We hear this quoted a lot, usually in reference to something bad that’s happened to someone, and it’s usually used to suggest that everything’s going to work out fine.
Had a bad day? It'll all work out, they say, because “God works for the good of those who love Him.” Lost some money? It probably went to someone who needed it, and you’ll get it back some day. Lost your job? You get the idea. I’ve even heard this applied to lost limbs.
Is that what the author intended? Is that truly what God’s promising? Let’s examine this verse in context:
“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” (Rom 8:28-29).This working things out for good seems to involve our being like Christ and being children of God. There’s something just a little bit back in the same chapter with a similar idea:
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed” (Rom 8:18-19).Our present suffering is contrasted with the fact that we will be revealed to be sons of God. Hmm. There’s something similar to that just a little farther back still:
“The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Rom 8:16-17, italics added).Obviously Paul is encouraging his readers in the midst of their suffering for Christ. He promises them that their suffering will result in good for them – specifically that they will be conformed to the likeness of Christ. They’re not being promised that everything will go their way in this life; they’re being promised that everything they suffer here will benefit them in the world to come.
The same promise is made to us: Every trial, every hardship, every persecution, every loss, every wrong, every shot the world and the devil takes at us will be used by God to make us more like Jesus. I think that’s a promise to cherish.
Related: Never Read a Bible Verse
[update] Just ran across this: Do All Things Really Work for Good?