No one who has ever listened to Beethoven’s 9th symphony has thought to himself, “I think each of these musicians is just making it up as they go.” No one who has ever listened to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons has thought to herself, “I am pretty sure no one is leading this orchestra.” No one who has ever listened to Handel’s Messiah and heard the swells and strains of the Hallelujah chorus has thought “I detect no sign of a composer or a conductor.” No, where we glimpse such order, where we hear such unified orchestration, we know there is someone who has created it and we know there is someone who is directing it. We know that each of the people in the orchestra is following some kind of a score and responding to the lead of some kind of a director.
In the Bible we read of a God who is sovereign—a God who created this world, a God who is unfolding a plan for this world, a God who is directing all the events of this world toward a great and glorious purpose. The Apostle Paul expresses it in this way: “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” As all the instruments in an orchestra work together, so too all the circumstances in our lives. The instruments combine to express the artist’s composition and the circumstances to express the Maker’s providence.
God’s sovereignty is a wonderful doctrine to discuss in a classroom or conference, but a very difficult one to believe in a hospital bed or funeral home. We love God’s providence when it is perfectly aligned with our desires, but struggle with it when it opposes them. We find it easy to believe “all things work for good” when we experience times of joy and brightness, but difficult in times of trouble and confusion.
Yet “all things work together for good” necessarily assumes that some things won’t feel good, that some things won’t look good, that some things won’t strike us as immediately and obviously good. It assumes that we will sometimes wonder how a particular circumstance could possibly prove anything other than evil.
This promise, after all, comes neither in the Garden of Eden nor in the New Jerusalem. God had little need to give this promise to Adam and Eve when they were still unblemished in the Garden. The promise would have meant little to them when they enjoyed unbroken fellowship with God and with one another, when all of creation was arrayed toward them in sweet submission. Of course all things work for good because all things are good! Likewise, God will have little need to reiterate it when we are standing on streets of gold and all pain, evil, and sorrow has been vanquished.
It was only when Adam and Eve were pushed through the gates and into the stark wilderness beyond that such promises became important, for it was only then that they began to experience circumstances that seemed to all the world to be bad and only bad. It’s in a world like this one—a world of suffering and sorrow, of grief and loss, of pain and confusion—that they (and we) need the precious assurance that all things are working together for good. And that’s true even when they don’t feel the least bit good, even when we can’t see even the slightest glimmer of light.
“All things for good” is a promise God’s people must take by faith and cling to with tenacity in times of great difficulty. We need to believe that God has the ability to work all things for good and to trust that he actually is working all things for good. We need to have confidence that he is doing what’s right and best according to his inscrutable wisdom, that he is doing what most conforms his people to the image of his Son and what most honors and glorifies his holy name. We need to depend upon it, bank all we’ve got on it, go all-in on it. We need to set aside our feelings and, by faith, submit them to truth of God’s promises.
Through every circumstance, this promise calls us to believe that a day will come when we will affirm his every decision and marvel at his wisdom in our every trial. It calls us to trust that our sovereign God is the good composer and skilled conductor who is orchestrating all events so they lead ultimately to his glory and our good.