Monday, October 26, 2009

You MAKE All Things Work Together?

A couple of weeks ago we had at our university what we term "Week of Worship." This is a week during each school term in which we have a chapel service daily (instead of the usual Tuesday only) and hear preaching/teaching each day either by a guest speaker, or by an array of students and/or faculty on our campus.

Our speaker was awesome this fall.

But what has really stuck with me is one phrase from a song that the students chose for the daily theme song. It's a song by "Jesus Culture," (you can see it performed here, but be forewarned if you are older that this is the music of the current young generation) and the lyrics are pretty good, on the whole:

Nothing can separate
Even if I ran away
Your love never fails
I know I still make mistakes
But You have new mercies for me everyday
Your love never fails

You stay the same through the ages
Your love never changes
There may be pain in the night but joy comes in the morning
And when the oceans rage
I don't have to be afraid
Because I know that You love me
Your love never fails

Verse 2:
The wind is strong and the water's deep
But I'm not alone in these open seas
Cause Your love never fails
The chasm is far too wide
I never thought I'd reach the other side
But Your love never fails

You make all things work together for my good

As we got to the bridge of the song, I found myself unable to sing. I remained standing, pondering that phrase as the words were being belted out around me. "You make all things work together for my good. You make all things work together for my good. You make all things work together for my good. You make..."

Is that so? What are the assumptions in this phrase?

One assumption, I think, is a narcissistic one. It's sort of like the old dilemma of the farmer praying for rain. If God brings the rain down on his fields, the house of the person down the road who cannot afford to fix the hole in their roof becomes flooded. That may be simplistic, but it has long bothered me what the collateral effects of God working specifically for my good, or someone else's, might be. Assuming that God is Love, why would God be working for my good and not His good?

Would it not be true that if God works for His good, that would also be good for His creatures? Somehow the thought of God working within His nature, for His good, puts me much more at peace than the thought of Him suddenly beaming his laser attention on my little life and arranging all my circumstances for my good. Now why is that?

Maybe my logic grows out of a perception of who God is, as well as this: I have been told by my theologian friends that Romans 8:28 is better translated from the original Greek as, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him..." [emphasis mine] In my life experience, that translation has seemed much more realistic than the way I first memorized the text, "And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God..."

There is, however, a down side to my argument, and it is this: it holds God at arm's length from me. Why is it that I am more comfortable with a God who keeps His distance, working in Love for the good of us all, than with a God who gets down into my world, right into my molecules if need be, and arranges my self and my surroundings for my personal good? Might my reticence to have God arrange the universe for my specific, personal good be in some way a wish for Him to not meddle too closely in my molecules for my own--or someone else's--good?

That is troubling in several ways.

Finally, I have considered one other problem with the words of the Jesus Culture song, and that problem is a very practical one. In the past year I had seen no fewer than seven of my friends and acquaintances wrestling with cancer, and I have become aware of no fewer than five marriages of people I know, breaking up. And then there are the families experiencing chronic distress, unable to resolve issues that divide them. And I watch families deal with chronic debilitating illness, limiting the life of not just the person experiencing the condition, but the lives of everyone else, too.

It's pretty tough to sing, over and over, the refrain, "You make all things work together for my good," knowing the struggles of these folk. I just can't seem to cough up the words, including in my ruminations my own little niche in that collection of struggles. It's possible that, were I in the shoes of someone fighting a losing battle with terminal illness, I would find my faith strong enough to sing the words with gusto. But from my seat in the church it looks nearly impossible.

In the midst of this lamentation, let me reassure you that I strongly believe, as the words of the song say, that "[God's] love never fails," that He has "new mercies for me everyday," that "I'm not alone" and that "joy comes in the morning."

But I may need some theological instruction and encouragement from a few of you out there before I can join the students singing with gusto, "You make all things work together for my good."


  1. Maybe one can take it to mean "ultimate good" although one might take one's lumps in the meantime? But who knows if that's what the song writers meant?

  2. Now imagine an entire service based on this type of song, every single week. My skull is about ready to implode. Add to that, it's only three chords, repeated ad nauseum. aggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

  3. divatobe I can understand that you may not like the music, but for the message to be meaningful, it need not be elaborate.

    "The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: 'Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!'"--Rev.4:18

  4. Maybe it is not for your immediate good but for your long term good which may not be what you think is good for now....
    I too am bothered by the theological implications of many of the songs that are new, that we sing (and some of the old hymns we sing have no meaning for me). I try to take what i think is the intent and move on.

  5. Hey Ginger, all you have to do to have your cake (although it is sometimes bitter) and eat it too is to keep reading in Romans 8. It is God upclose IN THE EXTREME! See if this makes sense with what you see in verses 28-31.

    The good He brings isn't our traditional idea of "everything will work out." The good is identified in verse 29 as becoming like Jesus, and it is clear here, as well as elsewhere that suffering is a major tool in this process.

    The distance that you perceive is taken away in the intervening passage which tells us He's known us individually since forever, and He has fit everything that's coming up (predestined) into a plan to make us like Jesus who Himself was perfected through suffering (Hebrews 2:9,10).

  6. A wise woman once wrote that God will never lead us in any way we would not choose to go if we could see the end from the beginning. I think that was her parphrase of Rom 8:28.

    I am too young to claim to have fully tested this principle, but I do know some who have suffered greatly and testify that it was all worth it for the Spiritual difference that it made in them. God is not in the business of making us comfortable, He is concerned with growing us, and He can turn even the worst circumstances into an opportunity for growth. It is God who works in us to will and do His good pleasure (Phil 2:13).

    Like PBobM said, suffering does seem to be a necessary tool in character refining. I don't think that means God causes the negative cirumstances, but it does mean that if He allows them, He can accomplish our good even through them. He can bring a blessing out of any curse.

    I recently did a lot of complaining about a move we had to make across town and was ashamed later to recognize what a blessing the move really was. It didn't feel good at the time but looking back I realize I should have been grateful. I'm not qualified to talk about cancer and divorce but I have proven the principle in smaller things.

    It should make it easier to trust our coach's calls when we read the last two chapters of Revelation and remember that we already know the outcome of the game.

    Miss you Ginger, may God continue His good work in you until the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

  7. A better translation of the Greek is "God work in [or 'through'] all things for good."

  8. I had exactly the same thoughts about this song. divatobe, its actually four chords, but i agree its very simplistic from a song structure. I believe that God brings good out of bad circumstances, but why am i so wrapped up in "my good" - isn't the point of my life to bring "Him good?" Maybe this thought is as simplistic as the chord structure, but i think it's really easy for us (and our culture) to get wrapped up in ourselves instead of it has been since the beginning of time.

  9. Ginger - catching up on blog reading and so happy to read this today. We did THIS VERY SONG FOR THE FIRST TIME IN SERVICE TODAY.

    Both our pastor and the worship leader gave us some context; we believe that the song and even the scripture references the Godly perspective to which we are called as His people. The entire lyric is about the raging of the oceans, the challenges we face, and that bridge line, for me, is a matter of trust. God DOES and WILL cause all things to come together for those who love him and are called according to his purposes. That is, he will give us what we need to get through any circumstance or situation, whether it is one we welcome or one that we would turn from, if given opportunity.

    The point is that a life lived as unto God ultimately will derive meaning and purpose from all things, because all things are within his ability to shape and form and control. That's the point for me, anyway; it's sort of foundational to my faith...

    Great food for thought. Thanks.

  10. Hello, it's my first time visiting this blog.

    I relate to what you say; in fact, same thing happened to me. I just could not sing this song even though I tried to be "open minded" and not to be judgemental. However, this song, and many contemporary "Christian" music has a narcissistic undertone that bothers me. I believe it's the Holy Spirit nudging our hearts. Do not quench His wisdom despite how others explain away their choices and actions. Sometimes we also over analysize everything, but if you feel like you're not worshiping God when singing these words, don't sing them.

    After I left for another church where worship songs with reverent lyrics (still contemporary in musical style but God-centred lyrics), I find myself belting music out from the depth of my heart every week. Now I understand the reason why I didn't want to sing when I was with my previous church: it's not because I didn't want to worship, but because it wasn't worship to me.

    Many people want to follow Jesus for "their good"; it's not surprising even in the world of Christiandom since we're living in a self-centred (my) purpose-driven culture. Let's just pray that some of the God-choosen will repent and come back to God's truth. I feel quite strongly about this as I just recently escaped, by God's mercy, some of the lies that I used to believe in, namely, the God-has-a-wonderful-plan-for-you lie. True, God has a wonderful plan for those who love Hims, which is eternal life, but many preachers, for the sake of increasing church attendence, often implies that God has a wonderful plan for us in this life... well, not always true.

    I'm just so thankful that God convicted me of all this non-biblical brainwashing that once appealed to my selfishness and led me back to his Word. I pray that these people will learn the truth and repent.

  11. I am so thankful that we can come to God and worship him with many expressions of praise. We can be in unity of faith and yet express our praise in different ways. When you travel around the world and experience the different cultures and the ways they praise God it is like a beautiful patch work quilt.

    Scripture says we are to worship God in spirit and in truth. Some think this means there is only one style or method, which I don't believe is true at all. Just as He made us uniquely different, so we can praise Him in ways that are refreshing and new. I believe God takes delight in this.

    It is possible to offer praise to God that is unacceptable because our hearts are not surrendered to Him. May God help us to be genuine in our worship.

  12. I heard this song tonight and it brought me to tears. I am going through sickness and deep emotional hurt and this song brings me hope. I think it's crazy beautiful that we worship a God that doesn't say 'worship me or die' but says 'I care about YOU!'. And yes, we worship Him but only because He loved us first... Because He teaches us how to love and worship Him. I don't think this song is narcistic. If anything, I think that it reminds us that God is all about relationships. We worship and love Him... And He loves and cares for us-regardless of our actions. Why? Because He is God and His love never fails. I think that as humans we can take stuff and only find the bad. I feel like damaged goods all the time but God takes my sin, all my filthiness and makes it work together for good! Because in all MY yuck and MY reality, He saves ME and redeemed ME. It's not all about me and it's all about God! However, if I take myself out of the equation, God becomes a distant story rather than an all-loving and ever present God in MY life. All glory to Him!