right now? Why?
- Sometimes Christians throw this verse at hurting people, using it as a cliché to avoid actually listening and talking about the messiness of life. But without giving a trite answer, how can the truths expressed in these two verses help you wrestle through whatever scars you have or whatever you’re facing right now?
QUESTIONS TO ASK CHILDREN:
- Does God promise that you will have a good life? Does he promise that you will be healthy and have a good job you enjoy when you grow up? How do you know?
- God promises that everything bad that ever happens to us will be changed into something good when we get to heaven. How does that make you feel?